Illinois State Poetry Society
Poems by ISPS Members
April 2016
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Poems on this Page:


by James Reiss
Eighteen years you beat me over the head
with the butt end of our brotherhood.
So where are you now, Mr. Top
Dog on the Bunk Bed, Mr. Big
Back on the High School Football Team?

You hauled ass out of that town
with its flimsy goalposts.
Now you’re down there with your Dead
Sea, your Jerusalem, busy
with the same old border disputes

that sparked our earliest fist fights.
Israel is just another locked toy
closet on your side of the bedroom, split
by electric train tracks. It’s as if
you never left home at all: Yesterday

in a bar in Washington Heights
I saw a man who could have been you.
The Jets were playing the Steelers with two
downs to go, and in the icy
lightshow of smoke

he lifted a pitcher of beer
and swilled it just as the screen
blazed red with an ad for Gillette.
And I thought, Here is my blood brother
whose only gifts to me were kicks

in the teeth, his cast-off comic books,
and worst of all, wrapped, sharpened
for a lifetime,
the perfect razor of my rage.


by Michael Escoubas
are the unsung
heroes of many lives.
In love, they lift us up on wings
of stone.


by Bonnie Manion
I’ve never lacked a wealth of
experience, poignant sorrows
and soaring joys.  And always 
there were smiling eyes, baby
smiles and soft skin to touch,
touching mine.  And standing 
by me, my man. And my faith.

Sure, there were disappointments,
duplicities, divorces, incivilities.
Cancer, surgeries, death and 
enmities.  But over it all, a sense
of knowing love was there
filling them up, already making
everything right, new again.

I can’t forget the beauty I see
each day in waffling leaves,
in buzzing bees, in flowers and
children, my lover, my freedom.
In my travels, my neighbors,
in strangers and answered prayers.
In notes of care, helping hands, poetry,
books and music from every land. 
In all that is virtuous and beautiful, 
my life is full of riches every day.

(Published in The Rockford Review)

Train to Chicago

by Candace Armstrong
An Amish boy peeks 
around the seat back. I wink.
He blushes and disappears
at the sound of a soft German word.

A woman in a business suit stumbles
in her pumps on the way 
to the café car. We make eye
contact, but she turns away.

A young mother squeezes 
into a seat with a baby and diaper bag
She looks exhausted,
her eyes barely open.

A tattooed teenager with dreadlocks 
bounces in Chuck Taylor’s and a White Sox cap.
His eyes too bright, he grins broadly
and I smile back.

(Published in Midwest Review, Spring 2016)

Taking My Dog Fishing

by William Vollrath
sparkling sun, champagne air
lure us away from
Matt, Al and Willie
from doggie naps
by the back screen door
clear water at the county park
begs for our presence
for our absolute focus
on the shimmering movements
gliding just beneath
an hypnotic, mirrored surface
we are firmly hooked
by this calm, nourishing
exquisite gift of nature
but with innate wisdom
the nearly translucent bass
refuse to be similarly lured
by our perfectly presented
purple, latex worm
or the eager barks
of a joyous old dog

Easter 2014

by Mark Hudson
(A found poem)
Conversations about Catholicism, Cortes, Cyprus, and Chinese cities
at Carol’s

(the alliteration of C’s at Easter dinner)

On Easter Sunday, long-time friend of the family Carol invited me over
for a traditional Easter dinner. Everybody was drinking wine but me.
That’s probably why I remembered the conversation. It started out
on the porch.

C:1 Catholicism; the new Pope

A man said he was taking a trip to Italy. Someone said, “Perhaps
you’ll see the new pope?” One man said, “I grew up southern
Baptist, so I’ve had enough religion for a while!”  Someone
said, “I don’t care much for the Catholic church, but I’ve
had some friends who were nuns! I think it’s the Catholic
women who are the best, the men are just…!” And
another talked about the pope washing a bunch of people’s
feet, is he truly humble, or is it all an act for political
gain? Is it to lure people back to the Catholic church?
It was a sensitive topic…religion. My ear was hurting
from the cool air, and my teeth hurt from the snacks. I
went inside.

(Around the dinner table)

C:2 Cortes, Hernan 1485-1547

Somehow, people began to talk of Cortes, the explorer before
Columbus. He came from Spain to conquer Mexico with 15
horseman on board the ship, 13,000 Totonac Indians, and
according to the person narrating the story, one and only
one woman. (You can imagine what her purpose was on
a ship of men.) One woman at the dinner table said, “I
can’t stop thinking about what a nightmare it must’ve
been to have been that woman!” The conversation later
discussed China, how there are more Chinese men in
China than women, which creates problems, but I’m
jumping ahead of myself.

C3: Cyprus

Politics were discussed later on in the conversation.
How the banks and the government are taking
the money away from the people, and they have no
money anyway. They mentioned a man who grew up
in Cyprus and moved to Australia and worked hard
all his life and became a millionaire, then he wanted
to retire in Cyprus and pass his money on to his
family. Now the government is taking it all. In
the United states of America, we’re headed down
that path. Which created the next topic of discussion…

C4: Chinese Cities

Someone had visited China and there were certain areas
where the pollution was so bad it was hard to breathe. Of
course, that could be said of many areas of the world.
But they were talking about how China is building
massive cities, or ghost towns, and nobody lives there.
although, I read on the internet that ghost towns in
America are on the rise, and people are moving
where the work is, although where could that be?

C5 Carol’s cooking

Conversation wouldn’t be complete without Carol’s
creative cooking. The appetizers were captivating,
the salad was clean, the ham was crispy, the
potatoes were crunchy, the asparagus was cognitive,
the carrots were carefully collected from the oven,
the rolls were burnt to a crisp but were constantly
consumed, the candles were lit, and can’t forget
to end it with chocolate or key lime pie. So
why were there so many C’s on Easter Sunday?
Oh, I almost forgot the most important C
on Easter Sunday. Christ, himself! Isn’t
that what Easter is about? For some, I suppose.
Others may choose to Passover….

The Slayer Experience

by Farouk Masud
Drunkards out to fight tonight
With guttering roars of hellish proportions—
Hell is right!
Enter the players:

Drums of thunder,
Crashing ears,
Adrenaline starts to boil.
Echoing feedback,
Hair stands up,
Gnashing of teeth.
Reverberating distortions,
Electrifying solo,
Intensify the nerves.
Ripping chords,
Sacred guitar,
Hypnotize the soul.
Enter the real hard asses:

Rampaging cattle,
Unstoppable beasts
Bludgeon me to death.
Fists break jaws,
Elbow smashed faces—
No room for wimps.
On the floor, 
Bruised and battered,
My body lies broken.

Slam-dancing juggernauts
Thrashing like blood-frenzied sharks:
Moshing, fighting, stage-diving...
Thousands of Slaytanic teens chanting:


I can't wait 
to experience Slayer
once again.

(Written in high school, 1992)

A Shrieking Baby

by William Marr
-- at the scene of Brussels' terrorist attack, 2016.3.22
rising from the smoke and rubble
of hatred
a siren wails
leads the ambulance
that carries wounded humanity
the emergency station
of the universe
it will arrive
in time

The Second Coming

by Wilda Morris
for Dorinda
John’s leukemia, long in remission
has returned and the doctors
speak of lung cancer,
platelet counts too low
for biopsy or chemotherapy.
She rebels against nature’s
hard strike, or was it
the hand of God?
How can you? she cries
to heaven, fate, no one
in particular.
Breeze whispers through trees
behind the back deck he built,
Raspberry vines tremble
at the weight of a wren.
Chipmunks gather grain
beneath the bird feeders
he set, digging deep
into Indiana soil.
And with the wind, hear
a sigh, her sigh, not so much
sorrow or resignation
but thanks: thanks
for these twenty-one years
since the doctor first said
leukemia, two years to live.

(First published in Alive Now, 2005)


by David LaRue Alexander
I stand staring
at your favorite chair.
we were such
the perfect pair.
I can't believe,
you're no longer there.  
I miss you so much,
I yearn for your touch. 
This is such, a burden to bear.
This can't be real, it can't be true.  How can my life
go on without you.  Yes, I heard the words they said.
In time, in time you'll accept he's dead.  Just try to hang on,
it gets better ahead.
Then once again, I remembered when, you were my lover,
and best friend.  How I decided not to let it end,
to live my life and just pretend.  That you weren't really,
truly gone.  That somehow through love, we could carry on.
But it didn't work, no not at all.  So I stand here
back to the wall, feeling dizzy I begin to fall.  Now I'm lying here,
face down in the hall.
I couldn't deal with the empty space, and this reality
I don’t want to face.  So the coward's way out I embrace,
but I did leave a note; just in case.....
They want to know that I've gone—
to a better place.

changing seasons

by Steven Kappes
how that strip of canvas
at the corner of the tent
come loose at the bottom
lifts and falls in the breeze
as if trying to escape
to flee into the forest
where it could hide
in the shadow of a tree
or disguise itself as leaves
somewhere in an overhead branch
how the air moves the knife edge
blades of the fan palm
daggers waiting to strike
to pierce the unwary
who might venture
into the forest in search of
how the muted colors
of leaves and branches
of tree trunks and vines
all blend together on a cloudy day
how the days slide by
one after another
almost unchanging
only the small letters on a watch
making any difference

Webster's Procession

by jacob erin-cilberto
define death,
in broadest terms
the end and the beginning
and the beginning of the end
what was but isn't 
and will never be again
define death,
in particular terms,
not a gentleman
or lady,
or maybe so,
a last date,
a last ride in the chariot of flame
the final burning of the heart,
ashes or a full compliment
of bones,
and undertones
of eliminated voices
of rather sketchy choices
define death,
in terms of terms
it is terminal in time of need
it is terminal in line of thrones
it is terminal in line of inheritance
it is a money maker
but not a money taker
the poor soul learns the terms
of those rather sketchy choices
but sometimes rises to the occasion
define death,
okay how about this,
the poem is over
but the poet lives
the poet is over
but the poem lives
define death.

Ant Farm

by Nancy Ann Schaefer
Growing up, I was rough-and-tumble Sunday 
afternoons playing outside in the tall grass, building 
wooden forts with Kathy, or hanging upside down
on the neighbor’s fence, watching cotton clouds drift 
across intoxicating sky, until we got dizzy or yelled 
at (whichever came first), lying motionless on our 
bellies, barely breathing, tracking an orange-shelled 
ladybug crawl up a dewy twig, or waiting patiently 
beside an anthill under the hot July sun, looking
for the queen to turn up so we could kidnap her, 
whisking her away to reign over my ant farm, which 
arrived in the mail, all shiny green and plastic with 
rural motifs like a farmhouse, windmill and faux barn 
inside the box, filling it up with special sand (the 
tunneling kind), observing groggy ants settle in and 
organize: worker ants, forager ants, carpenter ants, 
queen—each taking its place in the colony.

My ant farm had another (unforeseen) side benefit, a 
magical talisman-like quality that could be counted 
on to ward off my older sister, who then moved out 
of my room so I didn’t have to listen to her constant 
nagging about picking up my side, what I called 
comfortable clutter, while hers was parent-pleasing 
tidy and boring (I thought). She was hairspray and I, 
scraped knees. She was ballet and I, tap. She was all 
boys and clothes and Seventeen and The Beatles, while 
I was all animals, my best friend Kathy, my dog Muffy 
and Motown. And I would never have even thought 
about screaming at the top of my lungs or falling down
in a swoon because Paul or John came to town, but my 
sister, well she made a paperweight with picture cut-
outs of the Fab Four stuck inside, preserved like ants 
in amber—forever young.

(First published in The Rockford Review)

The poet who couldn't speak for himself

by Mary Ann Eiler
He could cut syntax like a butcher slices ham.
He could pluck symbols from a sentence
like a farmer, feathers from a hen.
He was the oracle of imagery,
a Rumpelstiltskin of anaphora and simile,
but when he eyed her crouching over poems
like a nun in bliss, his tongue hid
behind the fortress of his teeth.
He knew they were for him and
couldn't speak.

(Published in The Daily Palette,
a publication of the University
of Iowa, in January 2016, written
at the 2015 Iowa Summer Writing

Maybe Once More?

by Gail Denham
If there were a hill to be climbed
nearby, I’d pass that signpost, stay
on the flat path till time, or weary
turned my steps to home.

High places, mountains, tiers of steps
are for the young, for the soul who
has to conquer, has to claim height
for herself. Me, I don’t need climbs.

But perhaps, in one area, or two,
there is an obstacle, a border to cross,
or a feat that demands a try, that invites
me to stretch, take a deep breath

…and surge upward.

If I sight one of those challenges, my tired
legs might make the effort. I could scan
the daunting upward path for a sturdy stick
to aid my progress.

There would be marching music.

The Killing Site

by Caroline Johnson
at the Illinois Holocaust Museum
Perhaps she thought of the iberleben, 
this woman who peers out from the photo,  
standing in the snow in a line of four women, 
all with beautiful long dark hair and clad 
in white dresses like angels.  A German 
took the photo in occupied Latvia in 1941 
just minutes before the S.S. Einsatzgruppen
shot them.  She is the second from the left, 
older, her cheeks sallow, face sunken, 
her eyes bright.  She appears 

not horrified, not desperate despite what
is to be done.  She smiles, looks hopeful.
Perhaps it is the presence of her sisters 
that comforts her.  They are clutching each
other’s arms.  She looks like my mother,
who died of Alzheimer’s.  Did this woman
believe they would survive and outlast 
the horror, or ride out the storm?  Perhaps 
she thought of Martin Buber as she quietly 
slipped into the Thou.  Oh Mother, where 

are you?  I see your brown eyes mirrored
in this woman’s face, in all the faces 
of the mothers in this museum.  I
can’t escape the sadness, the misery
of this world, no matter how hard I try.
The picture breaks me down, breaks me
into the shattered Kristallnacht of the past.
The woman’s hair is blowing in the wind, 
blowing softly in the unspeakable wind.

(Previously published in Red Paint Hill Journal)

Vernon's White Onions

by Doris Lueth Stengel
The rows of white onions
in my brother’s garden
grew straight as virtue,
untainted by the gossip
of a single weed.
On my cutting board
they spill juicy little secrets
held inside all summer,
unaware they are the last onions
to be planted by his hand,
graced by his tender care.
He now neatly planted in his own plot.
I weep, not for onions,
but for brother
as I chop this sweet harvest,
scoop its goodness into a stew
made from our mother’s recipe.
It simmers in a cast iron pot
inherited from grandmother;
she long dead,  mother long dead.
My brother’s death only a rumor
until my onion bin is bare.

Seaside Beach

by Jennifer Thiermann
chiseled initials
mine, his
in separate hearts

Nowhere Blues

by Phillip Egelston
I ain't been 
everwhere – 
not even once

but I sure been 
mos' ever day – 

ten years now,
& twiced! 

Me, & the likes
a you.

(Originally appeared
in his book, Light
Stalking the Dark)

Sheen and Shadow

by Mary Jo Balistreri
Enamored by impatiens, their fuchsia
abundance spilling over the edge
of a wood barrel, 
I almost miss the bird.
It lies quiet on its side, 
eye already looking back
from the afterlife, neck broken, 
though its feathers are on fire, 
the blood-red epaulets ablaze in sun’s setting.

Whole, in a way, like music remembered, 
the red wing lives in death;
the bird in flight more like separate notes, 
by the space it travels. 

Perhaps Audubon had this totality in mind
when he painted Birds of America,
the reason he shot, and sometimes pinned
them in their last agony—to capture 
not only bird in its entirety, but also in 
the doing, his own completeness on the canvas.

And I wonder what disturbs me more: the finality
of the last harsh whistle carried by air, 
or the absolute perfection
of the red wing’s body, even with its angled neck. 

Caged Wildness

by Kathy Cotton
The danger of
dark forests and
untamed creatures 
is their siren call
to the caged wildness
of my heart.
Falling prey
to their cunning 
is nothing 
compared to
the danger 
of not dancing wild
to their song.

Lay Over

by David McKenna
sunlight lapped
her sitting
leg        in the middle
of the hotel lobby

warmed her skin
melted in

she left

a glow remained
lime cushions stained
creamy bright

slipped away
chasing night

Saint Luke's Summer

by David Bond
Dark drops a pillar
	of honeyed wind wrapped
		in hail and red rain.

The drugstore’s vinyl banners snap
	like rabid prayer flags
		then rise to the sublime.

Everywhere howls 
	of sirens, rough rumbling
		an unexpected music.

Into the vorspiel 
	a dim sun slides.
		Backlit oak trees crack.

Power lines shear with
	a bluesick whipping
		of corposant fire.

Huddled inside a closet 
	the woman soothes her shaking dog.
		A nebula of broken shingles

carbon bits and dust swirls  
	like seething broth
		surges past

a broken jaw of door.
	Heaven touches earth
		with the sound of
a thousand bullroarers.   
	In the maelstrom
		she sees her father 

his sunburnt arms
	draped over the wheel 
		of a ’53 Skylark

grill grinning like a chrome skull
	tailfins dreaming 
		of flight.

Watching NOVA

by Jan Presley
Fall asleep with Einstein, wake up 
to strands pulsing neon greens and blues
more elementary and arcane than quarks.
Strings, only in contested thesis, 
yet we see them on the screen, 
predictable tiny protagonists in a dubious text.
Imponderable.   String
as the particulate voice of God, the point 
where God-and-science sigh what can’t be heard.
	Name me graviton and seek me in a footfall.
	Photon—search for me in the eye dilated.
	Sound wave in the blood of vein,
	proton—neutron—but smaller than these,
	interior, infinite, fundamental, I’m this. And that.
	I’m everywhere and you can’t have me.
	Your concepts crumble at my little door.

Click the remote.  Get up 
and walk the empty house to bed. 
Something hums and glows beyond 
the rusty dogma of the microscope,
the bygone theory of prayer.

Horseshoe Lake

by David Gross
crappie fishing   movement
               in the corner of my eye
riled ripples beside
               the bank where a snake
unfolds itself
                 like a carpenter's ruler
swims submerged
                    through turbid water
two minuscule replicas
                          suspended above
mimicking their mother's
              slow zigzagging motions 
seeking sanctuary
                       escaping in cursive

(Previously published in The Cape Rock)

Up or Down

by Marie Samuel
Urban towers or rural bowers
Upward stepping seeking home
Winding downward stepping stones
Twisting, turning, picking flowers

Knowing somehow intrinsically 
That perching precariously on high
Will someday bring us tumbling by
Until we land on bottom lands of old

From mountains ridges etched to sky
We see the storm clouds rolling by
Until the lightening bolts will strike,
We hover on our stomping grounds

And yet the valleys have their charms
And bison critters seek to roam
Unmoved by progress taking form
Unless displacing becomes the norm

And so we wander to and fro from
Peaceful streams and rocky shores
To climb the cliffs and seek the gold
Of vistas far and creatures small

We walk this place called earth
And know that searching high or low
Means some will find their soul and home
While most will stumble as they roam.

Apple and Eve

by Ina Perlmuter
Last night I could not sleep
winds howled, rain beat
on my bedroom skylight
today is my wedding
the morning overcast
the yard exquisitely covered
with bruised pink and dapple white
confetti tree blossoms
a vision of loveliness
trees like lovers
fruits ripen
and voila
life’s cycle repeats


by Bakul Banerjee
wears a shimmering garb of rain
my girl and I take shelter under
the awning of a Paris café to trap
its magic in two cups of café au lait

Another Opening, Another Show

by Carol Dooley
The orchestra tunes up.
A drum roll of rain hits the roof,
then a few drips, loud, large.
A slash of wind and water against the patio door.
Or just a car turning a block away?
Dark now.
The dog whines.
April night.

Winter's Last Call

by Jill Angel Langlois
Winter geese flying
like jacks tumbling through the sky.
Frost gathers on grass.

Purple mountains stare
at their icy reflections
in the frozen lake.

Momma's purple eyes
close for the very last time.
My heart is broken.

Ice Folly

by Susan T. Moss
We walk on a frozen lake
with creaking ice 
thinning and pooling
at the edges
and try to glimpse 
what lies beneath 
shrouded waters creeping
toward the middle
of our lives.
Knowing that nothing
can last, we keep moving
farther out on frigid surface
into spreading twilight, 
searching for a safer path
to the other side 
before darkness conceals the way.

Grasshopper Now

by Barbara Robinette
I miss the little grasshopper
who twice fanned his little wings
perpendicular to the ground 
and went nowhere.  He did not know,
apparently, that he had to leap 
with his legs then fan his wings 
in clicking sound so common 
in Arkansas woods in mid-August.  

I look outside my window.
I will not see him again.

(Won 2nd Place in Poets’ Roundtable
of Arkansas nature contest March, 2011)

A Memory

by Dan Fitzgerald
Small apartment
over a garage.
Rain falling, windows open,
overhangs protecting
everything inside.
Orange shaded lamp
shines on a table 
next to a chair.
A book, a glass,
a pleasant afternoon.

Claire de Lune

by Alan Harris
Uncle Bill's piano rolls mellowly along,
Touching dim moods and whispering old warmth.
In its ethereal arc outside the window
The full moon is smooth and slow.

As Uncle Bill's fingers coax the keys
His cigar in the heavy green ashtray
Emits a flimsy plume of fragrance.
The smoke, like Debussy's essence,
Rises straight up and flutters a bit
Before it disappears.

Aunt Martha's supper dishes
Clatter a counterpoint in the sink.

(From Sparks from the Flame)

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