“Dew” by Michael Johnson

Kindles in the cool grass,
and the night builds hoarfrost
like small cities of glass.

Dawn will spill across
these scattered
shadows leaves of light.

A hummingbird
will sip a bluebell flute
of dew and go on burning.

Grass blade, feather blur,
light, everything —
we are all a kind of fire.


SONY DSCMichael Johnson is currently living in Okanagon Falls, Ontario. His work has appeared in the Fiddlehead, Queen’s Quarterly, Weber Studies, The Best American Poetry and The Best Canadian Poetry anthologies. He is from Bella Coola, British Columbia and currently works as a wine consultant at a vineyard in Ontario.

“I…a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.” This quote was originally spoken by 20th century theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman. Though this quote covers a much broader scope (the entire universe) than Michael Johnson does in “Dew,” the ideas behind both the quote and the poem are similar. “Dew” is about finding meaning and information from the world around us. Something as small as a dewdrop on a blade of grass can contain an entire metaphorical “city of glass.” Johnson is looking at how we can extract magic and power from small details in life, just as the hummingbird is extracting sustenance from its “bluebell flute.” Each detail of nature and life in “Dew” reminds us that we are all an insignificant component of an intense, massive story; it also shows us that there is an intense, massive story happening within us at any given moment. This message is both profoundly humbling and encouraging. We are not the center of the story of life, but he drives home the major takeaway in the last line: “we are all a kind of fire.” It is our job to bring that fire to life and use it.

Johnson supplements the deeper subplot here with a lighter sensory theme: lovely, breezy weather on a spring morning. We can all remember the way glass cities of dew look when they rest on a freshly cut lawn or in a wild meadow outside the city limits. We know the sunrise he describes in the second stanza: the one that slowly and gradually envelopes the skyline, and seems to suck away each lingering shadow one by one. The image of the dignified hummingbird “sipping” on dew like champagne out of a vibrant flower conjures ideas of the “springtime elite,” members of nature who rules the time of the year when the weather is finally bearable again. And the last stanza walks us through opposing ideals that begin to live in harmony again when winter thaws: sharp blades of grass provide a contrast to soft “feather blurs,” and dew is foiled by the light and fire that exists in all of us.

12801532_849411111351_1432895161291845961_nThis poem, if nothing else, has encouraged me to simply get out more. I often take for granted the beauty and freshness of the nature surrounding me here in Rockbridge County. Additionally, in the age of Instagram and iPhone editing apps, I definitely fall into the trap of only being impressed by a large, grandiose display by nature. Only the brightest, most magnificent scenes catch any attention: sunsets, wildflowers, waterfalls. But Michael Johnson has reminded me of a crucial detail I often forget: something as small as a dewdrop can contain a city’s worth of beauty.


To read more from Michael Johnson, you can read his piece about poetry itself in The Best Canadian Poetry here: http://www.bestcanadianpoetry.com/2011/03/what-is-poetry.html

Featured image retrieved from http://winteryknight.com/tag/hummingbird/

Posted by Mansie Hough

“First Poem for You” by Kim Addonzio

I like to touch your tattoos in complete

darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of

where they are, know by heart the neat

lines of lightning pulsing just above

your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue

swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent

twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you


to me, taking you until we’re spent

and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss

the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until

you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists

or turns to pain between us, they will still

be there. Such permanence is terrifying.

So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.



Kim-AddonizioKim Addonzio was born in 1954 to a champion tennis player. She has won numerous awards, including a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. In this poem, Addonizio blends an old and trusted form, the sonnet, with newer variations through the use of meter, imagery, and line breaks. Love, the age-old theme, also gets a new twist: it is that feeds the main theme of the poem: permanence. This theme also reflects Addonizio’s use of the sonnet form: although she changes the sonnet structure, she keeps its relevance intact.

The theme of love in the role of intimacy and desire plays a large role in this poem, and has been the subjects of sonnets for hundreds of years. However, where older sonnets have focused on yearning or praise for the beloved, Addonizio’s focuses on the permanence of love and intimacy after the relationship’s initiation. The speaker introduces the motif of her lover’s tattoos, “I like to touch your tattoos in complete / darkness, when I can’t see them” (ll 1-2). These lines present two polarized ideas. Tattoos are symbols of permanence: once inked on the body, they cannot fade away. They will last through “whatever persists / or turns to pain between us.” The speaker’s active seeking of the tattoos demonstrates her attraction to this idea, but the physical darkness mirrors the conflict and fear in her own mind.

1308196393_water_dragon_by_o_eternal_o-d3g1cscThe stanza break in the middle of the poem also demonstrates the poet’s conflict over permanence. The effect occurs with her desire for intimacy: “when I pull you // to me, taking you until we’re spent” (ll 7-8). The speaker’s need for full union contrasts with the sonnet split. The subtle rebellion in dividing the sonnet into 7 and 7 lines rather than the accepted Petrarchan 8 and 6 also shows the poet’s determination not to stick to what has remained constant, but to seek out her own voice in the confines of an old form. Furthermore, it demonstrates her own uncertainty within her relationship despite her deep intimacy.

The poem’s diction also reverses the sonnet’s formal expectations. It sets up a conversational tone with informal words such as “like” and “can’t.” While attempting this may seem counterintuitive to a tight form such as the sonnet, the effect actually makes the form feel more fluid and deceptive. The diction also develops the poem’s central theme. Consonance such as “know” and “neat,” “above” and “nipple” helps weave the sonnet together. However, sibilance highlights the volta: “they’ll last until / you’re seared to ashes” (ll 10). This volta demonstrates the crux of  the motif and overtly states the theme. Like the tattoos on her lover’s skin, the sonnet form remains permanent: time has not yet rendered it irrelevant.

Kim Addonzio’s poem can be found on the Poetry Foundation Website, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176985. For more information on her life, follow this link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/kim-addonizio

Posted by Claire Sbardella

“Narcissus and Echo” by Fred Chappell

Shall the water not remember   Ember

my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above   of

its mirror my half-imaginary   airy

portrait? My only belonging   longing,

is my beauty, which I take   ache

away and then return as love   of

of teasing playfully the one being   unbeing.

whose gratitude I treasure   Is your

moves me. I live apart   heart

from myself, yet cannot   not

live apart. In the water’s tone,   stone?

that shining silence, a flower   Hour,

whispers my name with such slight   light:

moment, it seems filament of air,   fare

the world become cloudswell.   well.


Originally published in Shenandoah Issue 50, Volume 1

edFred-ChappellA North Carolina native, Fred Chappell is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The World Between the Eyes and Midquest, as well as several novels and short story collections. He is the recipient of myriad awards, including the Bollingen Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate from 1997 until 2002.

Chappell’s poem “Narcissus and Echo” recalls the ancient Latin story of the same name that appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid’s tale depicts Echo, a nymph who cannot speak except to repeat the last few words she has heard. Echo sees and falls instantly in love with the beautiful and conceited Narcissus, who famously fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. When Narcissus cruelly rejects her, Echo’s body withers away and eventually turns to stone, leaving only her voice to eternally echo throughout the world.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus_-_Google_Art_ProjectKeeping the original story in mind, the reader can interpret Chappell’s poem as a one-sided dialogue between Echo and Narcissus. The italicized words at the end of each line mimic Echo’s faint, half-heard voice. Like Echo, these words repeat the same sounds as the last words of the non-italicized lines. Read together, the italicized words create a message from Echo to Narcissus: “Ember of airy longing, ache of unbeing. Is your heart not stone? Hour, light: fare well”. The words “Ember of airy longing, ache of unbeing” refer to her formless state—one that is more painful because it keeps her from ever being able to accomplish her love in any physical way. Her desperate question for Narcissus—Is your heart not stone?—and final unrecognized goodbye emphasize how lonely and underserved her love is.

Since the italicized lines represent Echo’s voice, the upright words must represent Narcissus’s. Juxtaposed next to Echo’s quiet agony, his blind self-absorption strikes the reader as ridiculous. Narcissus, too preoccupied flirting with himself in the water, does not recognize Echo’s last desperate attempt to garner his attention. Instead, he teases his own reflection, playing peek-a-boo with himself in the glassy pool. His absorption is so complete that Echo’s final farewell strikes him as nothing more than a flower’s whisper, “with such slight moment, it seems a filament of air”. Chappell’s poem leaves the reader with a sense of the tragedy of unrequited, undeserved love, and of the absurdity of narcissism.

For more information on Fred Chappell, visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/fred-chappell

Posted by Emma Nash

“The Humans” by Melissa Dickson

Have scattered, have dithered and dathered, the humans
In helmets, in velvet, and veil, the humans recoil to their roosts
With buckles and booze, in funny white shoes,
The humans in duds of charmeuse, in knickers or knit, they scatter

And gather to chitter and chatter. The humans they scatter,
They wave and they whimper the glib and the glibber, scattered
Like feathers or flint. They rumble and riot, roost
In the viaduct, cruel fellas in slippers or boots, shoes

Patent or suede, slacks checkered with jade, shoo
Them home with their cheap chirping hearts, battered they scatter,
The dear pitter patter of boys and girls tumbled and tossed, scattered
Then smattered they swig and they swagger and shoot, shoehorned

And shopworn, the hoodlums and well-born, the humans
All clamor, get fatter and fatter, their brims and their shoe
Leather burst, go home to your harems, your roosts
Ripe with cherubs, you belles and you barons, your shoes

Laced with scarabs, you roosters and hens, you peckers in pens, you scatter
and stammer and flit. The humans, they want and they wane. The humans



mdickson-207Melissa Dickson holds a BFA in Studio Arts from Auburn University, an MFA in poetry from Converse College, and in visual arts from SVA in New York. Her first poetry collection, Cameo, was published by New Plains Press in 2011. Her second collection, Sweet Aegis, was published in 2013. Her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, and she also has experience in marketing and graphic design.

“The Humans” demonstrates an apt social critique while remaining humorous and light-hearted. Dickson does not venture into the depressing, acidic feeling of Lost Generation Era style social critiques, although it drives at a similar core message. The poem aims to highlight humankind’s tendency towards frivolity, soulless gossip and distraction, without establishing an aura of hate or condescension that this message often accompanies.

free-range-chickens_xft5b1Dickson does so by comparing The Humans to chickens. The humans “scatter,” “dither and dather,” “chitter and chatter,” “stammer and flit.” This language brings to mind an image of Dickson’s “roosters and hens” mindlessly scurrying around, with no real goals or purpose other than to simply exist. Chickens are not looked upon as particularly intelligent or sophisticated animals in the human world. Couple this with the poem’s almost nursery rhyme-esque feel–with internal rhyme, frequent onomatopoeia, and a simple, sing-songy rhythmic structure–and it becomes quite clear what the message of this story is. In our lowest, most primordial form, humans are nothing but aimless, unaware animals who can only obsess over superficial and unimportant luxuries like clothes, appearance, and food. According to Dickson, humans who “want and wane” are doomed to live the animalistic, primitive life of chickens.

It was interesting to stumble upon such a modern, fresh take on social critique during an election year. With Super Tuesday forthcoming and the 26th W&L Mock Convention just passing, my social media newsfeeds have not suffered a shortage of political parodies, The Onion headlines, and, yes, angry social critiques. It’s enlightening to read up on others’ opinions of the current human condition, but many of these accounts begin to blend together after a while due to similarities in style and structure (and at times, argument). But “The Humans” avoids falling by the wayside with other pieces pleading citizens to wake up by using a memorable metaphor and a thoughtful, innovative use of language.

You can read more of Dickson’s work in her book Cameo, available in paperback on Amazon.

Posted by Mansie Hough

“The Slave Mother, A Tale of Ohio,” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper stands out among the earliest prominent African American poets. Born in Baltimore in 1825, Harper was the only child of free African American parents. At 20-years-old, she published her book of poetry. She continued to write poetry, essays, short stories, and novels throughout her life.

Harper photo from explorepahistory.com

Themes of spirituality, feminism, and civil rights fill Frances E. W. Harper’s ouevre and reflect her time spent advocating abolition, education, and other social causes. She helped slaves escape via the Underground Railroad in 1851. In 1853, she aligned herself with the American Anti-Slavery Society to speak out publicly on the issues of abolition and policy. Harper wrote “The Slave Mother” the following year. Decades later, she went on to help establish the National Association of Colored Women.
In the verse above, we readers rest alongside Harper, flies on the wall, watching but not doing anything to help. What I find most intriguing are the poet’s circular and aquatic symbols. As Harper describes the relationship between the slave mother and the child, she uses both types of symbols to create a metaphor for maternity, fertility, and feminism. First, Harper calls the boy his mother’s “only wreath of household love.”  The wreath recalls the cyclical nature of reproduction and, even more exclusively to women, the curve of a pregnant belly. Historically, a wreath’s purpose ranges from heraldry to holidays to funerals. Here, the slave mother’s child represents her “pains” of labor and celebrates her own womanhood, motherhood, and lineage. This mother, however, is forbidden from rearing her child in a normal domestic condition because of her slave status. They are instead driven apart. The wreath metaphor then warps into the slave mother’s defiance against her oppressed rights to bear and raise her own children and her protection of her family, her “household.”

Next, Harper compares the love between the mother and son to a “fountain gushing ever new,/amid life’s desert wild.” The contradictory images of flowing water and barren wilderness pits fertility against sterility, life against death. The positivity as well as the mysticism connected with fountains in myth (e.g., the Fountain of Life, baptism, Fountain of Youth), makes the boy all the more sacred and holy to the slave mother.  The fountain’s continuity, cyclical flow brings both mother and child together as a “streamlet blent in one.”  Fluidity fuses the two. Until an em dash halts the metaphor and diverts our hope to a cry to “Father,” the third and absent piece of this family. But is this not also a jab at female oppression under patriarchy? The mother bears the most weight and burden throughout pregnancy, birth, and bearing. So why, now, must the speaker refer to “Father” as if he has so much authority?  Why would God even allow, or perhaps even call for, this separation between mother and child?  Harper casts a distant and even dark impression of an absent father, both biological and heavenly. Finally, the mother’s “circling arms,” rounded again like an impregnated stomach, surround the boy in a protective womb.  But the mother’s attempts to conceal and protect the boy fail; their “last and fond embrace” is torn apart, and the circle connecting them is finally terminated. In this poem, Harper paints slavery as the enemy of all of these maternal images. She captures slavery as it deliberately suppresses and strips women of their rights to motherhood and womanhood.

“The Slave Mother” was first published in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects(1854) and can also be found in American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century(The Library of America, 1993).

Posted by Hendley Badcock