Michelle Elvy, ed.
This month, we dedicate the Blue Fifth Reviews page to Walter Bjorkman, who passed away on October 8, 2015. Walter was a poet and story-teller, often drawing on his own life experiences to paint memorable images from the past. He was also active in the literary community, most recently as Managing Editor of A Minor Press. His many other contributions included his stint as editor and designer for Thrush Poetry, his work as the mad mind behind the brief literary farce Voices and his immeasurable input as the design editor of the 52|250 project. Maybe you met him at one of those venues; maybe you read his work at Fictionaut. Or maybe you saw him in one of the many online journals where his work appeared over the years. He was prolific and enthusiastic and, besides being a creative writer, he was also a friend with a good heart.
Walter loved nature and poetry, words and the thrum of life – with its highs and lows. His emails were bursting with his personality, from backyard encounters with deer and dragonflies to reminiscences from Brooklyn or Norway’s distant shores. We hope you’ll enjoy this visit with Walter, and we are honored to have known him and his creative energy. Our hearts go out to his brother Allan and his son Donovan.
Portrait of Walter Bjorkman, by Rebecca Venn
From Strand by Walter Bjorkman
2015; more here.
you awake and it’s nine past your time, nothing to do but drive where
disturbed people stand by the side of the road holding hands with
themselves and staring at the
headlights as they eat the gravel, walk into the field muttering about
odometers and not caring, splashing neon lights on their stones and
watering hydrangeas till sick rants
of madmen cease only when no one listens, water flows sideways when
nobody looks and the sky is yellow when dylan sings when it is.
your dam with no water behind it is a burst of sand, leaving phrases in
an empty river bed. my sun hides in the valley, dawn in another
continent. i feel the calf give birth to its mother, a cloud rejoices.
square flames shoot from the rooftop, sniping at my scavenger dog’s
feet. below the bakery truck smells of corked wine, and wet
newspapers on porches. your hand reaches for rusted words, a tugboat
creaks, the harbor groans, weary with mold. i lie inside the floorboards,
waiting to see the foster moon’s child.
Deer outside Bjorkman’s window.
i am hidden in a city garden of milkweed
unseen by gypsies who gamble in alleys
who talk to you through fire escape walls
through bricks bleeding mortar,
as chrysanthemums hang
from window box lies
tattooed rocks below the surface lie awake for seeds
prairie dogs behind us begin morning screams
we sit on nervous banks, fall shivering in sun
to sunken beaches voiceless from below
beneath rivers of silverfish lie bottles of wine
tasted by troubadours with reeds natives made
we watch in dark-eyed awe, serpents living lies
of often sought scars years ago
sweetwater entering pores of sight
green floating insects enticing cry
walking in opium skies, sipping velveteen
in drunken boots of spanish sailors
(from “western front”)
upstairs a woman sings arias in contralto range
here the lilies quietly hum dirges
in the desert there is a petrified winged duchess
that has never flown aloft or sat on a throne
she waits for me to return her to flesh
i am not that pure
( from “contralto”)
from Elsie’s World by Walter Bjorkman
2013; more here
I stole a quince from the gardens at The Cloisters. Leaned over the wrought iron fence and my fingers couldn’t reach so I sipped on my toes to try to snatch the forbidden fruit. I thought about trying to squeeze through two posts, the quince was hanging low, but the red lights flashing the sirens blaring the adults chuckling the crowbar working the other kids humiliating laughter forever the memory once sealed now opened I wasn’t going to be caught red-handed there, the spaldeen of youth left on the bough.
(from “Quince Orchard”)
It was the summer of sixty-five. I was seventeen, had a second-cousin of twenty, of magnificent pulchritude and some bucks. She owned a fire red Mustang convertible, would pick me up on days off, with her magnificent girlfriend, blonde hair waving in the sun, and, with a lucky friend of my choosing, we’d drive off to Riis Park beach, listnin’ to the Beatles and Beach Boys on the way, then put our blanket down next to The Fugs, the Anti-beach boys. Later our friends would show up from their 90-minute bus ride from the steam of the city streets. They had to go home the same way, sunburned and tortured with sand in their crotch, while we enjoyed the cool breezes from the open ragtop.
But that is not what this is about – this was war. Civil, foreign and personal identity war.
(from “Watts Burns, I Save the World From Destruction and Have Fries With That”)
Uh-oh Eddie thought, now what? He was just caring for the critters as a favor to Chalky who was down somewhere in the Caribbean, trying to find a woman he saw in a PBS documentary that he fell in love with. The snakes were two Coral snakes that Chalky snatched out of the Everglades last spring. They are venomous, but Chalky assured Eddie that they didn’t bite unless mishandled, as if Eddie knew how to handle a snake.
(from “Marzy Gets Even”)
Tante Emma and Tante Anna, pronounced ah-na, kept a dress shop on a side street just off the main artery, Lapskaus Avenue, known to outsiders as Eighth Avenue, in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn…
Tante Emma and Tante Anna, always spoken in that order, never Tante Anna and Tante Emma, were always draped in black to ankles, but not always in the gunny-sack raiment of the typical Tante or Bestemor…
The dress shop was a storefront less travelled, away from the bustle of pastry shops, meat and fish markets, a dusty windowed enclave housing a lone black dress on a limbless mesh dummy, with scattered swatches on the raised floor below it…
When they came to visit, with their knowing slight smiles, respect was given by all, along with a hint of tolerance, why needed it was unknown to me.
(from “The Strange Tantes”)
Bjorkman with his dog, and his guitar, and his cigarettes. NH rock quarry, a long long time ago…
The first music Eddie ever wrote on his beloved Favilla guitar was a few years earlier, to Ezra Pound’s Nicotine: Hymn to the Dope. It was a bass-driven drone of merely alternating E minor and G major, the stressed words evoked by the tempo and how he thumbed the bass strings, growing faster and louder, driving stronger until it reached its final crescendo, where Eddie had it suddenly drop off into barely audible notes, with whispered stretched-out words of the last half-stanza…
(from “When Out West”)
The editors would like to thank Susan Tepper for her assistance with material for this tribute.
Bill Yarrow, ed.
Alloy by Jan Bottiglieri
Mayapple Press, 2015
56 poems, 78 pages
1. I love how the sky doesn’t murder us,
how even daffodils, with their big dumb
faces and skinny necks, will get a chance.
I understand it all: your igneous
skin; your melancholia, the tide
that brings boats in. With me, you’re not alone.
(from “Dear Atlas”)
2. Today I practice making kolacky. Outside, the turning leaves.
Poring over my mother’s recipes, I cried while turning leaves.
I fold two points of each square to the middle: small crossed hands.
Colors of apricot, berry, darken inside, like turning leaves.
Like my mother, I make kolacky, and I want to get it right.
Waste, a bitter taste: the sugar-scorched underside that burning leaves.
(from “Baking Ghazal”)
3. The boy nearby pretended
to be poisoned by berries
so everyone would laugh, but no one did.
She thought the boy was beautiful
as a bowl-eyed pony.
(from “Persephone of Maple Street”)
4. And suddenly I want to know how turquoise
is mined, I want to see the river of rock supple
beneath the earth, I want to bring water
to the ones who freed it from stasis,
polished it, brought it to the light.
(from “Squash Blossom”)
5. But if there were time or world only
for one more bite of this
soft-spilling flesh, this gold
I would eat
from the bottom of the pear
where gravity has pooled
( from “The Pear”)
Brief Nudity by Larry O. Dean
Salmon Poetry, 2013
32 poems, 82 pages
1 Her eyes toggle
like a clock’s second hand
in a synchronized spasm of deliberation;
blinking, she straightens herself
and resumes walking westward
when a sudden breeze flips Tweety
up and over, underside a bright white
against colors corroded by sunlight
(from “$8 Towels”)
2. She crossed her legs and smoothed the skirt she bought.
She babysat for change and for the chance
to learn the things that girls could not be taught.
The stockings that she wore were torn but taut.
She thought that she might wear them to the dance.
She crossed her legs and smoothed the skirt she bought.
(from “Pulp Villanelle”)
3. My penis doesn’t get what all the fuss is about.
My penis is financially irresponsible.
My penis likes quiet nights at home,
and long walks on the beach.
My penis is bona fide.
Cogito ergo penis.
(from “My Penis”)
(from “New Age Baby Names”)
5. Enough already. We get it:
You’re a badass. Your reputation
precedes you, your fans need you
to flex that steroidal muscle, but if
you didn’t, would they love you any less?
(from “Hey, Hercules”)
Letters from Aldenderry by Philip Nikolayev
Salt Publishing, 2006
99 poems, 122 pages
1. Time to recount the sparrows of the air.
Seated alone on an elected stair,
I stare as they appear and disappear.
2. In this modern age and style
everything is crocodile:
crocodile purses, crocodile tears,
crocodile sized chandeliers.
Purse me something crocodile,
weep me something crocodile,
light that candle and redial
something likewise crocodile.
3. Local cries for local, distant for distant.
Oven of knify long phosphorescent
testimonies, the soul in common parlance,
whenever thus touched blends
the Syracuse of your presence
with the ports of my syzygy.
4. Don’t ask. I can’t explain. Roses stream forth deciduous
froth. Smoke exacts its toll, celibacy or not.
Lucid, we grow to grief, faltering past invidious
symmetries still unwooed, battles as yet unfought.
(from “In a Hospital”)
5. Snow is a cad. The phlox-plucking
snow. Rude lips whisper
more than the mind knows,
yet it is by whispering
that the mind learns to know
how to whisper
and the body how to understand.
Sam Rasnake, ed.
Poeta en San Francisco by Barbara Jane Reyes
Tinfish Press, 2005
Winner of the 2005 James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets
Book-length poem, 111 pages
1. there is ghazal swimming inside of her, wanting to be born. on the matter of foretelling, of small miracles, cactus flowers in bloom on this city fire escape, where inside your tongue touches every inch of her skin, where you lay your hand on her belly and sleep. here, she fingers the ornate remains of ancient mosques. here, some mythic angel will rise from the dust of ancestors’ bones.
2. our lady of salt pilgrimage
our lady of building demolition
our lady of crack houses
santa maría, madre de dios, pray for us sinners
(from [ave maria])
3. she whispers desert trees, thorn-ridged, trickling yellow candles; roots spilling
virgin of ribboned silk; virgin of gold filigree
one day’s walk westward, a crucifix of fisherman’s dinghy dimensions washes ashore
(from [galleon prayer])
4. That blank space on your map, that’s where I was born.
The more blank your map, the more darkness for exploration.
Gold stars pinned to your chest for every military and civilian
slaughter, for every child defiled, for every rice field set ablaze
5. To honor movement in crescendos of text, combing through ashes for fragments of human bone, studying maps drawn for the absurdity of navigation — what may be so edgy about this state of emergency is my lack of apology for what I am bound to do.
(from [state of emergency])
Together We Can Bury It by Kathy Fish
Lit Pub Books, 2012
40 fictions, 162 pages
1. They are watching a movie about a man who cheats on his wife, whom he loves, and is so disconsolate that his wife eventually loses all patience and leaves him. They are at the point in the film where the man considers his many blunders as he walks along a rocky shoreline carrying what looks to be a large vase.
(from “Foreign Film”)
2. The next morning I went down to the basement, and just as the woman had said, the moths had all died. At first I thought everything, the floor, the furniture, the shelves, was covered in thick, green leaves. Then I realized.
(from “Moth Woman”)
3. In the spring we’d get twenty-five-cent kites and stand in the middle of an open field and give them up to the wide blue sky. My dad scribbled on a piece of paper, tore it halfway and stuck it onto the string. After a few stutters, the paper hurried away from us, up the kite string, until we couldn’t see it anymore. I asked him, was that a prayer? No, he said, it was a secret.
(from “What Kind of Person Gives Secrets to the Sky?”)
4. Tom Brace stands naked in front of a mirror doing something resembling the Twist. He watches his paralyzed left arm arc across his body, then swivel around and disappear behind his back. He does this over and over again. He’s very high and it makes him laugh.
5. Later, they are woken by laughter. The girls tumble from their beds and look out the window. It is their mother, beyond the hollow on the edge of the cornfield in the blue night, her arms wild, waving down the moon.
(from “The Hollow”)
a half-red sea by Evie Shockley
Carolina Wren Press, 2006
47 poems, 82 pages
1. i am southern hear me roar i am burning flags bearing crosses i am scarlett and prissy like a piece of carmine velvet at christmas don’t know nothing bout birthin no rabies so don’t come foamin at my mouth i am miss dixie and a miss is as good as a guile i am a daughter of the con-federacy come on dad don’t you know me here let me put on this hood and sheet do my eyes look more familiar now surrounded by bleach
(from “cause i’m from dixie too”)
2. the graveyard on the corner becomes the lower jaw of a whale sown with crooked rows of granite teeth. the roof of its mouth is the sky, falling, the grassy dentured mounds struggle up, the jaws of the whale close, and i am outcast, neither ahab pursuing nor jonah pursued, but woman, alone.
(from “waiting for van gogh”)
3. i am named for a poet who never in her lifetime
published. her notebooks survive her–attic stacks
of flimsy spiral-bound pads–narrow-ruled. her
poems read like grocery lists. i need–a dozen eggs
–a tub of lard–loaf bread–fatback–and rat poison
for the rat who sleeps in my bed.
(from “ode to ‘e’”)
4. the night
before the full moon
the moon seems
full. what is missing
is a dark hungry
sickle, the sliver
of shadow eating
us up inside.
(from “–shall become as–”)
5. found in africa / dawned in freedom
raised in boston / rose in slavery
schooled in greek / grew in god
published in england / died in poverty
for phillis wheatley
(from “bio / autography (or, 18th-century multiculturalism”)
Bill Yarrow, ed.
Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance by Tim Suermondt
The Backwaters Press, 2007
69 poems, 100 pages
1. Summer does have glorious stories to tell,
placing my eternal soul in peril,
one of the eloquent vixens capable of making a man
forget he lives in Hell.
(from “Patton Bumps into a Sense of Peace Outside Avranches”)
2. A world away
a man is swept
off the street, disappearing
into the small h of history.
(from “Bad Night at Club Solitary”)
3. A candelabrum in my soup–
nonsense, though nonsense
born of living.
(from “An Understanding”)
4. I grew wings, somehow,
and may I say
they look damn snazzy on me.
5. I confess: lyricism has always escaped me
but I’m flying as well as everyone else.
(from “Flying, Without the Geese or the Plane”)
The Undermining of the Democratic Club by Rob Cook
Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014
63 poems, 130 pages
1. Today, I exchanged a song for the terrorist elephants, the terrorist giraffes, the terrorist oxygen, the terrorist fern forests, the terrorist mercies of medicinal marijuana, the terrorist sunsets, the terrorist shark sleep, the terrorist carrots and celery and kale that do not leave the body, the intestinal photos of the Gaza Strip taken from the cries of a leaking child, the war on shadows, the war on people who find enough to eat without having to plant pancreatic spores in the hells of the soil, the creek bed Lakota whose fully-subsidized hack drinking earns the status of enemy activity, and though I saved his name on a dollar that trusted me once, I won’t discuss the terrorist child helping a turtle find its little door in the terrorist grass.
(from “Sand Song of Mesopotamia”)
2. The howling of guns in your eyes
a North Dakota loneliness in your throat
(from “Red Lake”)
3. She comes from a long line of missing information.
(from “Woman from the Village of Painted Weather”)
4. Who could trust
the flag with its middle finger
pointed at Mexico, Pakistan, Iraq?
(from “Darkening Dust Village to the North”)
5. No language left anywhere. No one paying attention.
(from “In the Absence of Great Men”)
The Park of Upside-Down Chairs by Alexandra van de Kamp
CW Books, 2010
43 poems, 130 pages
1. Life is a parade of molecules showing off
its different disguises, so why couldn’t I be
part tree or table? Who know the exact boundaries
between ourselves and what surrounds us?
(from “Scientific Theory”)
2. Van de Velde choses his miracles
carefully. A man bent on the ice
ties his skate. His red sleeve
burning out towards you
like a caught flame, a promise
not quite forgotten.
(from “Winter Landscape”)
3. In all these photos, nature is a mute witness. The day
always seems on the verge or snow or rain—the sky gray
as a pearl, waiting for something to occur. History is
constantly overcast, reduced to a brooding tone, as if
it knew the metallic grimness the next century and a half
4. The heart is a cave and grief sputters its flames, throws
its flare of clarity against the trickling, furrowed walls.
Then the glyphs on the stone glow, and I am forced to read
my one story back to myself.
5. … Think of me as a shawl
thrown over the tenuous shoulders of a thought,
a shimmering pullover hugging each lift
of the arm, a perfectly-weighted gabardine
that lets pass the bare essentials, while a dream
flickers its lightning, uninterrupted, across the mind’s
Comment on Reviews, #3, September 2015.