Illinois State Poetry Society
Poems by ISPS Members
December, 2018
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Poems on this Page:

Poem Full of Black, Black Water

by Jenene Ravesloot
Try to shake up the universe. You'll come up snake eyes 
because the game is rigged. To set the record straight, 
this poem isn't about me. 

Notice how the moon has cut her cords. She's left 
the room. And the lame little stars have followed after. 
No, this poem isn't about me. 

Someone is singing, but who can make out the words? 
The die is cast. I want to assure you. This poem isn't 
about me. 

Each die carries its wound like a badge. Each die sleeps 
on a bed of salt. Each die hears the sea in its dreams. 
This poem isn't about me. 

A morning star returns and a morning moon too, while 
something floats to the surface that smells of brine. 
No, this poem isn't about me. 

(First published in Sad Girl Review)

Byron's Siren

by Mark Hudson
John Byron, a Navy captain,
sailed in bad weather out at sea.
He sailed under George Anson,
and made it to Southern Chile.

In Chile, his ship was wrecked,
all the survivors divided into teams.
One group went to Rio de Janeiro,
the other to the Spanish Coast through streams.

There were some led by Captain Cheap,
and a surgeon and Byron who'd been on a barge.
One of the ships on shore began to sweep
out to sea with no captain in charge.

It had two boat keepers inside the boat,
one of the men fell out and drowned.
The other man managed to stay afloat,
got back to shore and was therefore found.

That only left one boat to use;
so four marines were left behind.
Another death, a shipmate to lose
another sailor they couldn't find.

An Indian took the remaining thirteen
to Chile Island, only to jail them.
But they returned them to where they'd been,
and the men were able to sail again.

Byron took a French ship to Spain.
They had to account for loss of the ship.
The blame was put on a man named Baynes,
who the English court decided to acquit.

Two: Byron's Siren

How did the Siren get its name?
The records do not include this info.
It sailed along the river Thames,
built at the Limehouse by Thomas Snelgrove.

From 1746 Byron was in command,
till 1747, Anson took over the fleet.
The war of the Spanish Succession was manned
by a bunch of sailors who would not retreat.

That was when all the trouble began,
all in Chile, and around Cape Horn.
After setting off much later than planned,
the crew faced the most dangerous storm.

3: Epilogue

To think of these sailors makes me feel
as if I have no desire to be at sea.
When someone says that sailing has appeal;
safe on land is where I will be.


by Michael Escoubas
After Train in the Snow by Claude Monet, painted in 1875
No sea-wind plays the black
plume of smoke curling, blending
with today's grey-blue sky.

Naked trees and brown picket fence
frame this modern marvel of black
steel, colder than snow, waiting

for its iron belly to be stoked,
coal-fed and fired. Levers
and chains will be pulled, then snorts

and grumbles, coughs and wheezes
disturb the day, as two yellow
eyes blink eerily, like some monster

resting in a pile of snow waiting
until steel-grooved wheels engage
machine-smooth rails. Far down

the line where the train vanishes
into bosoms of mist and smoke
a faint light whispers, it's time to go.

(Published in Monet in Poetry and Paint)


by Tom Roby
Because the truth is infinite, 
I tilt the slats, decrease their shade 
and let the light in bit by bit. 

I watch my room become bright-lit. 
Dreams and quests transform to verse
because the truth is infinite.

When philosophers' twisted wit, dark, 
obscure, leave me afraid, I let the light 
in bit by bit

since I have found that we're all unfit 
to gaze at a sun in full cascade.

Because the truth is infinite, my scope 
extends. I cannot quit. I open more, 

expose charade by letting light in bit 
by bit.

This is the view I will transmit to lighten 
now what once was grayed, because 
the truth is infinite, 

let in the light bit by bit.

Games with My Tomboy Sister

by Charlotte Digregorio
She had leaves in her thick, cropped hair,
bruises under her raccoon eyes,
and scratches on her scrawny legs
from scaling the oak to the tree house.

She was my shadow, hopping
ahead of me with brittle bones. 
I followed her tracks in dirt and dust.

Despite her slight build,
she was stronger than I,
pushing me high on my swing
so I could grab at clouds.

We stalked the neighbor boys
in the alley, camouflaged in the hedge.
We jumped out laughing, brandishing
our pocket knives, watching them flee.

When it rained, we played inside, 
forgetting our boyish ways.
We dressed up Barbie, Ken, Midge
and Skipper, draining poor Dad's budget.

Summers at the beach, we searched
for sand dollars and seaweed
and built tunnels to Africa.

In our shared bed, under
Nonna's quilt, buried beneath
countless stars, we hid from spiders.

She was my breezy companion
to tell secrets and recite rhymes to,
yell and toss feather pillows at.

Carried by winds through childhood,
she was unknown to Dad and Mom.

one oak leaf

by Tom Chockley
one oak leaf
wet on the window
tea ceremony

Doors Softly Shut

by Gail Denham
With finality, the doors close on productive
years; those years where a person mattered.
Tasks needed doing, there were multiple
persons, family, to care for, folks 
who needed me. 

People often asked for my opinions. 
Important functions required my 
attendance, meetings where my 
words were heard, even recorded.

Doors swung closed slowly, so gently 
I barely noticed. Finally, I grew tired 
trying different keys to find ways back inside,
discover anyone who gave a rap whether 
I existed in that universe.

Time to quit staring at what isn't there
any longer. There are other doors of different
colors. Keys are readily available. Turn left,
scrunch into slightly smaller spaces, treasure
the past, and with pleasure and acceptance,
face my shrinking, but satisfying future.

Old Folks at Weekday Mass

by Joseph J. Solberg
Aging joints burn and throb,
Chilled by dark, hardwood kneelers.
Old Catholics stare at dead saints while
Their twisted fingers fumble beads.

What ancient transgressions stir them
To arise in a cold, guilty sweat, driving
Their ravaged bodies from bed to
St. Something or Other in the dark?
Do they feel the flicker of eternal fire?
The race all but over, are they hoping
To earn a tiny corner of Purgatory
For their quaking, unforgivable souls?

Day after day they sit, kneel, and stand,
Gray heads bowed in immortal terror,
Afraid their pounding consciences will
Betray them like Dorian's portrait, certain 
All congregated will divine the ghosts 
Of their unholy glory.

They'll return tomorrow, same pew, same time,
Same sins, one day closer to judgment.
And I will once again join them,
Holding my rosary, contemplating a statue,
Averting my eyes.

Cool Treat

by Arthur Voellinger
Ice cream socials
once were notable
at locations
of sophistication

Until cones
contributed to
the sensation

That attracted
generations to
multiple flavors

Enjoyed best
by licking
a dip or two

Without caring
what drips
might do

Movements at Dusk

by Melissa Huff
The window measures two feet
by six—just right to create
a Zen view. I shift position
on the sofa to reframe it as though
taking a photograph.  Aiming
for asymmetrical balance—an instinct
honed years ago in Doug Gilbert's
photography class—I place the trunk
of the linden tree off-center
balancing it with two slivers of light
still lingering from the low-slung
evening sun of late June.

I absorb the notes flowing
from the seven foot Bosendorfer—
my husband playing Chopin—
one of the fifty-eight mazurkas
a form the composer kept
coming back to over the course
of his short thirty-nine years
pieces graced with the lilt
of Polish dances—gentle
echoes of his childhood.

Beyond the window linden leaves
shift in time to the music
branches stretch their fingers
as the melodies drift
from the piano.

With no prelude
a light show begins
beneath the tree's canopy—
pinpoints of light blaze
for less than a second—flicker
and flash back into darkness.

Random locations
randomly lit—
tonight the fireflies
dance the mazurka.

(Originally published in
River Poets Journal - 2017
Vol 11 Issue 1)


by Wilda Morris
Another poet asks me
if my mother's death
is a line break with a period—
grief a full stop—
or is it followed
by a comma,
syntax unbroken.
I don't yet know.
I must edit this summer.
I write my days
in the voice of an orphan.

(First published in
Portage Magazine)

The Lapidary Annotates a Nursery Rhyme

by Lennart Lundh
Monday's children are fair of face
moonstone nourishing body and soul
pearl sharing these pure gifts freely

Tuesday's children are full of grace
with ruby to protect and prosper
garnet to use the passions wisely

Wednesday's children are full of woe
amethyst reflects cleansing energies
tanzanite overcomes its brittleness to aid others

Thursday's children have far to go
sapphire gives them wisdom, faithfulness and faith
emerald soothes and inspires in hard times and good

Friday's children are loving and giving
here, emerald teaches compassion, unconditional love
peridot gives the positivity being so strong requires

Saturday's children work hard for a living
labradorite brings them self-discovery, perseverance
while turquoise makes its bearers shaman-kings

And the children born on the Sabbath day
are bonnie and blithe, good and gay
sunstone awakens consciousness of the cosmos
golden topaz brings the sun's fertility to life and land

Every Gust of Wind Is a Poem

by William Marr
wind is invisible
yet you know
this gust of wind comes from Siberia
you can see glistening icicles
formed under the eaves right after its passing
that wind comes from the fields of springtime
the gently floating white clouds
the softly vibrating leaves
the chirping birds and insects
the laughing children
all carry some fragrance of flowers
that window-shaking wind
is to warn you
of an approaching thunderstorm
this moist wind comes from your heart lake
standing by its shore
your old lover is reciting with tears
the love poems you wrote for her
many years ago
wind is invisible
but it uses all kinds of images
to let you feel its existence
and to comprehend its boundless
unpredictable poetic meaning and beauty

Secret Ingredient

by Frank Hubeny
Listening to MacArthur Park
As winter turns my dreams around
I see forgiveness search the dark
To find bright angels carry sound.

The week before CHRISTMAS 2011

by Doris Frey
'Tis the week before Christmas,
and all through the house,
the Spirit is stirring,
like a little gray mouse,
just peeking and poking,
around the nativity,
up and down the tree,
across the reindeer's back,
and down the piano keys,
He's laughing and poking, "Ha Ha,
"I'm the Christmas spirit
"and try as you might,
"you can't get rid of me."
Thank you Jesus,
for the real Christmas spirit.

The Scent of Rain

by Kathy Cotton
Let scientists and etymologists
speak knowingly of petrichor. 

My old Lithuanian neighbor
who stands in rain-spattered pajamas,

breathing, just slow-breathing
in the middle of his wire-fenced yard—

this man needs no such term
to describe the earthy fragrance 

of raindrops touching dry soil.
He doesn't imagine the word's origins 

of god-life spilling from sacred veins
to wet earth's simple stones.

This cloudburst soaking
his drought-brown garden brought

him from his bed, quick like a child,
wordless with wonder at the scent of rain.

(Encore Prize Poems, 2018)

Too Much of a Good Thing

by Carole R. Bolinski
I thought I had it all
enough to just get along
But just enough of one thing
turned into more things
and the more things turned into
not enough, until not enough
turned into too much,
way, too, too much

So I rid myself of the too much
and gave away so much
that I'm back to just enough
Because to have just enough
but not too much
is where I'm the happiest 

In the Belly of the Whale

by Caroline Johnson
It has been three nights, still no exit. 
You inhale salt and dead fish, crave
Chicago's glitter, even its sidewalk cracks. 
Shadows of skyline form like Plato's cave. 
The memory of your mother, your father, 
the way they held hands and reached across
their wheelchairs to form a bridge as wide 
and deep as an ocean, the way they hung 
crystal and bone ornaments on a tree 
at their last Christmas together, eyes closed,
each voice a whisper of encouragement.
Find ways to nourish this memory, preserve it
from being swallowed. Shoot it up the blow hole
of your mind if you have to. Find a pink conch, 
shake it of sand, and announce to the world 
you are here. Put a poem in a bottle and send it
out to sea. Think of all the things you could have 
said, but didn't. Now that everything is dark, 
press your fingers along an imaginary piano 
made of teeth. Find your way out by feel 
as you play Moonlight Sonata and listen 
to the sonar moan from the whale's throat. 
Reflect on your loss, then let go and fall 
gently back into the stomach of the sea.

(Previously published in Zoetic Press
anthology, "Write Like You're Alive," 2018)

What Remains

by Mary Jo Balistreri
Their silence conveys the import of this moment 
as he encircles her with his arms. They stand on the lanai
and watch the Gulf. Indigo clouds edged in moonlight
bob into crashing waves. That's us, she thinks, 
a perfect metaphor. Rain pelts the screen. Wind moans.
They know the landscape will be reshaped by  
this storm, her life by his imminent goodbye. 
She wonders how she will outride the gale, but knows
bone deep her love is like the sea, large enough
to contain his death. They hold each other tight. 
Around them music of the night rises, falls. 

The Waiting

by Debbie Neal Crawford
We wait in line
To pay for our presents.
We wait for doctors 
And the results of tests. 
We wait for the mail
And our Amazon package. 
We wait at the airport 
Holding our luggage. 
We wait unsure
And begin to worry.
We wait impatiently 
And continue to hurry. 
We wait for the Prince of Peace
In a world of strife. 
We wait for the Wonderful Counselor 
To answer our prayers at night. 
We wait for His kingdom to come
And His will be done. 
We wait to meet Him in the air
A divine consummation.


by Steven Kappes
old striped tomcat
reclines in sunlight
pouring through windows
stretches and preens
in warm rays
but always keeps one eye
on his shadow.

This Old Heart of Stone

by David LaRue Alexander
I always got what I wanted
It had become mundane
What I needed was distraction
To ease the pain
And that....
           was Elaine
I'd never seen before
What I saw in her eyes
It opened a door
       and to my surprise
Let feelings and emotions
Come rushing in
Flooding a place
     where they'd never been
I thought perhaps
I was going insane
I didn't understand
Why it felt like pain
It was supposed to be
A one-night stand
Another conquest
Feelings banned
Yet somehow, I couldn't
follow the routine
Or stick to the script
This was unforeseen
My heart....
    opened wide
     tossed aside
    couldn't hide
   when she whispered
I love you
This old heart of stone
Felt it too

Your Forever Little Girl

by Sherri Baker
Sugar and spice and everything nice
Is this all little girls are made of?
Cute little fingers and cute little toes
soon take her out in the world to explore.
Splashing in puddles in her brand new dress
not understanding why you think it's a mess.
Bringing home strays with promises to feed them.
Which never happens (in case that's what you're thinking)
Before you know it the ribbons and bows,
Get traded in for high heels and hose.
Best friends that stay over and up all night 
trying on make-up and nail polish in colors so bright.      
Giggling about boys and which one is dreamy,
(a cute boy said hi to her and now she's beaming!)
Prom dresses and flowers are not far away,  
and maybe diamonds and vows, she will say.
You know you won't like him at first you are sure,
there's no one really good enough for her,
your precious and perfect forever little girl.
She's a diamond that shines in the darkest of night.
She fills up your soul, she's your heart's delight.
Just watching her sleep and knowing she's safe
makes you feel like there's nothing in this world you can't face.
Your forever little girl, sharing stories and fun.
what's in, what's out , what she hopes to become.
It's a wild ride and she has no limits.
Cherish it all, she'll be grown up in a minute.


by Jill Angel Langlois
(hollowed out spaces in the earth;
underground chambers of large extent)
Oh, the emptiness!
Yes, the emptiness.
I wish I could take out the emptiness.
I'd reach down and carve it out.
I'd carefully remove it from inside.
When it came out, I'd close my eyes.
I couldn't bear to see the emptiness.
Yes, the emptiness.
Then I would be empty again. Oh, the pain!
Yes, the pain.
The pain of emptiness.  How the hollowness
hurts me.  And the nothingness.
Yes, I've known the nothingness.
At night I cannot sleep.  Nothing to sleep for,
nothing to stay awake for.  Just nothingness.
At night I feel the nothingness.
At morning I cannot rise.  Nothing to rise for,
nothing to go to.  Just nothingness.
At morning I feel the nothingness.
I'm filled with nothingness. 
I want to be empty of nothingness.  
Then I would really be empty.
Yes, empty.  I want that too!

Trees of Old & New

by Marie Samuel
Some now feel must a theme be filled
Each branch in sync a treasure trove
Of matching color, shapes and forms.
Graced by perfect beauty sought afar. 

Yet some like me prefer bangles old
Made through the years by tiny hands,
And given, loved and stored with care
A variety born of what we all did share.

So pretty those trees of matching orbs,
Imitation  greens or fake snow so warm
But forth we go to seek a cedar growing
Wild with scented pine and free for all. 

No perfect shapes and costly trims,
Nor toppers grand that reach so high
But crooked branches reaching out
To hold the gifts of years long past
A history shared, of love and caring.

The Last Train at the Kosciusko Veterans Nursing Home

by Myron L. Stokes
Some are slumped in wheelchairs,
head drooped in medicated induced sleep.
Some shuffle along zombie-like,
decorated in dribble and crusted food stains,
rubber soles hiss along the colorless linoleum.

A few live tucked in their bed
while time drifts through saline solutions—
a slow drip to count the day's small hours.
In the dayroom, some stare at the television,
eyes no longer rich with plot or passion,
barely seeing inside pleated, sunken faces,
memories of Germany, Korea, and Vietnam
diced by the dull blade of time.

In each room, a bed, a chair or two
and bureaus loaded with photographs
when vibrant life gushed through them:
a handsome soldier, skin taut, hairless, 
eyes shining like chips of onyx, staring beyond death,
not knowing if time would bring him home alive.

Soon the train will come 
to rescue them from a battle 
they will never outmaneuver, 
never destroy, never win.
It comes without warning.
It's never on time.
It's never late.

Three Sweet Leaves

by Jan Presley
After Grimm's "The Three Snake-Leaves"
You think you've married someone kind
of like you, and you have. Like you, I need
the stars. Their opal arch. But you take
to the field on even dimmest nights
while I look up, seated, from a window.
We think that we have married Love, 

and true enough. Though some days find
the beam of sweetness wilting thin,
no longer swollen-honey to the glance
but tired on the tongue. Yet we 
are some of those old lovers, tried
and molded by the lifeblood kindness holds,

scolded by the snake of wisdom we found
wrapped around the homely Hackberry's lore;
its animal bark, its green sweetmeat.
Each young leaf offers up a healing: 
two held to eyelids and one held to lips,
together jolt a lover: Start back from the heart. 

Their touch scraps the vile-look and its
forked tone that fits-and-stops toward love's
starvation. Let hackberries wake our yardbirds 
into song. Let perfumed blossoms 
wreath our throats by noon. And, always, 
pursed and pocketed, the leaf times three.

(The Comstock Review Special Merit, 
Muriel Craft Bailey Contest)

Meditation - I Hear the Twitch of Twigs

by Emma Alexandra Kowalenko
I am a mouse.
I am a ground squirrel.
I hear the twitch of twigs
above my home.

So small I am,
so big the earth.

So big your feet, your paws, trampling
my illusion of safety
in this home,
below the twitch of twigs.

I hear your foot, step by step, your feet,  
the whisper of rain dappling the surface
of my roof, my home.

I feel the whisper of possibility, of safety,
before vulnerability of my small life surges,
beneath the soil, touched by your feet,
the twitch of twigs.

On the soil of my roof, my home,
I hear the twitch of twigs.

So small I am, 
so big the earth.

It's Strange Today

by Rafael Lantigua Medina
It's strange today.
Close by people are hyper-nervous today...
Are they trying to pick a quarrel with me?
--I wonder.
And despite my good will,
I won't be able to prevent them
from quarrelling amongst each other
and blaming it all on me, at the end...
(The varnish covering the surface of my interactions is starting to show a crack...)
I might well be the recipient of some misfortunes today.
But the passion in me
will provide me with endurance and a calmed attitude:
I'll grab my emotional armaments
to be tolerant and malleable, flexible —if you will—
in the face of hardship.
(...but I will not give up. Patience and strength will reign. I know,)
Just will not get disturbed, and all will be well.
Someone says.
It's interesting what my eyes can read...
(Who cares...  I need to move on).

I Love a Monday

by Judith Tullis
The squeaky swing next door
hangs static on its chain. 
A tricycle sits on the driveway
parked at a forlorn angle
its daredevil driver ferried away
on a yellow school bus 
with others of his ilk
and their exhausting vitality.

A brown beer bottle
not done partying
tips itself over the rim
of a trash bin
rolls drunkenly to the curb
comes to rest in the gutter.

The usual barking dogs
sleep off a weekend's excitement.
A tea bag steeps silently
in a porcelain pot, its spout chipped
by some careless ancestor.

The only sounds I record are 
the sigh of an old cottonwood
and the distant hum of suburban commerce.
It is so quiet I could hear the sound
of pen on paper if only the pen would
stop scratching the back of my head
or twirling like a mini baton 
through impatient fingers.

If the blue-inked fine point 
pen would cooperate
you might know how happy
and productive I am
on a Monday.


by Sheila Elliott
your paws braided a worn elliptic path in
the ragged, wood-chipped cage they gave you
its floor, a stage:  In that place, any passing
eye's gaze could take a painful piece of you,
                                            inside there,

where storm cloud-gray wires
had been spun into a perfect webbed
wall.  In rain, droplets clung in
the shape of human tears, there

you perfected a look of anxious scorn,
each step gnawing the path, pacing alone.
Any animal, it seems, will ground
another animal to the bone.

The path became worn as lace, as
you leered at the forest outside
and then, in deft soundlessness,
said perfect punishment is to tantalize.


by Tom Moran
The morning of our wedding was crystalline blue.
You smiled, and the sun rose twice.
When I told you of serving a year and a half in jail for stealing money,
the look on your face was that of a mannequin.
You thought, and weighed what I am to what I had to do to eat.
As steel is poured from hot ingot into forms,
you chose to go ahead, because like steel,
you knew what I was made of.
Love overflows the dam,
churns in to a frothy undertow,
rolls over the breaks and is awake.

We said I do and we have.
Sunshine was served in slices at our reception.
A stray cat wandered into the party,
curled around my leg,
purred acceptance.
It lays in our window
watching time wasted on surviving.

Alzheimer's Caper

by Cassandra McGovern
rheumatoid arthritic toes spread and curled outside your sandals
your face remolded as if caught in a fun house mirror
your mouth distorted, lips barely holding exposed teeth
food catching between them, spilling over onto your sweater
your eyes bugged like a praying mantis
being angry with me when you've never been angry
why didn't I see how sick you'd become

(Five Poets write about Aging, Illness, and Mortality.
Pennywise Press, 2011)

To Wake Up To

by Alan Harris
The world disappeared entirely
for a few hours.
Where were you?
Don't say, in your bed.

You were down in up under beyond worlds.
You took the whole shebang off
like your socks
and went deep into nowhere.

I was there too, but I didn't see you—
or anyone else.
Dead into a most alive life we sank.
Dark into a colorless light.
Reincarnation, is there?
Every day, let's say.

Your bed was pregnant all night with you,
but now, in the morning,
cut the cord,
breathe today's first breath,
cry quietly with first muscle,
and go.

There is go, and we must.
There is day, and we mount it.
It's all a ride but we must pedal,
a pleasure but we must groan.

Welcome back to your thatness
after a blissful this.
You have made it possible
for there to be whatever humanness is,
and so have I,
and every each of us
in our nowhere core.

(From Knocking on the Sky)

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