What shadows, these shadows here, pierced with light, almost gone, almost weightless, no longer shadows, blank as ordinary faces, no not ordinary, just nameless shadows, gone, almost gone, pierced with light, weightless almost, drawn as faces are when they have nowhere to go, broken because of the light, almost smelling of incense, and salt, assaulted by god knows what questions of weight and weightlessness and how do you hang a curtain with a cheap rod from Target or how long will it last, outlast the light and a shadow, or several shadows over how many years, one two three four, this curtain vertical austere heraldic stern wise or clock wise or otherwise wise this curtain, cheap, gray, easy to clean, cleanliness being the thing—stare at it long enough and you'll see a sea, vast, endless, starlit somewhere with ears of roses and tongues of foam, if only the rod could hold its shadows, but the night has disappeared and all its shadows have disappeared, what shadows see no shadows, the curtain is pierced with light almost weightless. Here in this room, all its shadows gone.
On June 23, my sister's birthday,
she got married on the same day.
It was a double celebration,
so I got to have a weekend vacation.
She got married in Galena, Illinois,
It was sure to be an occasion of joy.
My dad picked me up Friday morning,
outside, the raindrops were pouring.
I waited inside the local café,
he arrived and we were on our way.
We got to Iowa where we would stay,
in a town called Dubuque, on the bay.
On Friday night, we wanted to eat,
so we went to Catfish Charlie's retreat.
I got the shrimp, because I was a wimp,
my dad got a catfish, big as a blimp.
The catfish had everything but the head,
it was hard to believe the thing was dead.
I coveted the catfish, but my dad gave me a taste,
we couldn't let such good food go to waste.
We sat outside, watching the view,
a bay with boats, and bugs that flew!
Then we went to a park, it cost a dollar,
it was raining on a cliff, I sure felt taller.
Then I looked way up in the sky;
I saw several eagles fly by!
Too far away for my camera's angle,
the star-spangled banner lost it's spangle.
Then when we got back to the hotel,
some dogs were barking, but we slept well.
After breakfast the next day, we went to town,
there was a cable car that went up and down.
From the top you could see three states,
The cable car had been there since 1858.
We went to a Culver's for lunch,
my dad once again had a good hunch.
I ordered the Swiss burger with cheese,
he ordered the deluxe, bigger to please.
Once again, I coveted his meal,
but he was paying, so it was a deal!
Then it was time for the wedding to start,
from the restaurant, we went to depart.
We went down back roads, and out of pure luck,
my dad avoided colliding with a pick up truck.
Earlier, a semi almost knocked us from the lane,
the driving there was driving me insane.
Then in the middle of nowhere was a field,
I took a picture of a cow, the car had to yield.
Then to a bed and breakfast we arrived,
it had been a long, interesting drive.
As we walked in a man said, "Who are you?"
It was the pastor, but he had me fooled.
I hadn't seen him in thirty years or more,
he recognized us neither as we walked in the door.
At first I thought it was my sister's groom,
with haircut and glasses, in the same room.
Then I supposed the man was the groom's dad,
but no, it was the pastor, I was going mad!
The groom's family arrived next with groom,
my sister was the last, probably putting on perfume.
The wedding was outside, under a weeping willow,
on lounge chairs, my butt needed a pillow.
There were only six chairs, small family invited,
but as I watched, I was getting excited.
They both said, "I do," and none said, "Don't!"
We ate some cake, but I usually won't.
We went to an Italian restaurant to dine,
it was all good, everything went fine.
So my sister is wed, for the second time,
a really grateful brother I'm.
In Jamaica, they'll take their honeymoon,
but in July, instead of in June.
It seems like a good decision was made,
they both chose to wed, and weren't afraid.
I hope they will have a good life together,
but the love of God is what lasts forever.
Late at night traffic lights blink stop and go.
Blank pages wait in park until too late.
What's not done is not done as well we know.
Late at night traffic lights blink stop and go.
To start a rondeau now seems much too slow.
It won't be great at any rate by eight.
Late at night traffic lights blink stop and go.
Blank pages wait in park until too late.
(Published in Pressure Points, 2012)
You have to walk the property
to get a feel for the shape of it,
a trapezoid filled with dozens
of trees. Along one sloping side
rises a low ridge. A two-lane
macadam fronts the longest side,
a farm field edging the shortest.
I dress in old clothes to mow
because the Yazoo is dirty
and greasy, its red paint faded
and peeling, the deck piled high
with musty dried grass cuttings.
Filling gas tanks that look like
two saddlebags, I check the oil,
then swing a leg over the center
post as I start up the engine which
turns over with a snort of smoke
and an uncertain shudder before
settling into a mechanical roar.
Engaging the blades, I mindfully
settle into the task ahead of me,
starting a circuit of the property
following the bordering perimeter.
At each tree encountered, I swing
around its circumference, outside
leg hung out for balance as the
makes its tight circle.
Daring the length of the slope,
I lean into its height as I travel
the angling hillside. I follow
the edge of each mowed swath
pass by pass as I continue to circle
the perimeter, slowly arcing inward.
Pass after pass. Round and round I
mow, letting my mind wander as I go.
(Won an Honorable Mention last year
in the Chicago Poets and Patrons
poetry contests, Midwest category:
"Mowing". It has also appeared in
Star Poets Magazine)
I believe in God the Father maker of every thing
I believe in Jesus Christ our Savior forever King
I believe in the Holy Poltergeist of Pentecost
Our Mother Mary who is in Heaven Holy her name aloft
Saint Michael defend us from the temptations of Satan
The father of lies: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The prince of darkness: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The deceiver of souls: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The king of evil: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The tempter of people: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
Destroyer of life: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
Jealous of love: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The lover of anger: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The Oracle of sin: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The leader of Demons: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
The priest of the unholy: By the power of God, get thee behind us Satan
In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and all things
was made by God and in God was life as the light of the human race.
As darkness will never over come God's love for the Universe.
Let us pray: Oh God protect us from wiles of the Devil and keep Satan
chained in Hell along with his fallen Angels. That we your children may
be free of eternal torment. That we may eternal life with our God forever. Amen
Our first great-grandchild! O what a thrill!
I can't believe you are here.
What a precious bundle of joy you are,
Sweet and hugable and dear.
You have your whole life ahead of you.
Who knows what you will be?
God has a purpose and a plan for your life,
Which, for now, is a mystery.
Our prayers will be with you down through the years,
As you hear a multitude of voices,
We are praying God's voice will guide you,
And help you with all of life's choices.
Welcome to the family, Violet Lenae!
You'll find us quirky at times.
And you'll find there's at least one of us
Who likes to write poetry that rhymes.
I know where flowers go when the holy water
of being loved evaporates, the firmament
is sucked back in time to a moment before
Creation, and all the processes sustaining
immortality end in silent asphyxia.
The keyed Pandora's Boxes of our hearts'
histories hold them, keeping us safe
as long as we're not foolish.
If I give you my spare change,
the last penny above the pocket lint,
or the grateful shape of my soul
as it rises steam-like one fine day,
would you feel more wanted or less?
Take all the time you want to decide.
When I knew my body was meant for you
eternally instead of the time being,
instead of until Death does us,
then I began to crave reincarnation.
If you knew the burn in my memory
of your lipstick, the permanence
of your lashes beneath my kiss,
you would understand the whole
of Eternity and Grace at once.
I need you to know
the longest lonely is done
with each good morning.
(First appeared in Poems Against
Cancer 2018, his fifth annual
fundraising chapbook for St. Baldrick's)
Scentless, can't shake this cold,
smell mown grass, nor
rose petals in the birdbath.
My violets and basil
lost in a fog.
Pocketful of tissues,
I stop for each sneeze,
clearing my cloudy head.
Misty cells evaporate
one by one.
Waste not a summer afternoon!
I dimple a peach that
soothes my worn gullet.
I touch the sun
on my spaniel's fur,
photograph a path of maples
on wavy hills.
The imposing oak supports
a lanky boy swinging
by his hands and wailing.
From the ginkgo,
jay bird's jeers and
At a distant park,
Little League cheers
spiral to the horizon.
Grand sun, long in setting . . .
Jesus, look after the birds who
protect their territory
in the wetlands, the red-winged ones who
ruffle their epaulets, color
brightening cloudy days,
and their sparrow-like spouses.
Bless all the feathered fauna who
sway atop cattails and sedge, who
click and chatter and scold
as sun rises, who
quiet themselves into sleep at sundown, who
sit for hours, for days
on a nest full of eggs, those
shelled possibilities. Jesus make me
a red-winged blackbird when I die
so my daughters will come
looking for me at dusk while
I guard my nest as I guarded them.
Let them listen to my voice and
whistle back their love and longing.
Let me soar and swoop, feathers
fluffed by wind. Jesus, let my legacy hatch
into hope. Let my chicks fledge
as my daughters have fledged. Let them
spread their wings and find
their own nests by nourishing water.
Let them look and listen for you.
(First published in Echoes: Prize Poems
2018 (National Federation of State
Poetry Societies, 2018)
The time has come, it seems at last
To face a truth, confront what's real
No more thy worried head to hide
Nor sleeping, restless dogs must lie.
The day is here, it cannot wait
There is a destined date with fate
No more to keep the real at bay
But pay the piper and go my way.
But meanwhile hope to live each day
With grace & true connecting friends
Producing while experiencing all
That nature's treasures throw our way.
So going forth despite a fateful date
Means worry less and forgo the woes
Each moment seek seize & measure
What life offers, real simple pleasures.
bridges, tenement walls
five story blues
and hues of forming words
street corner curses
Underwood carriages carrying convalescing poets
from one block of print to the next
a city of vandals stealing thoughts of others
even before they ever find parchment
while parched minds
leak ink onto pavement peripheries
trying to find a quiet shade of grass
to think nothing
To turn a time-worn phrase,
you may not be the best thing
since sliced bread, I've seen you
more than once in a blue moon.
As I hit the sack last night,
I knew I was getting the best
of both worlds: a splash
of cool rising unexpectedly,
Nature's sleight-of-hand, standing tall,
spot on, enticing ladies in gowns
of pink chiffon—
a cool drink of lemonade,
refreshment in heat of day.
Among the day lilies
her inert body lies,
half in sunshine, eyes
staring into the semi-shadow
of grass and sky. The columbines
cradle her small brown head,
listen to her silent reddish breast
for the missing heartbeat.
The neighbors plan
a new picket fence. Workers
cut back the hedge, banishing nests
that held blue eggs and speckled young
just weeks ago. Perhaps the saw's judder
frightened her to death, or its avaricious blade
knocked her senseless to the ground,
a bloodless blow.
My gloved hand,
about to pull a weed, draws back.
The stillness of her folded wings
may be only temporary.
She is stunned into summer,
I know nothing
of the lives of robins,
their life span,
whether their nest
in a downed buckthorn
can be reconstructed
in the arms of a white
hydrangea. She could
simply fly off with
a rustle of feathers
into some dusty
But this is useless
optimism. I find
a plastic bag in the shed,
a grocery-store shroud,
and fold her soft corpse
into its airless
(First published in SLAB)
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen
Ring the bells that still can ring
Let doorbells bring you face to face
and phones ring with your distant voice.
Speak like a church bell's call to grace,
the invitation to rejoice.
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering.
Instead fill days with crusts of bread
to share wherever you may see
a hollow heart beg to be fed
with simple generosity.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
the armor's chink, a cleft in stone,
inherent flaws within us all.
No brokenness remains alone,
the facture spreads across the wall.
There is a crack, a crack in everything—
that's how the light gets in,
how beauty breaks through ugliness,
uncovered wrongs revealing right,
the darkness split in suddenness
with sunrise overcoming night.
That's how the light gets in.
From Encore Prize Poems 2018
(Poetry Form: Gloss)
Recently, I've found myself
opening your small brown
leather bound bible
inscribed "To Annie."
Trying on your gaudy necklace
with pearls and gold strings from the 1930s.
Holding a magnifying glass
over your photos
to see how I resemble you.
Lifting the top of your cut crystal cigarette box
that held your Chesterfields
and now keeps my Q-tips.
Wondering how you kept sane
when you had a stroke at 61
died at 69
never walking, talking,
or hugging anyone
for those eight years.
I wish I had recorded your stories, Gram,
your Scottish brogue.
(Included in Five Poets Write About Aging, Illness,
and Mortality. Tucson: Pennywise Press, 2011)
Every three or four years
A rattle appears in the caverns
Of my chest though not ill
I acquire a notion of absolutes
A crotchety owl with no profile
My fingers pained by the coming of age
The disgust of a Monday morning
These things & nothing else bind us
On the skyway heading South
The smokestacks breathe like an accordion
There's things that hard hats can't protect
You from your glasses have fogged
I suppose if you've earned some free time
All the clouds could look alike
But who really has a clue
There's on the surface so little to say
In between panics rests shadow thoughts
An equilibrium of dull coffee & settling
Swimming past the buoys you're not permitted
Maybe you don't remember any of this or don't care
When a prairie comes into view
You pass it even though it wants your feet
It wants to be roamed not yet compromised
For now but its skirt will be raised soon
Ideas occupy the same atmosphere
Skidding by without the stopping or feeling
We can't have all of them together & often don't
I hope I retain an iota of what I'm presented
In the city the flowers grow in the cracks
They sprout in the ecosystem that abandoned them
Sunflowers among loafers & day travelers
They may be outcasts but they still belong.
Another angel wafted as a cloud
over Texas last week, gown flowing
and wings outstretched. Though to some,
the hairdo seemed more Princess Leia.
The palette of the Creator is vast —
rain stains the concrete under a bridge
as the shroud of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus appears in tree trunks and potatoes.
We've all heard the joke about the drowning man
who spurns the boat and the helicopter,
so sure the hand of God will reach down
and pluck him from the water.
The Holy Spirit is indeed mysterious.
Like a drunk uncle, he teases and cajoles:
See me now? Yoo hoo — see me now?
He sticks out his tongue to make us believe.
Age comes quickly,
a slip on a banana peel.
When you're young
it moves slow, waiting
for that first tooth to fall out,
or finally being able to vote
and drive a car.
But on other side of 50
age suddenly matters.
When your birthday approaches,
it comes to you disguised
like a rush of warm air,
circles like a threatening hawk,
and blows out your candles
before you can get the breath
to do it yourself.
For many, tragedy comes in different ways, no matter what hour or time of day.
God has granted you life once more, so be thankful it is you he truly adores.
Life could have ended without a thought, but when the light shone, it was you that it sought.
Your job on earth is not complete, so spread the word among those you meet.
God is good and that you should know; it is your presence that he had to show.
So keep the strength, as your faith grows every day as many prayers go your way.
Clothes to cleaners, pick up rump
roast, Ray to soccer practice, speak
to his coach about bringing snacks
next week, not this one, as our writer's
writer's group meets Tuesday at my house
and I always bake for them.
Vacuum the family room — again.
Julie spilled sunflower seed shells,
sweep utility — clothes, dust everywhere,
Stop? How? Where's the off button?
is next on my list.
the best way
to learn to rest
is to walk on paths
of forgiveness. Let your
weight sink down in forgiving
ground—quit being carried away
by yesterday's regrets and worries—
with each step say, the past does not own me.
Also give thanks for the strength of your legs
the pull of gravity in your thighs.
To feel the earth enfolding you
striding upon its surface,
brings joy unbidden.
to nature's gifts
the peace thought
How does that little bird body
bounce back, his goal a tree
reflected in the window
the glass smeared with bird oils and feces
that register his hard rejection?
For days he has twitched on that branch
looking left and right
hardly dissuaded by my figure
a double exposure
with limbs of ghost sticks
when he has not been a spray of feathers
feet and claws.
His velvety head is battered
his brain obsessive
Today his beak and breast
are wrapped: blue string
green Easter grass.
He flies to the ideal limb
bobbing in the window
reappears like magic when I blink
Rock hard illusion meets
his flight half way.
Green must be bitter
in that mouth
blue wilting on that tongue.
Yet through the window pane I see it clear:
this frail-boned Sisyphus
is filled with such desire
he's grown as tough as stone.
In quiet plain humility it waits:
another nation's turn at world-class stage.
A racehorse strong and ready at the gate
observes destruction caused by our own rage.
For history remembers long and well
corruption, greed, imposing poverty,
the rising tyranny that leads to hell.
Destruction blossoms, hid in treachery
when warnings fall upon deaf-ears and fail.
There's time to seize and ride a better course.
Some untried peoples' might may soon prevail.
The victor circumvents the pale grey horse.
So rise my country. Rightly choose
to save yourself before you lose.
(Published in The Journal of Modern
Poetry 21, April 2018)
Here and there
signs of decay
Everything in disarray....
Grayed and dusty
yellowed and rusty
A telltale odor of old and musty....
As I walked across the creaking floor
I came upon an open door
And when I entered the room, I don't know how
A forgotten past returned somehow
Everything within, appeared brand new
And the room was full of people too
The house was filled with joy and laughter
Happiness hung from every rafter
Then the vision faded, everything was gone
And I stood there wondering what had just went on
When I heard a voice inside my head
And I swear tis exactly what it said
Yet even though
it was long ago....
Wasn't it nice to see
the way it used to be
Come, come toward the light!
Bring all your troubles and
place them humbly
in His sight.
The world is dark;
it grips you tight.
Hard to keep from falling,
you're an easy mark.
Enticing you, it drags you down
so you lose your sense of truth.
But call on Him to rescue you
and He shall take you
to His Holy town.
With His guidance through His might,
find the narrow road
that leads to light.
Don't veer to the left
nor to the right!
(Published by The International
Library of Poetry in Collected
Whispers Anthology in 2008)
The memory of a memory of a remembered
moon moving in the upper window
or in the face of a beautiful child—
a front in the weather of the room,
just one different thing. It leads us to a ledge and pushes us over
to his absence and holds him.
His song is the door back to the room
to another, like the shadow of smoke rising.
The slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath,
dressing, undressing the fabulous wounds.
House him in the coil of my hair,
where finally we meet to touch and sleep.
Cento Credits: Reginald Dwayne Bells, Lawrence Joseph, Billy Collins,
Peter Cooley, Robert Gibb, Elaine Equi, FadyJoudah, Joy Katz, Maxine
Kumin, Marie Howe, Noelle Kocot, Honor Moore, Jenny Johnson
Previously published in RHINO 2015
Place El Lahdim, Lahdim Square, enlivened by twilight, takes on a welcome coolness in souk and medina,
A multitude of local shoppers stroll amongst stalls and goods layed out on the pavement, mostly curious, some seriously seeking bargains.
Receptive merchants of tee shirts, prints of Moroccan home scenes, metal tea pots, fancilly embroidered kaftans, spiced olives, and... so much else.
To children's delight, man clad in Berber traditional garb serves up water from his goatskin.
A few tourists sprinkled among the growing crowd, search for dinner possibilities among the restaurants lining one wall.
Restaurant emissaries entice walkers by to their eating places.
Non Moroccan visitors savor large tagines and roasted chicken.
Moroccan guests drink juices, tea, coffee, to balance large meals eaten several hours earlier in the day.
A stranger in the land of my birth, I try to discern words interwoven in Moroccan Arabic, I resort to French, often.
Colors, fragrances, envelop my consciousness, receding, returning.
Like the Atlantic Ocean that carried mama, papa, and me from Casablanca to the U.S. in 1961 when I was eleven.
Moroccan rap music sprinkled with French, , counterpoint to the call to prayer in this grand city built by Moulay Ismael in the 18th Century.
And so I swing on the lattice of my senses, catching the glimmer of falling sunlight on the tiles, blue, green, of the Bab Mansour portal.
Bab Mansour reigns. Beyond, above its majesty, storks fly toward the mosque towers they have chosen for homes.
How fortunate I am, we are, to have landed in this place, to enjoy these moments layered in modernity, traditions, history.
I write her obituary to the chorus
of the babbling brook
played by the aquarium-like tank
which sustains her life.
The green cord attached—
her new best friend.
She says it makes her feel
like a dog on a leash.
She asks permission to lie down
on her bed. I reply,
"Granny, you don't need my permission."
She rests. I restless.
She's never wanted to go to bed at midday.
Every fifteen minutes I tiptoe
in to watch the rise and fall of her chest.
She planned her funeral.
I was procrastinating on the obituary
but now it seemed more pressing.
Together we read through it,
ninety-six years of her life
condensed to three paragraphs.
Her last request finished, I now fear
she may find the green leash
too tight and lay it aside.
I tiptoe in to watch
the rise and fall of her chest.
She rests. I restless.
Cat on my lap, sleeping
Harp strings quiver
And my heart feels joy
Yet I relax with a tall one
And the cat jumps down to roam
She sweeps her tail in time
And all I have is peace
On the highway you drive
And aim your way toward home
I put fresh flowers in a vase
And set the table in anticipation
I think of roses and smile
You are my summer garden,
And my song of peace
Come home to me soon
I long to give you kisses
And play our special song
You sing the lyrics
And I play along
The peace I find is sufficient
The happiness divine
I've loved you for a moment
You've known me all along
a scrappy patch of ground to
plant more flowers, I come upon a
root where none should be, I think at first:
The nearest tree is half a lawn away—
my neighbor's shade.
and minor branches at all times of year and
drops annoying seed balls three months out of four.
cool companions, who are careful
not to flick their cigarette butts
on our yards,
when anyone is present, yet careful too
to always carry off the droppings of their dogs—
I've no complaint on that account.
along this stretch of sidewalk for
their dogs to finish, and to admire my work
Now I pause
in my task, considering the root,
then repack soil around it and
I'm sure they'll grow just fine.
Breakups inspire songs with the
Disingenuous hope that her next love
Will send flowers daily, take her
Dancing in fragrant gardens,
Roll his eyes at her squealy laugh, and
Embrace her under a starry sky, because,
Well, she deserves it, and he blew it.
What is really desired is for her
Freckled nose and deep, green eyes to
Leave his work, dinner and sleep,
Taking her soft shoulders and scent
Along with his grandmother's emerald earrings
She wept over two Valentine's ago. To
Vanish without ever wearing the ring
He worked a second job to pay for, the one
That would find them curled in a blanket
By a soft fire fifty years from now,
Leafing through albums of children,
Grandchildren, Rome and the Rockies.
He hopes that every night she
Holds her phone, desperate for the call
He wants so badly to make.
I always had a fresh haircut and a part on the right side when I visited. Fat Albert, Speed Racer, or Hot Wheels tee-shirt. Jean pockets stuffed with marbles, army men, spinning tops, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Now and Laters, pennies, and a slingshot made from a wire coat hanger. The laces of my High-Top Converse All Stars dragged along her gleaming linoleum floor. Don't play too close to the oven, baby she'd warn. Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward records played on the floor model Magnavox in the front room. Momma Ninnie tied her starched floral print apron, adjusted her cat-eyed glasses, cleared the kitchen table, Lazy-Susan, positioned the butcher block board in the center, scattered flour, rolled chilled dough sprinkled with ice water to keep it workable, touched up the corners. And my job, the batch of plump, juicy blueberries from the colander that drained in the sink and somehow found their way on my fingertips, cheeks, forehead, lips, t-shirt, in my hair, on my tongue before they made their way to the table.
he hangs on to the gear
that once brought him happiness
when he was younger
and the band was his
the small worn amplifier
she once sang through
her beautiful voice thrilling
she once held to her lips
so tender when she touched him
unaware in his reverie
of the age and wear
the dents and dings
the rattle of cracked speakers
the hiss of worn electronics
blinded by his memories
he drags out the gear
each time they appear
to play their music
which never matches
what he hears in his heart
Hibernating trees covered with snow blankets,
when invited, leap to life again
with poetry of motion
White blossoms bubbling like soft suds
stand sans buds
Hopeful fragrance wafts
Birds orchestrating varied trills
Daffodils, tulips, lilacs introduce
renewed spirit, calling a truce
between waning winter and sweltering summer,
then quickly abandoning our gaze
leaving petal trails configured in a maze
How fortune made us meet
we cannot say,
but soon two pairs of feet
will walk the way.
We mirror each to each
the lessons needed
to learn what love may teach
if only heeded.
We give as best we can,
this wedding day,
a woman and a man
as gifts that stay.
(From The Wheel of Yes)
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