Two Poems by Felicia Nimue Ackerman


My sweet-sixteen dress was yellow as the daffodils
In the seamstress’s cramped but spotless living room,
Yellow as the sweet lemon bars she made each Christmas
For the neighborhood children.
Mrs. Mueller lived at the end of our block
In a little stone cottage near a field of flowers,
Like a grandmother in a fairy tale.
She was old and poor and crippled
But always tidy, always smiling,
Even as the marshals took her away
After it came to light that, once upon a time,
She was a guard at Auschwitz.

“Light” first appeared in Free Inquiry

Irene and Beth

Irene has shining golden hair,
And fame and glory without end,
And greater wealth than even she
Could ever find a way to spend.
But Beth cannot afford to buy
What goes beyond her basic needs.
She must make do with what she has
And squeeze each penny till it bleeds.
Which woman hates her empty days?
Whose sadness makes her hard and mean?
Who yearns and yearns to change her life?
I’m sorry, but . . . it’s not Irene.

“Irene and Beth” first appeared in The Providence Journal

Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had over 220 poems published in a wide range of places, including eight in past issues of Sparks of Calliope.

Two Poems by John Tustin

Her Shoulder

And what about her shoulder?
How it looked as a soft mound, covered in a blanket,
Her sighing and asleep with her back to you
In the wan still glow of the moonlit dark.
Your shiver of excitement
When she turned over in her sleep
To face you, a look of consternation on her eyelids,
What was almost a secretive smile
Flirting at both corners of her mouth.

And what about her shoulder?
Once she turned over it shook loose
And stared at you, bare.
You looked at the gooseflesh that rose on it
And you put the blanket over it again,
Where it belonged
As she began to snore, right there beside you,
Where she belonged.

Pictures with Words

I am painting pictures with words.
I do it on most nights.
There need not be structure and the image combinations
Are limitless
So why will I write another poem
Where you will see a lone man feeling barely alive,
Prostrate on his bed and hiding from the sun?
I can paint anything:
I can paint birds in the sky,
Worms dancing tribal dances underneath the grass
But I don’t and I won’t.
Why is this?

Today a hawk flew ten feet from my face
And landed in a tree, so high up
He was difficult to see.
He didn’t look at me once.
It was a beautiful moment
But I had no desire to tell you about it –
I’m only telling you now to make my point.
I could paint a little rabbit in the bushes below
And I could write about the triumph of the hawk
Or the escape of the rabbit
And make you happy with either conclusion
But that’s not what I paint.

I won’t paint the light but I will paint the heat.
I won’t paint the growth but I will paint the dark.
I hear a noise and I know the noise must be me.
Even when I try to write a lovely day
It becomes the solemn pounding of a dirge.
The moon comes out of hiding
And I look up at it and it’s pockmarked and ugly.
I want to tell you it’s lovely but I can’t
And it’s not because I won’t lie to you,
No – it’s only because I can’t. I lie to you all the time.
I look in the mirror and I see my narrow hips,
A big gut that sluices over the sides like water
Shaking out of a bucket
And I’ll have to go to funeral after funeral
Until I get to the last one I’ll ever attend.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last twelve years. His website contains links to his published poetry online.

Two Poems by Marc Darnell


Moving to the city, my red beard grew
to hide my boyish chin, and I lost weight,
enough to turn my sockets slightly blue–
adapting to a deader place and state

of being, or rather, not being, my tender hands
grew calluses from gripping wheels and brooms
that swept the refuse of a cluttered land
into heaps of cups and plastic spoons.

I became a stick who put on clothes
that fit the less the more that I went on
latching to the streets– a lonely moss
clinging in a fog that set the tone

for living in this borough full of blight
where faces turn away in failing light.

Exclusive Love

Save me from you, my love so strong
that if you left I wouldn’t live
past a day– that day so long
as if a year, so stay alive

near me, yet not near me. Strong
my pull is toward you, I could live
inside your grasp for hours long,
but do I need you, to be alive?

I shouldn’t, and if I did strike out
on my own, I’d feel such drought,
but I’d go on, finding out
the depth of pain beyond that drought,

but bleak– that if we lived forever
I’d have no other to pine for, ever.

Marc Darnell is an online tutor and lead custodian in Omaha, Nebraska, and has also been a phlebotomist, hotel supervisor, busboy, editorial assistant, farmhand, devout recluse, and incurable brooder.  He received his MFA from the University of Iowa and has published poems in The Lyric, Rue Scribe, Verse, Skidrow Penthouse, Shot Glass Journal, The HyperTexts, Candelabrum, The Road Not Taken, Aries, Ship of Fools, Open Minds Quarterly, The Fib Review, Verse-Virtual, Blue Unicorn, Ragazine, The Literary Nest, The Pangolin Review, and elsewhere.

Two Poems by Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson by Abraham Blyenberch, c. 1617

A contemporary of William Shakespeare, English poet Ben Jonson’s most successful period as a literary figure probably occurred from 1605 to 1620.

Jonson was known as much if not more so as a playwright than as a poet. Not only was Jonson in the same location at the same time doing the same thing as William Shakespeare, but Shakespeare actually acted in Every Man in His Humour, one of Jonson’s most famous plays. His poetry was notable as well, with Song of Celia and On My First Son being two poems often regarded among his best. Jonson died in August 1637 at the age of 65. Upon his death, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his funeral was attended by nobility of the time.

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
      My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
      Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.

Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
      Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
      And if no other misery, yet age!

Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
      Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
      As what he loves may never like too much.

Song to Celia

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
      And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
      And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
      Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
      I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
      Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
      It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
      And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
      Not of itself, but thee.

Two Poems by Chris Sparks

The Healing Wound

“View through a window may influence recovery from surgery.” –Roger S. Ulrich, Science. 1984 Apr 27

The healing wound
Cuts its dash
Forty stitches deep
To keep the hole of me
My seething self’s calamitous urge
To corrupt–to disperse unordered to the fetid air
Unbreathable unbearable weighted with a worrying pain
Almost–except each everyday–exceptional–yet there
This view to steal the heart–wrap it in the cloth of fancy
The tidal sea–shear shifts of dazzle–slow and pewter smooth
Eight sly swans–all grace and killing under bare Benbulben’s bulk
A funky sulk teased–dappled by the silly sun–set solid scuffed unhurried
Still and sturdy under nimbus–cloudy clusters blue-grey grievous with slighting rains
Run rainbows to my boychild’s eye
Lightning strikes my glassy vision
All of this–and all and over
A daily blaze to raise me

I See You, Calliope

You’re so sharp–now a knife
Your shine of self–tough tempered steely to a razor’s edge
Sheer beauty–poised
To carve your noise into all this hard-edged worldly stuff
The stillborn stone
The granite grain
Carve your name–into the oldest ever tree
Swiftly so the sound sings down
Its old-aged gnarly-rooted trunk
Uproot it–I dare you
Send it over to me
So I can wonder at it
Softly brush a touch
of sound-scarred hexed-hard-wooded ends
Rune-run a spell–cast it so
My next beginning

Chris Sparks is quite an old person but new to creative writing. He comes from East London but has ended up in Sligo, Ireland. For many years he taught, researched, and published as a political theorist. Now he finds that (weirdly) every dark thing that once was theoretical seems to be becoming actual. So, for his sanity and soul, he has decided to come at things from another angle and this is why he writes poetry. His poems can be found in The Ekphrastic Review, The Cormorant, Scrimshaw, Poetry 24, and in one or two Irish online event recordings.

Two Poems by Lynn White

The Purple Boat

The purple boat sank.
There was no explanation.
Our father made us three,
blue, green and purple,
from sheets of coloured paper,
blue, green and purple.
We thought they were hats
at first
and ran around
holding them
on our too large heads.
But he said they were boats
and showed us how to sail them,
pushing them from the side
with long twigs
until they made
a small bright flotilla,
blue, green and purple,
in the glass clear water.
And then the purple boat sank
leaving only
the blue and the green.
A sad flotilla,
of blue and green
in the glass clear water.
There was no explanation.
But I think, most likely,
it was spied by some creature below,
loving the colour purple,
grasped it
and took it below
to make it her own.
But I don’t know.
I have found
that life is often like that.

“The Purple Boat” first appeared in With Painted Words

Sister Millicent

The teapot was full catering size
perfect for the church function
where I first met Sister Millicent.
She was balancing it on her head.
Her eyes were uplifted
so were her lips.
It was her party trick.
I didn’t know nuns did such things.

“Sister Millicent” first appeared in The Drabble

Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places, and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy, and reality and writes hoping to find an audience for her musings. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud ‘War Poetry for Today’ competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including ApogeeFirewordsPeach VelvetLight Journal, and So It Goes. Find Lynn at: and

Two Poems by Milton P. Ehrlich

My Departed Wife Pays a Visit in a Hypnagogic Hallucination

I feel her reaching out
to me with her warm
silken hands over mine.
She thaws out the ice
of my frozen knuckles.
I watch her cuddle up
to me and know she
will always be absent
but amazingly present
at my side to surround
me with a fathomless love
that will surely endure for
as long as we are attached
in the here and now and
in the world hereafter.

Unforgettable You

You are in my every breath, reminding me
my heart can’t beat without you.
Even though I taught kids how to do
the dead man’s float and learn how to swim,
you showed me how I shouldn’t be treading water,
and just enjoy swimming like a fish.
Demonstrating how to do a cannonball,
you landed with a memorable, Kerploosh!
Living with a smile on your face,
you taught me how to smile, never allowing
any hint of darkness to invade your joyful affirmation of life.
I was lucky you shared the sunlight of sheer delight with me.

Milton P. Ehrlich, Ph.D. is a 90-year-old psychologist and a veteran of the Korean War. He has published many poems in periodicals such as the London Grip, Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times.

Two Poems by Betsy Nelson

Birds in Afghanistan

Siberian Chiffchaffs, Leaf Warblers,
Reed Warblers, Whitethroats,
seek the walnut trees shading Kabul’s parks
for jewels of aphids.
Migrant birds, they avoid the Tree of Heaven.

Sulphur-bellied Warblers hunt insects
on passageway walls tilting over shop stalls, cafes.
They journey from distant cliffs sculpted by erosion
to street canyons chiseled
by fatigue, explosions.

Fugues sung by canaries,
yellow as stars in the dark side alleys,
resonate through the bird market.
Wicker cages dangle from hooks,
birds lift beaks to the sky.

Crested larks wait for troops of boys, camels
in the desert, mists of insects
stirred to air with boots and hooves,
their own feathered bodies
too light for releasing bug clouds or landmines.

Golden Eagles of Afghanistan
soar over drones
as assured, quiet as the raptors above.
Both leave streaming
moonlight shadows.

Dancing with Peacocks

They always cry ‘Oway Oway”
before they sleep
in the dry forest trees
of Myanmar.

Poachers know the peacock’s call,
vibrant as the eyes
on fanned tail feathers,
know their captives bring
pride, resistance, power

to kings, juntas, rebels.

Yellow-eyed Babblers,
White-tailed Stonechats
flit through grassy islands
of the Irrawaddy.

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters
nest on sandy banks.
White-throated Babblers,
Purple Sunbirds
shine in the thorny savannah

where birds sprayed in colors
follow sun
through crumbled brick
in thousands of pagodas,
alight on towering gilded
Buddhas calling birds
to beams of dusted gold,

lamas, worshippers to holy war,

while children dancing
under far-off forest branches
share the shade with the wild
brilliance of peacocks.

Betsy Nelson writes and illustrates poetry, appearing in Persimmon Tree, PoetryAndCovid, Soul-Lit, Lascaux Review, and at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference.

“Appendectomy” by K. Irene Rieger


I am not she who falls asleep, nor do
I drift to dreamland, no. I’m too inflamed
to fall for it; I curl and clutch and claw
for it, my legs linked ells and ankle-clamped,
my forearms cinched, contorted, clenched, and car-
pal tunnel-tight. I clap at Syncope
With hands that quake with clasping—she: condensed,
compact, hard nut to crack. Hope gleams from gaps
in prayer-palms grasped. Can’t peep—could spook the fick-
le snitch of sleep, nor souse myself—my son
could call me helpless from the hospital.
My son. I wish I were there with him now
that worst has come to worst. But if God’s grant-
ing wishes, I would have him fix him first.


I’m certain that the hospital is where he ought to be— 
My boy’s bile-bloated bowels may have burst and must be mended 
—But though I know it’s toddler talk, I want him here with me. 
His sister needs a parent, though I’m rotten company. 
I feed her, then deposit her with Elmo, unattended. 
I’m not a fool; I realize he’s where he ought to be. 
I’m haunted by the ghost of an umbilical IV. 
If he were home it’d have to span across two states, suspended. 
Ridiculous, it wouldn’t reach!  I want him here with me. 
And though hospital duty’s always been my specialty, 
My husband’s had the shot; I’ve not.  Routines must be amended. 
Yet I can’t shake suspicion that he’s where I ought to be. 
My son, who renders tendered kisses now quite dutifully 
Once giggled when I nibbled on his crepe-sweet ears, so when did 
Dad’s noogies beat my nibbles out?  I want him to need me. 
My baby boy in pain and all our lives again upended 
And Mommy’s just another organ shown to be appended. 
I know that he’s well cared for in the place he ought to be. 

The mind knows, but the body balks.  I want him here with me.


“Make friends with the problems in your life… Approach them with familiarity rather than dread.” ˗˗ Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Sarah says we should view problems more fondly; 
Mine has a certain symmetric appeal. 
Here is the beauty of Gabriel’s quandary: 
Twice intervention has severed the seal 
Of his soft baby skin.  Now stigmatical lesions 
Prevent the peds surgeons from plying their trade. 
Still these same sweet (because saving!) adhesions 
Mean surgery’s vital and can’t be delayed. 
Fool’s errand: seeking the surgical scholar, 
A very Vizzini her logic won’t stop. 
The cons in each column grow taller and taller 
But always incessantly equal at top. 
Congruent conundrum.  What else can I say? 
My problem’s a beautiful one, anyway.

K. Irene Rieger is Associate Professor of English at Bluefield University in Bluefield, Virginia.  A Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Fellow, she is the First Place winner of the 88th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in Rhyming Poetry.  Her work has appeared in The College English Association Critic, the Journal for the Liberal Arts and SciencesTalking Writing, and MUSE

“September Soliloquy” by Michael Ceraolo

My name is James Benjamin Parker
and, quite unoriginally,
I was called Big Jim because I was a big man
And I want to say 
that fate,
              or destiny,
or whatever you choose to call it,
is real

I worked many jobs in my life,
and lived in many places
One of those places was Buffalo, New York,
and one of those jobs was at a restaurant
during the Pan-American Exposition
I was laid off from the restaurant job
in early September 1901,
meant I could go to see the President,
who was greeting people at the Exposition
on September 6th

The line to see him moved slowly,
and I tried to talk to the man
standing ahead of me,
he just ignored, I didn't know why at the time,
though I found out when we reached the President:
he pulled his wrapped hand from his pocket
and shot the President

I hit him in the neck and face
and knocked the gun from him
"I am told I broke his nose---
I wish it had been his neck"
"I am sorry
I did not see him four seconds before"

Afterwards, people wanted to sell my photograph,
"I do not think the American people
would like me to make capital
out of the unfortunate circumstances"
I did give some lectures about the event
when asked to do so by various groups,
but I was never the same after that day:
became a vagrant,
               had hallucinations,
was placed in an institution,
and died there a little over five years 
after the assassination
No one claimed my body,
so I was donated to science

I never did get to shake the President's hand

Michael Ceraolo is a 64-year-old retired firefighter/paramedic and active poet who has had two full-length books published: Euclid Creek from Deep Cleveland Press and 500 Cleveland Haiku from Writing Knights Press. He has two more in the publication pipeline.