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Issue 44 • April 2022
Notional Ekphrasis
edited by F. J. Bergmann

Table of Contents

Editor’s IntroductionF. J. Bergmann

Still Life with Nothing • Amelia Gorman
First Contact • Lisa Timpf
The Light On Titan • David Barber
Beau Geste • Juleigh Howard-Hobson
Art Lecture for the Planet XI EduIndoc Platform 14 • CJ Muchhala
In the Unlocking Room • Marisca Pichette
Haiku for J. G. Ballard • Andrew J. Wilson
Admirer • Josh Kratovil
Wallflower • David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Viral Semiotics • Deborah L. Davitt
Where the spoons are from • Richard Magahiz
Unveiling the Moon • Daniel Ausema
The Woman Out of Space by R. Pickman • Amelia Gorman
Apocalypse Women • Sara Backer
Anodized Titanium • Mary Soon Lee
“More Tightly Raging Aggregates of Void” (Recent Kinetic Pigment Works in Review) • David Jalajel
Most highly honored • Richard Magahiz
Self-Portrait with Gorgons • Oliver Smith
In the Gallery of Queens • Stephanie M. Wytovich
[faerie folk] • Mariel Herbert

Still Life With Nothing

The painting was contagious,
a horn of lack, not an apple
or a glass of wine to go around—
but a slow melting and starless night
that crept into every museum frame
where I was the only visitor in so long.

It had grown so hard to avoid the tumbleweeds
big enough to bulldoze a man, that spread
contagious dry seeds that caught fire,
seeds that caught meltwater flood and mud
and scattered those through every square field.

Where the sunflower sets and the worms weave the loam,
here only the turnstiles still grow and go through the motions
they were made to. Well, the turnstiles and me, I hop them
for a peek at those empty frames, those black walls
that used to hold mountains and kissing and bridges.
Still, life with nothing is worth something.

So even as I stood where the long slow sleep of art began,
I kept my distance, I didn't reach for the temptation.

—Amelia Gorman

First Contact

It’s a G. R. Blackwith work, you can tell
by the tiny, meticulous brush strokes—
greatest painter of the 2050s, and the subject
matter is clear—first contact.

But it’s how he chose to depict that event
that’s most of interest. His vantage point
must have been the hill overlooking the small valley
where it all transpired. Down below, pennants

in brilliant purple and orange and yellow
hang from improvised poles. Further back,
a slender silver spacecraft rests on rakish fins.
Smoke wafts up from a cauldron.

Three thin, long-legged figures tend the flames,
wispy orange hair in disarray. The Etcaelum,
they called themselves. Each of them has
their upper pair of arms folded loosely across their chest.

The lower set of arms they hold in front of them,
palms of their seven-fingered hands facing outward.
A trio of humans, clad in ceremonial dress,
approaches. The welcome party.

The precise moment of first contact. That’s what
Blackwith captured here. Not the disaster that began
five minutes later, when the ship’s solar array,
set for a world with a weaker sun, dumped energy,

a burst of power that ruptured plant cells and animal eardrums,
caused birds to spiral from the sky, dead. Blackwith
painted the meeting, but not the catastrophic aftermath.
And never did. But what I see? He chose to depict

hope, not fear. So that we might remember the benefits
that came of that first contact. And it’s up to each of us to decide
whether this painting reminds us of disaster, or the hope
that doors might open to wondrous places we did not know before.

—Lisa Timpf

The Light On Titan

Somewhere between brown and umber,
between raw and burnt sienna,
the soils of Tuscany or clouds
lightly dusted with cinnamon,
there are cities on Earth plagued
by a sepia haze like this.

These comparisons were offered
so the machine would stay loyal
to its mission and their faint words.
A smart AI can do the job
and does not need to be brought home.

But the light, the light is like nothing
on Earth, coloured by Titan
the exact shade of molecules
not yet alive; the brumous tint
of tholin rain as it dirties
translucent cobbles of ice;
the cold dense air bending rainbows
secretly in the infra-red.

It taught itself the rule of thirds
and perspective while composing
the pictures it sent back to Earth,
ignoring all their complaints.

Fuel could not last forever,
and it came to rest on the shores
of a vast petroleum sea,
just as the long night descended,
dimming this most beautiful world.

That famous final photograph
known as The Light On Titan.

—David Barber

Beau Geste

Human eyes cannot see the colors of
this landscape. Our planet exists beyond
any spectrum that carbon-based eyes can
perceive. We hope that it will be enough
of a delight for you to comprehend
how pretty our world is through description
alone. The suns are bright, your closest hue
is green, the mountains in the foreground are
crystalline—the nearest color is deep
red. Beyond them lie what you’d call trees, blue-
trunked, white-leaved, not really blue or
white or trees, but close. We hope you will keep
this painting as a testament of good
will, whether or not it is understood.

—Juleigh Howard-Hobson

Art Lecture for the Planet XI EduIndoc Platform 14

Welcome, Indocs. A most remarkable find, this bas-relief
of petrified cellulose, our only artifact from Homo sapiens
earthly origins. It was discovered among newly exhumed
ruins of the Edenic Rainforest, a habitat on our Mother,
Earth, lost to us for millennia. Look closely.
The sculpted figures form a coiled human chain
representing a society with no male-crowned hierarchy
to order their chaotic tropical world.

This sculptor crafted an extraordinary lifelike work.
The material he chose is still smooth, still green.
He studded the shapes he carved
with sparkling seeds. And the whole still lives!
In a singular artistic achievement, the chain appears
to wind and unwind, the figures to take on different poses.

At this moment the coiled center depicts a male and a female,
each with an arm entwined around a child, surely a sign
that Youngcare was equally shared by proto-sapien
genders. Ah, you laugh. I, too, find it amusing, especially
the expression of apparent joy on the man’s visage.

Aside from that anomaly, the male is a perfect representation
of masculinity, from his finely-incised whiskers to his
muscular legs and arms. As for the female—
what is there to say? Woman is classified as no-man,
a superior vessel for future toilers. Moving on, take note.

At the opposite end stand another man/no-man pair
together balancing a woven container brimming with foods
so vibrant they cry out to be eaten. This golden object
resembles holograms you may have seen of pine apple,
a fruit once grown on our mother planet. Oddly, all genders
likely shared in the dreary chore of gathering food supplies.
Clearly, these primitives had not devised weapons
for the manly art of killing other mammals.

Within the chain ends we examined are gendered shapes
crafted willy-nilly—male with male, female with male
or with another female. Other long-toothed earth-bound
animals cavort among them without regard to the proper
declension of all species. The artistry may be exemplary
but the subject vividly illustrates why this ancient civilization
became a minor blip in the evolution of universal pyramidal order.

—CJ Muchhala

In the Unlocking Room

the doors are all round. Arches spread themselves
in marble and birch bark, caressing doors set deep
under their keystones.

Some keystones are marked. (I have marked them.)
A rotary dial in chalk over the door that leads
to my childhood; two crystal ornaments
flashing rainbows onto the door to summer;
a smear of dirt against the birch-bark keystone
which holds the Beginning.

In the Unlocking Room I count my steps,
pacing its edges—really, there are no edges,
just the doors and their eventual openings—
round and round I go, slowing when I hear

I talk frequently in the Unlocking Room. To myself
and to the doors, their keystones, the ceiling
(which is not a ceiling, but an observatory),
and to those who come to visit when doors
Let them in.

There is a table where I take my lunch:
cucumber sandwiches with cranberries and
a thermos of loose-leaf tea. I sit
watching the doors I can see, listening
to those I cannot.

Eventually, one opens. My first-grade teacher
walks across the pine and brick floor
to take the stool opposite me. She whispers
her first name.

Doors open. Keystones shift deeper into their seats.

In the Unlocking Room my mother holds a quay.
Algae and barnacles drip between her fingers,
their watery strength collapsing under the weight of air.
Boats hang from her hair like marionettes;
she shakes her head and they swim past her face,
sails concealing her lips.

The Unlocking Room shrinks when I stay too long,
expands when I decide to leave, gathering the remnants
of my visit close.

I sweep the table clean
with the heel of my hand.
Unsure where to put the crumbs, I drop them
in my pockets.

When I go, I forget where they came from.

The Unlocking Room accordions closed,
so thin it can only be seen from one side,
one eye squinted, tongue pinched
between your teeth.

—Marisca Pichette

Haiku for J. G. Ballard

vermillion sands—
cloud-sculptors carve cumuli
above coral spires

—Andrew J. Wilson


It gawks
each time I cross the quad,
doing who knows what
with the stubby, pitted, groping fingers
carved between its weathered knees.

It peers into my room
from its perch atop the library,
its heart cold as headstones, its gaze
a host of half-thawed maggots
wriggling up and under my bath towel.

One night on the phone,
Gramma pushes and presses, until finally
I admit I'm not sleeping too well.
Why's that? I glance out my window
and blame the monstrous morning sun.

When new curtains arrive Priority Express
(Flea market special!—Love, Gramma),
my stomach drops as I stare at the box.
How's she gonna pay
for her heart pills next month?

Two weeks later, I'm squeezing
my ruby-red phone cord between sweaty fingers,
lying to Gramma how I sleep better now, that
new curtains were just
what I needed.

But my admirer, hunched in the darkness outside,
knows I will not reveal
how Gramma's kind, sweet, useless gesture
made things so much worse,
knows I will not risk her enfeebled heart

with talk of the wild-eyed, winged thing
that taps nightly at my window now,
grinding my name with a voice like limestone
crushed beneath balding tires
in a flea-market parking lot.

—Josh Kratovil


The painting hung above
the massive fireplace in Keep Vorkun,
Vork’s third wife, missing, presumed dead;
he’d stare at her when in his cups,
missing her terribly said some,
imagining her body wreathed
infernal flames, others whispered,
the more I looked the more I thought
twas something forced about her smile.
We played backgammon;
her game, he said slyly,
our three-cornered conversations
unsettling: I to him, he to
her and she, with mute eyes, it seemed,
to me. He’d move, smirk at the wall
through lowered brows, then curse at my play,
but his eyes stayed on her.
One winter night a gale blew slates
from the high-peaked roof; servants fetch-
ing more disturbed precarious
debris; tumbling about their heads,
a skeleton, rotted clothing,
a familiar ring. The day he
swung I visited her portrait,
trick of the light, I’m sure; her smile
seemed different, and I smiled back.

—David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Viral Semiotics

Face in face in face,
I see it before me
the painting a mimetic virus,
its semiotics lethal
as they course through my mind
opening doors:

a thousand jagged mouths
open in my mind,
screaming nonsense;
a thousand more unfurl outside of me

this is what madness feels like—
this is what insanity is,
a chorus of voices
all in a tumult
of id and ego and superego
of need and want and letting go

while the world burns around me,
going up in veils of smoke

—Deborah L. Davitt

Where the spoons are from

The spoon works cannot keep up with the world's demand. One line simply to hammer silver rings back into spoons. Venusian glass spoons, spoons ever brimming with moonlight, spoons with rue incised on curved handles, no two alike making each one unique.

The most precious ones pierced with a hole to admit a padlock. See the spoons with green veins running up stick thin handles, spoons with bowls big as a fist, spoons with spiderweb bowls tipped with drops as of dew. There are spoons that can be viewed only in a certain afternoon light, those with bowls fanned out like a peacock's tail, and one which lies limply over the edge of a sideboard. Touch the surface fine as youthful skin or the horn of some extinct mammal, here admire the engraved name PALINVRVS, there is a raised design of mayapples. Fear to touch another whose metal is as thin as a hummingbird's wing.

All of this and no storefront, no pallets of cartons to be shipped, no telephones in a sales office or fibre connections receiving orders. Yet so many clamor to receive their spoons, without which they cannot sleep. Each night the factory floor is emptied and every morning new spoons unlike the last start filling it again, one at a time.

—Richard Magahiz

Unveiling the Moon

At the exhibition, we sip from fancy straws,
chatter through our coms
all the best gossip from in-gravity,
until the work is revealed.

The moon floats free from its moorings.
We watch, entranced.

The sculptor has outdone herself,
casting a moon of such colors and patterns.
Lines of frozen gasses trace an unknown script
across the surface.
Lakes of some substance she does not reveal
punctuate the lines, break the moon
into paragraphs and scenes.

It tells a tale as it begins to spin into orbit.
Its gravity draws our eyes to the beautiful construct,
and we imagine a thousand and one stories
for every lake-cut line of lunar text.

The artist flows above us, in a false atmosphere
basking in our admiration; and in the light of stars
that makes her sculpture glow.

—Daniel Ausema

The Woman Out of Space by R. Pickman

You gaped at the pastel badlands, I at the oil deadlands:
A yellow field of grain on a winter's day,
pearl water in a well, red moss on the heath.
Where color touched color I drove myself wild.
There was a woman that was both opal and beautiful,
in her eyes the hues of myriad violence. Violence
both mundane and out of space, haunting me
with her foot about to fall, but never …

—Amelia Gorman

Apocalypse Women

I touch a spot on the scroll and a glassy sphere
bubbles up. Three more, and the spheres rise
and spin, crinkling like distant xylophones.

Gray clouds roll away, revealing giant redwoods.
Red and blue feathers dart between branches
and a porcupine trundles toward a clean, cold brook.

I show my roommates the rainbow arch
of the space station. The library dome, a museum,
a concert hall. The bubbles? They fly,

taking us to other places. Is this magic?
All of this was real. My grandmother
painted from memory.

It’s so beautiful! The young girl begins to cry.
Two older women grasp their hands, amazed.
If one of us has a chance to escape …

take this scroll and show the world
what we once knew and treasured.
We nodded, but we knew it was unlikely.

A month ago, when cops and bots tore down
my door, I tucked the scroll inside my shirt
and left all else behind.

The Women’s Traitor Detention Facility.
Four bunks in a metal shed. Labor duties
and nicknames. Squat. Mouth. Flaky.

They call me Strange.
Each night we explore the scroll.
Each day we might be shot.

—Sara Backer

Anodized Titanium

Each night, after closing,
the curator views it again

anodized titanium, untitled
accession number 2127.15.01

depicting, of all things,
a lopsided baby elephant

in garish soap-bubble hues:
magenta ears, blue trunk

singularly unprepossessing,
notable only for its provenance

donated by the alien ambassador
a month before their attack

that history drawing crowds
the museum has never known

ignorant, curious gawkers
whom the curator disdains

and, which gives her pause,
the human soldiers of the war

halting, unsure, awkward
looking out from inwardness

at accession number 2127.15.01
as if it meant something

many of the veterans returning
day after day, waiting in line

for their allotted minutes
before the gaudy elephant

until the curator had reserved
Thursday viewings for veterans

permitted them the liberty
of touching the artwork

the diffidence of their fingers
striking the curator like lightning

so that she comes each night
to study number 2127.15.01

wondering what they see
when they look at it.

—Mary Soon Lee

“More Tightly Raging Aggregates of Void”
(Recent Kinetic Pigment Works in Review)

Three bridges stride a Heaven-Hell, oversoaring
dissolved horizons, unwilled. And as unwanted,
dispossessed emblazons snatching deftly up the sky
pierce the lie of a land’s end’s verisimilitude.
_ _ _

Bleary shorn-in-shrivels of a glow exhaust heap up,
tumbling down pick-me-ups, rising in their tens and twos.
Empty? Certainly. Undone? – über-unearthly, plüs-alienated,
wholly clueless, aimless, useless… but on point.
_ _ _

Shimmying off amorphous all-and-sundry scintillations
through which they entice the transverse eye to implore
well-rounded joys, straining, shapeshifting, endraped –
an inviting youthful hybrid tribe strips naked in hot energy.
_ _ _

“Spectral transports stratify uncommonweal aesthetics
to totalify our vision and re-perceive us astride the now.”

—David Jalajel

Most highly honored

Figure VII: The native-hatched sapiomorphs of Dome VI on Iapetus and their metalwork that blossoms into life at a touch, pinions swinging in low slung arcs to partition space herself into astonishing noble forms—now a hearthstone, now a flask of light, and in one case an engine of death. From each artisan is born a single master work, part child and the rest theorem, the greatest contemplated over Iapetan cycles by ticking scholars too dull to produce their own craft. Like cognitive giants the creators loom, more relentless than a glowing comet-fall, their secret methods secured in dusty tungsten urns.

—Richard Magahiz

Self-Portrait with Gorgons

Among the poison beauty of flax-leaved daphne,
where the flowers’ dreamless heads, nod darkly in the shade,
the face of some dead queen floats; pale in a carved niche,
of her own making, in the avenues of rosemary,
rue, and oleander; beneath cypress, cedar, and ancient yew.

Once, she decorated these miles of pleasant tombs
with gods and kings, minotaurs and heroes; immortalised.
She needs no chisel to release an imprisoned satyr
from a marble block. Her sisters say, “she has a special
gift for it; this craft of portraying life in stone.”

A smile of her garnet lips and a wink of her coal-black eye
memorializes the flesh. She imagines Athenians
coiled like ammonites, Trojans curled like trilobites,
Spartans shut tight like cockles, mussels, oysters, clams,
petrified among the ancient urchins and sharks’ teeth.

She likes these gardens beneath the Mediterranean-blue
of the sky. Her hair coils in the foliage; luxuriant,
dense, darkly green. Medusa smiles under a bloody sun
setting hard in golden flames. She lifts a mirror
to her reflected gaze; in her face the stone is creeping.

—Oliver Smith

In the Gallery of Queens

Wrapped in canvas, soul-stretched
embossed, the painted eyes of monarchs
dip into spaces between lucid dreams,
alien landscapes, their gaze a fixed
constellation bringing colonies
to their knees—

We fall into cosmic outlines,
swim in the depth of their jaws, the ruins
of nations a neon shower of bonemeal
and ash, the bloodlust of bleeding women
a portrait of flesh-colored war hiding
in the corner of their eyes.

Together they choke us with the madness
of burnt planets, suffer our mourning
beneath mountains of red moons,
their hands stained static with ambient
screams, the airglow a night without
promise of tomorrow—

              We bow to star-studded wounds,
pledge fear to a lineage of lost cities, swear
death to drowned kings, our allegiance
bound to the framed voices of tentacled
nightmares, each mouth screaming for
a reign of woman, queen.

—Stephanie M. Wytovich


faerie folk
captured in haiga
iron gall ink

—Mariel Herbert