Monday, July 16, 2018

Overnight Flight, a poem by Henry Ahrens

Overnight Flight
by Henry Ahrens

Over hill poured beaker fog
but our plane slipped away
before it dissolved.

Soon enough my earphones fell out
then the man in front of you lost his spine,
turned to gelatin, head jiggling.

You slipped your shirt off—
night terror came
screaming over the continent.

The attendant stared
when you fell asleep shirtless,
I shrugged at her—kids.

Night fell away gently,
parts of the plane rained in sprinkles,
soft wafting, engine whining
to the furthest diving
of subconscious thought.

After long descent,
aircraft reassembled
among streaking blue lights,
touched down solid ground.

We put your shirt back on
and shuffled through the terminal.

Henry Ahrens attended St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, but now resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he teaches a variety of high school English classes. His works have appeared in From the Edge of the Prairie, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Indiana Voice Journal.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Three Sister Poems by Norbert Krapf

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day 2018
by Norbert Krapf

Not long after we received ashes
on our foreheads, I learned from
my brother that our sister Mary

passed into spirit in her sleep last night.
No more sister suffering, no more
blood sister left in this world of flesh,

but a beautiful spirit remains always
a spirit beautiful in any and every world.
I was to see you in less than a week,

but now Mary I will see you always
alive, giving others hope and courage,
wanting always to lift them toward

the best they can become, believing
in what they would give to us. You gave
us eyes to see gifts hiding in ourselves.

To Come Knockin’ at Your Door?
by Norbert Krapf

Sister, every year you wrote to your
brother who cut off from all of us
and our children thirteen years ago

without telling us where he went
or why. You wanted to stay in touch.
Your husband dug up his address.

Sister, somebody hurt brother bad.
I know it was a priest about whom
a cousin sent me word that late in his

life he insisted he wasn’t likely to go
to heaven because he had done “terrible
things.” I know well what they were.

He did them to brother and he did them
to me. It’s nothing you ever did to your
brother that kept him away so silent.

He never answered your letters or mine.
You told me late in your too short life
that you kept hoping he would one day

come knock on your door. I almost begged
him to knock knock on your door. As far as
I know, he did not, even though he was

fond of you. Sister, any brother who
cannot come knocking on your door
is hurt worse than we can ever know.

Some doors remain always open.
Like yours. He didn’t even have to
knock. Your heart was always open.

Big Soul Sister
by Norbert Krapf

When I told a woman writer friend
about your rheumatoid arthritis
leading to a related type of leukemia,

Mary, but pointed out that your spirit
remained positive and you retained
an eye for the good in others,

she replied: “Sounds like your sister
had a body difficult to live in
but a big soul full of light.”

Former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf is the author of eleven poetry collections and the forthcoming Cheerios in Tuscany: Poems by and for a First-Time Grandpa. He is the winner of a Glick Indiana Author Award, a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and he collaborates with bluesman Gordon Bonham. He has a poem in stained glass at the Indianapolis International Airport and his poems have been read on The Writer's Almanac. More:

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tributes to Richard Pflum (1932-2018); poems by Stephen R. Roberts, Jared Carter, George Kalamaras, Liza Hyatt, Jeffrey Owen Pearson, Michael Brockley, Barry Childs-Helton, Frederick Michaels, Karyl Murschel, and Harold Taylor

Today (July 2) would have been the 86th birthday anniversary of Richard Pflum, a longtime fixture in the Indianapolis poetry community. He died on March 15. Several friends and colleagues honored him by submitting poems. Dick, as close friends called him, was a founding member of the Writers' Center of Indiana (now Indiana Writers Center). He ran the semi-monthly Poetry Salon, a feedback group for poets, and emceed the monthly An Evening With the Muse, which featured a guest poet and an open mic. He loved to frequent open mics in the city, often garnering respect from spoken-word artists. His collections of poetry include Richard Pflum: A Dream of Salt (Raintree Press), A Strange Juxtaposition of Parts (Writers' Center Press, Indianapolis), The Haunted Refrigerator and Other Poems (Pudding House Press), Listening With Others: Poems Under the Musical Influence (The Muse Rules), and Some Poems to Be Read Out Loud: New and Selected Poems (Chatter House Press). Besides poetry, Richard loved classical music and astronomy. 

by Stephen R. Roberts 

                                          “The edge is so close to a beginning.” Richard Pflum 

Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting. 
This is the second room I’ve been put in. 
The first, I assume, was general waiting. 
But after twenty minutes of perusing 
outdated Urinary Tract Health magazines 
and an old issue of Time with an article 
concerning the plight of aging baby boomers, 
I am moved to a more exclusive, smaller room. 

It’s embellished with faded medical degrees. 
I can’t quite decipher the graduation dates. 
But I can see fingerprints on a jar of cotton balls. 
And, on the desk beside me, what appears to be, 
a collection of possibly used tongue depressors. 
A glint from the wastebasket, I imagine to be 
a syringe wrapped in a hazy ball of gauze. 
Sitting here, where I finally may see the doctor, 
I gather my thoughts. Sharpen a list of questions. 

Perfect an opening statement as to why I’m here, 
waiting. Though he should know. Three messages 
left for three days on his voicemail. Or he left me. 
I am not sure which, or what answers he’ll provide. 
This visit could turn out to be another false positive. 
Or whatever the opposite of that is. 

The quote is from a comment Dick made during one of my last visits to see him. We each immediately thought it was worthy of being in a poem somewhere. 

by Jared Carter 

Now where to turn? And how to leave
          alone upon 
The bier what we have come to grieve? 
          Some antiphon 

Still haunts us, since those elegies 
          meant to control 
Or fend off sorrow, fail to seize  
          the moment. Whole, 

His life was, while these syllables 
          will not outlast 
This wilderness intractable 
          that holds him fast. 

First published in The Galway Review. 

Walking Through the Night Trees, I Think of Your Poems
and How They Still Light the Woods of My Words
by George Kalamaras

for Richard Pflum, 1932 – 2018

Too many years, Dick. The distance between 1979 and 2013 is almost the length of the waddle weight of a Galápagos tortoise giving up its rock for the salt-heavy sea.


I wish we didn’t have to die, I said that evening into the washing river light. Lightning bugs going on and off, as if the Himalayan yogis are right—that we come into and out of these bodies again and again.


What a wonderful autumn in 1979, when at a party together with you in Bloomington, someone told me Robert Bly said of you that evening, He has a face of perfect peace.


What I love most about Indiana are the dying autumn fields. Yellowwood Forest when the falling leaves layer the ground with scent. Walking in the woods with my hound dog, knowing what she smells is fresh and fecund, even in its death.


They used to say that the milk snake waits in the fields and sucks the milk of cows when they lie down to sleep. You called the world A Dream of Salt—a sea-heavy phrase into which we might all lie down.


Let me say it this way: we are born into the tongue and unto it. We know there is a word that, if perfected, we might step into and through—and enter the world.


Sometimes I think the best word is not a word at all but the sound of hound dogs running the woods at dusk, calling the moon up from the swampy muck—full and wet and soggy with the dark’s dark.


It had been thirty-four years and cross-country travel since we’d talked, and then the lovely calm of your phone call. And I came to Indianapolis to read my poems when you asked. And read them directly into your more-than-peaceful voice.


You are buried in each of my words, Dick—the kindness of an older poet who listened to my fledgling poems in the seventies as if I was a newly risen moon dropping particles of myself into shagbark hickory. Sycamore. Elm.


Now it is you who is dropping particles of yourself here, then there. It is you walking off into the light-laden swamp. Something round is there, moon-heavy, that you have stepped into. You, whose words lantern-light the dark. Making the woods both larger and smaller than what we can possibly see. Our words, small as they seem, larger now because you’ve said them first—luminous—for decades into your poems. Through. Into the damp places of the stars. Into cypress beards and shagbark trees in the swampy dark. The swampy moon-glow of the dark’s dark.

Dinner Party
by Richard Pflum 

When she invited me to her dinner party how could 
I tell her the menu would not do? 
She had been in ecstasy about the little 
000000000000watercress sandwiches, 
000000000000the tiny sugar cookies on silver salvers 
000000000000the colorful liquers on cordial glasses 
and later the fine dark coffee to be served demitasse. 

How could I tell her I needed, indeed demanded 
000000000000so much more than that? 
That for me, tireless preparations were the order, 
000000000000that great slabs of fat and meat 
must be hewn like granite from mountains of beef and pork, 
000000000000that whole orchards must be stripped bare of fruit, 

whole dairies put into service for their creams and cheeses, 
brewers and distillers made to work three shifts, 
bakers, to sweat day and night, rolling out their dough, 
the economy of the country to be decimated if necessary, 
that rich steaming kettles (carried by four men at a time), 
000000000000might replenish any place or bowl. 

I thought of this when she invited me 
to dinner on Sunday afternoon, and 
asked me not to forget my poems.  

The Poet's Food
by Liza Hyatt 

                      (Written while attending Richard Pflum’s late-1980’s Poetry Salon) 

We meet at the house of the poet. 
We bring our poems, 
and he offers us criticism and hors d’oeuvres
For criticism he says, 
“I like irony!” 
 and “Give me an image that lives, 
a mysterious image that is alive. 
This poem needs more liquid, 
more sweat, more secretions. 
And grit. 
I want to crunch this poem between my teeth, 
then suck the pulp from it.” 
But his hors d’oeuvres are not poems. 
He prefers Pringles, 
stacked in their canister 
like a page of clichés, 
and Bugles, salty, airy cornucopias squirted out by machine, 
with dip in a plastic tub. 
And before we begin he asks, 
“Would anyone like some Mountain Dew?”

Poem With Big Feet
by Richard Pflum 

This is the poem that walks on big feet, 
that stomps on all smaller poems, that 
says, "get out of my way," when 
it saunters through the barroom door. 

This is the poem that interrupts 
the conversation you are having with 
your girlfriend and talks her into 
dancing and then leaving without you, 
so you must go home or dance by yourself. 

This is the same poem which sits down 
beside you the next day and eats all of 
your French fries and wants a big bite 
from your cheeseburger. That gives you 
free advice about your terminal inadequacies 
and offers you a gun, though it admits, 
"this is a coward's way out." 

This is also the poem that tells you 
any greatness which you might achieve 
in this world is due to it, while 
all failures are strictly your own.

This is the poem which is always 
suffering because no one appreciates 
its true merit, a poem that knows it 
could have been a millionaire or an 
important politician had it chosen 
to be something else. 

This is the poem I avoid trying 
to write though it's always around 
beating its chest, complaining; 
intimidating the lyrical, quieter, 
often deeper poems. 

Still,because its feet are so big 
and its space requirements enormous, 
perhaps it can't help stomping on other 
poems and things. Perhaps it is 
not even cruel, just deprived; 
leaving grown up without lessons 
on the cello, and never enough 
cheeseburgers on the backyard patio. 

Pearson Argues Gershwin, Pflum Insists Mahler:
A Rhapsody for Richard
by Jeffrey Owen Pearson 

Richard travels the same way I listen to Mahler— 
whole sections pass by in oblivion. What can I say? 
Gershwin makes a better companion. The road glides 
like a Tin Pan Alley piano. A rhapsodic trumpet. 
A languid oboe like a liquid out-of-body 
odyssey on the Seine. 

Pflum gets into his gray People’s Car 
and by celestial guidance ends up 
wherever the car ends up. Never mind 
the necessary turns. The traffic. The lights.  
Maybe Bach’s Variations on repeat. Maybe 
Mahler’s ersterbend, his dying-away. The 9th. 

For me Gershwin tunes spill 
over riverbanks and onto the shore 
like riparian monkeys on the Ganges. 
An excess of mangoes and dates. 
Of saris and scarves and carpets 
à la a Bollywood finale. The sky 
the disappearing scent of lemons. 

Maybe Venus is setting, and later Mars 
will rise before dawn to battle the sun 
and lose once again. There is only one 
eminence of light. Pity those suns 
from billions of miles whose light 
dies in the back of our eyes. 

Mahler begins his 1st with a solo tuba 
like the cosmos waking up. 
In the middle, a funeral march 
sounding an off-key Frère Jacques. 
Then a little chaos theory and a whole 
lot of love love love. 

On the night JFK was killed 
my father drove halfway across Illinois 
and back with his arm out the window. 
After I had a child of my own, 
my mom told me she undressed 
and took him to bed to wrap 
his freezing skin against her body. 

I wonder who warms the stargazer on winter 
nights when planets align inauspiciously, 
the brass eyepiece fogging at the heat 
of an single iris? The icy telescope a cold bed- 
maiden. How many cloud-covered nights 
must he wait to see Jupiter ride Libra’s 
scales and turn Zubeneschamali green? 

Richard tinkers with poems like vestiges 
of Inuit myth where people could change 
into animals and animals into people. 
They knew the same words and spoke 
the same powerful language. What they said 
came to pass. I can see Richard lumbering  
as a bear almost as tall as the sky because God 
hears him and lowers heaven. 

I insist Gershwin. Pflum says he sees Mahler. 
Now Mahler’s sad adagios play in my mind. 
Spawned in deep forest springs and mountain’s 
hard nurseries, they sing as true as distant stars 
in frigid skies. The tragedy of death composed 
before it happens. His own child. Her star- 
like eyes. His prophet’s guilt. Any death. 
The 9th certainty. Say it! Your own. 

As editor of an issue of Flying Island, Dick was adamant I change “They’re singing Gershwin on the Ganges” in a poem to Mahler, and I refused. The poem lies dormant in the reject pile to this day. Lately I’ve been listening to Mahler, and along the journey have returned to some of Leonard Bernstein’s lectures. He was a treasure in a time when television aired some wonderful programs before the dumbing down of America. Zubeneschamali (zoo-BEN-ess-sha-MAH-lee) is the brightest star in the constellation Libra and the only star to appear green in color. Mahler refused to number Das Lied von der Erde, very much a symphonic work in nature, because of the curse of the ninth, attributed to Beethoven’s death having completed only nine symphonies. Mahler’s Ninth Symphony written the following year is considered the most sublime meditation on death. His daughter’s. His own failing heart. The death of the artist/hero. He died never completing his tenth. 

The Richard Milton Pflum Eulogy With Imaginary
Line Breaks and Random Enjambments
by Michael Brockley 

This was supposed to be your elegy, “The Dick Pflum July 2 Cento,” but I had a visit from a black hole last night. As you can imagine, I’m back to square one, trying to remember how to pronounce “Dvorak” and “Hippocrates.” Wondering whether flotsam or jetsam would win the popular vote in a battle of the harmonicas at a county fair. The black hole insisted I spend the rest of the night listening to a rum-voiced blues woman contralto songs about blood moons and highjacked stars. You never know when you might have to use the word “astrophile” in a conversation with unobservable light. Or when a tidbit about Holst might prove to be handy. I entertained the black hole with a monologue about a Bigfoot family that raised jackalopes for the tourist trade. It turns out scraps of ghazals and villanelles have transmogrified into my wallet. Arranged in chronological order, they celebrate the life of the woman who invented rock-and-roll with a guitar made from a gravedigger’s shovel and a highwayman’s string ties. With my flawed ears, I can’t hear the music of the spheres when the Black Holes debut their 9th symphony on the rings of Saturn. But right now, I’m tapping my toes as the blues woman shreds “The Gravedigger’s Shovel and String Ties Blues.” A Stagger Lee revenge borne on the angelicas of a ruined voice. You might be keeping time with eclipse études, conducting your own poetic harmony, while I rehearse “Hey, Joe.“ A tad off-key, as you’d suspect. About now, both of us might savor a nectar sweeter than absinthe. We are stardust, after all. 

Sleeping With My Telescope
by Richard Pflum 

It is a chill metallic passion even on hot, 

humid July nights. For it seems the stars 
are substantially cold as I gaze, eye to 
polished eye, entwined in black night clothes, 
(the wrinkled sheets of pure space-time, so 
remote from diurnal time). There, everything 
appears to stray from its sidereal gait so 
I must transport myself far, either by sight 
or imagination, when needing to know; 
“Is it the same passion that fuses flesh, 
births the stars, makes us prodigals of 
vision: this light, our motion, the cosmic 
wind; all that energy and ardor, both up 
and around ... outside my open window, 
which also swirls inside, allows us some 
share of each other’s gravity?” 

The sun mobilizes us by day and then 
I think of warmer lovers, the sweetness of 
flowers and perfume, real arms and legs 
ready for embrace. Human shapes may make 
a comfortable fit as when eyes are pressed 
in shadow and light is eclipsed behind 
a shoulder or in the soft valley between 
breasts. But tonight I drowse against 
my telescope, cheek to cold cheek, 
supported by three sturdy feet in rubber 
slippers, while her flawless glass eye 
attempts to show me everything. She 
may be a bit of an exhibitionist, a freak, 
a wanton, but I am thankful for her when 
flesh runs dry, and we bathe together 
in this milky river above our heads. 

by Barry Childs-Helton 

That time in uncertain Indiana spring 
you fell asleep under branches perforated 
with stars, somewhere in-between the small hours 
and the chilly dew of weak light, fortunately 
on a tarp that the other writers at the party 
were not too drunk to fold up over you. 
You slept it off, we all wandered away, 
and somehow the usual sacred river ran 
beneath our years and mostly out of sight, 
borne by the planet into the warring dark 
that so adores the killing of our words, 
and still you wrote. 
Sketched that quirky sternness in the air 
with pianist's fingers 
pointing out in salon 
what a poem requires to survive 
outside the walls of vanished state hospitals 
or the haunted business parks of empty cubes, 
when again we come to, on the familiar deck 
at sea in the deep night of metaphor, 
where I picture you escaped to, watching stars 
in that hidden sky under hospice blankets, 
having won your way to mystery. 

Last Words
by Frederick Michaels 

These are last words to be spoken; 
here, in the dying echoes of day, 
beneath sky’s rust-stained canopy, 
tasting sweetness of final phrases. 
They linger gently upon pursed lips, 
yet soon turn to sorrowful bitterness. 
Cloaked in life’s impending darkness, 
we sense eternity’s unbridgeable gulf.  

by Karyl Murschel 

Light beckons, beyond 
pain’s darkest hours. 
One last shimmering 
as eternity reclaims 
an impatient soul. *

Let’s Pop the Cork
by Harold Taylor 

Let’s pop the cork on the ginger ale and laugh as fizz goes everywhere 
clean up and settle in to listen to Some Poems to be Read Out Loud. 
Let the grand old man of the Indianapolis poetry scene read his latest work. 
Afflicted by indefatigable happiness, 
who knew? 
Contagious it afflicts us too. 
His gait is slow, but his wits are quick; 
        a mind for science and a heart for poetry, 
        a mind for science and a heart for people. 
Who else could figure out that his newly published book 
reads better from back to front? 
Who else would say, "Let me know if I go overtime or bore you"? 
The time flew, Richard, and boredom only afflicts the small-minded. 
I didn’t see any of those there. 
Only poets feasting on poetry, 
richer for having been Pflummoxed. 

Written in memory of An Evening With Muse reading. 

Reading and Writing Poetry
by Richard Pflum 

The more poetry I read, the freer I feel to be myself. 

Even the bad poetry seems to work. I can see all 
the possibilities then and it doesn’t matter if I’m 
a screaming baby or a lethargic old man. It’s all 
still there, a whole life which can be believed, 
lived either backward or forward. Whether a lemon 
drop or a moldering husk, the more I read, the more 
I can see everything is both an ocean and a void: 
the odor of long stored linen in a cedar chest in an 
old house on an old street in the city, or the new 
house in the burbs where outside a golden retriever 
stands guard beside a split rail fence separating 
your property from someone else’s cleared field. 

In this autumn I discover poetry is not a thing but process, 
not a long list of nouns but some very hair-raising verbs, 
life upholding actions to be taken so that you’ll no 
longer need to scratch open your wounds in anger nor 
feel a pat on the back of the head by some reassuring 
Angel. And you’ll no longer have to hide in a cage, be 
someone else’s animal. There’ll be all these opposing 
paths to take, where things both do and do not matter. 

I’ve finally reached a point where reading a poem and 
writing a poem are the same. It isn’t significant whose 
name appends the poem. Subjects are the same. My faux 
poem, “Falling Off an Elevator from the Ninetieth Floor 
on Mid-Summer’s Eve,” is the same as Shakespeare‘s 
Sonnet CLVI. Ask him, he’ll tell you. 

“How?” you enquire, “Isn’t he supposed to be dead?” 
Yes, I say, but he’ll talk anyway, he just loves to jabber. 
Bury that dumb ballpoint of yours into paper and he’ll 
resurface ... say some pretty profound and beautiful 
things too. It’s all up to you (but it really isn’t, of course). 
I’ve just read this Jack Gilbert guy so I really know. 
And also Wallace Stevens, that old billy-goat of a man 
with a buffalo head. They both knew all of the secrets: 
the mysteries of the North and the South, the be all of, 
of-all, and also what’s in between. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sunday Drive, a prose poem by Lylanne Musselman

Sunday Drive
by Lylanne Musselman

In the backseat of our ’66 green Pontiac Bonneville, my view was of the back of my parent’s heads: dad with dark wavy hair, hands on the steering wheel, his pipe smoke swirling upward and back into my space; mom with coiffed hair, in the passenger’s seat chewing her Juicy Fruit gum. I was along for the ride each Sunday going to see my grandma who lived an hour away in Kokomo. I loaded up the backseat with my favorite stuffed animals and a few books in hopes of making time cruise a bit faster. I hated leaving other beloved belongings behind, feeling guilty for all that couldn’t go. I loved listening to the radio, Fort Wayne’s strong AM station, WOWO. The Beatles, Neil Diamond, The Supremes, Tammy Wynette and George Jones were played one after the other. I could’ve done without country, but dad preferred it to my favorites. I sang along with all songs that came on, even D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Mom marveled how I knew every word, saying she wished I memorized my homework like I did those songs. I worried all new song lyrics would be used up by the time I became a mom, driving with my own kids riding in the backseat.

Lylanne Musselman is an award-winning poet, playwright, and artist, living in Indiana. Her work has appeared in Pank, Flying Island, Tipton Poetry Journal, Poetry Breakfast, The New Verse News, Ekphrastic Review, and Rat’s Ass Review, among others, and many anthologies, including Resurrection of a Sunflower, poems to honor Vincent van Gogh (Pski’s Porch, 2017). A Pushcart Nominee twice, Musselman is the author of four chapbooks including the recent Weathering Under the Cat (Finishing Line Press, 2017).

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Time Spent With My Father, a poem by Rosemary Freedman

Time Spent with My Father
by Rosemary Freedman

26 bluegill were placed on my stringer
and entered into the fishing contest.
I was six. They snapped a Polaroid
of me with that smile wide as a canoe,
my small fingers holding up the line
with my fish shining like
silver Christmas ornaments
and taped it to the bait-house wall.
Now at 50 I recount that story with
the joy of someone who had won
a Nobel Prize—only to have it pointed out
that I had cheated by scooping the fish
out of water with a Styrofoam cup.
The shiny tiny dinosaur-looking creatures
gulping for breath like fat
diabetic chain-smokers telling
the last chapters of their stories.
And what happened to the other children?
Those line casters who patiently waited
and caught nothing? Perhaps they
stared at my tackle-box prize
the way women stare with envy
at designer purses they will never own.
It was true, I was a cheater.
I thought my father loved taking me with him,
day fishing, night fishing, in the small boat with
the green Coleman lantern and those small little
nets he seemed to forever be screwing around with
that had something to do with the light
and our seeing. I just know there was a lot of cussing
around those little cup like sacs that looked oddly
the shape of testicles. Once I thanked my father
for always taking me fishing. He laughed out loud.
You are joking, right? Your mother made me take you,
to give her a break.” I was one of his punishments
as I later found out—he was a cheater too.

About Rosemary Freedman: “I am married and have seven children. I have a B.A. in creative writing and literature, and a master's in nursing education, a post-masters as a Nurse Practitioner and a post-masters as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. When I am not writing poetry, I work as an advanced practice nurse.”