Ekphrastic Speculative Poetry
edited by John C. Mannone
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • John C. Mannone
1. Poems after Mariposa by Lisa Marie Peaslee
Dear Dragon • Jeanie Tomasko
If You're Happy and You Know It • Shanna Karella
Lost • F.J. Bergmann
Mariposa • Lynette Mejía
Spacetime in Daylight • John W. Sexton
2. Poems after Fire Ants by Lisa Marie Peaslee
Holes • Julie Fitzpatrick
Robin Williams Dies in Alternate Universes, c. 2014 • Shanna Karella
Wind-ups Flame in the Dream Garden • Trent Walters
3. Poems after Piering Through by Lisa Marie Peaslee
i-nan, Age 17 • Celeste Helene Schantz
Razors Are Not Always Metal • Gerri Leen
Strange Attractor • Dennis M. Lane
“this lofty pier” • Anna Sykora
4. Poems after Origins III—High Contrast Karma by Rafael Rodríguez
Cold Stone Fall • Bhim Nimgade
The Delusions of Trees • David Barber
The Masters of Sound • Marge Simon
Orbs • Gail Fishman Gerwin
Origins III • Shanna Karella
Sores • Doles Flasch
5. Poems after Sunrise in Space by NASA
In the Repetitive Dawn • Kaleigh Rodgerson
Transit of Venus • Jonel Abellanosa
6. Poems after Abstract Astronomy
faith velocity • Herb Kauderer
Prior • Maureen Alsop
Speed of Light • Carl Donsbach
7. Poems after Quantum Streampunk Fantasy Fractal Landscape by Jos Leys.
Bells • Carl Donsbach
Penis • Mark Budman
We felt safe what with all the water and pastel-colored walls.
Beds were provided, a pillow, green sheets, pomegranates
in the morning, tough fruit, but out loud we said how lovely.
Time passed. Spacetime and tide. There are so many stories to be
told, a voice said one afternoon. The dragon went first.
As a child they made me wear all brown: socks shoes pants.
I don’t know how to get past it. Surely all art begins in a wound,
the voice replied, quoting someone. And the dear dragon
took his pen and ink into the rectangle bleeding with light.
If You're Happy and You Know It
The Sunflowers of Mariposa played dumb,
faces bright and nodding, as we landed,
designating that wide, lush world procurable.
They towered around us, quiet as extinction;
we went about the business of surveying
—dug and measured, gouged and took—
claiming as our own that alien landscape.
Then the Mariposans began to fight back:
and we as decimated as the fabled Yokuts.
We learned that each genial, seeded face
hid a thousand viciously sharp projectiles;
that deeply planted intransigence is longer
lived than greedy planet hopping locusts
we humans have always and ever been.
And the Sunflowers stand there, smiling, still.
The vidloop runs continuously: an extinct floater hovering before what looks almost like a blossom, also gone (recorder held by an unknown first colonist); the strange sun's spectrum, almost like Earth’s, refracting through a glass-balloon shell, a riffle of prismatic wings. Gauge, measure, timestamp. What looks like hunger might be random movement, might be sex, might be the transfer of irrecoverable data. These lifeforms did not survive the cataclysm of our advent and are long-dead. Through an unopenable window into the past, something like a butterfly and something like a flower exchange something that is almost certainly not a kiss.
You speak to circles, the golden
ratio haunting, lording over all
creation. You cry in spirals, reaching
toward the center, even after we learned
that two dimensions cling more desperately
to the dream of precision than three.
I was only trying, in my small way,
to heal you, excising the imprecision
of your fluidity, slicing straight lines through
curves in the misguided notion that order
might give you peace.
Now I hold you, feel the pieces of you flutter
away like leaves in autumn air, the doorway I cut
inside you calling me slowly forward,
into your muted, golden light.
Spacetime in Daylight
From the corner of your eye you’ll glimpse
the Mother of Pearl walls coalescing in sunlight.
A door will appear if you can keep your sideways gaze;
if you shuffle for that entrance you’ll slip through.
What comes next is an ocean of stone, viscid, overwhelming;
down into that you’ll plummet, for flesh is heaviest here.
Keep your breath held and your courage in; you’ll endure.
At the seafloor now you’ll find a silver path, plume of a great snail.
Step upon it and you’ll gain your breathing once more.
Your lungs will fill with light; your mind will follow.
—John W. Sexton
A single tear leaks from the corner of the warrior’s eye,
escaping toward her chin. With her lips held firmly
together, barely trembling, she presses both
hands against the aquarium's face, repelled
by the sad state of the koi, yet in denial
of their loss. She could fight this - but
not from without. As darkness falls,
she gently nets one, swallowing
quickly, waiting for the permu-
tation to begin. Envisioning
her molecules resisting,
being sucked into the
unknown, like stars
into a void, she
Bodyless, she continues to resist oblivion, defying the usurpers.
Robin Williams Dies in Alternate Universes,
There was always something in him hanging
back; his eyes abyssal depths in every photo
(at an autographing, or in head shot or promo still).
It was there as he leaned slightly aside, stiffly
apart in the middle of all comedic hells breaking
over him; in the manner depression and seas, enfold
some seismic giving way beneath the surface. He'd
look straight at us—through lenses mechanical,
anatomical—and give stark glimpses of his subsidence,
as each sinking retrograde step pulled him bottom-ward
into murk. And we, the watchers through glass, gawked,
gave only more demands for scampering, manic clownery.
Wind-ups Flame in the Dream Garden
Our emissaries of image and imaginings—tie their cargo in
ribbons, dance, swirl, and soar—until their sentences
leave them no breath—spin higher, higher until a swarm
of winged fire ants spray flames at our emissaries
who tumble like Icarus. Ash floats down until it stirs
beneath our feet. Now old—dream stuffing
leaks from seams—we are what was, what cinched us
together. We still scribble foolish love songs
that surf waves, these rolled pages stuffed
into blind bottles whose destination
and reply we await. We warm our arthritic
palms over the pyre
of failed youth,
i-nan, Age 17
Runaway savant male: missing person’s report
My son i-nan
invented a game:
a hologram world inhabited by avatars.
His drone sent images from New York City
near break walls in Manhattan.
Under the pylons
dark water was rising around his feet.
He stood on steps at the Hall of the Apologies,
his arms held up like many neurodivergants,
either dancing or defending themselves,
black silhouetted fingers splayed
against the chill October sunset.
Bright children who feel like failure,
congregating like thin, broken branches on the tree of life
and do you care, you gods of corporate pharmacopeia
do you see his armies gathering in your mind.
—Celeste Helene Schantz
Razors Are Not Always Metal
I played by this pier
Water rats they called us
Surfboards cinched to ankles
Barnacles slicing kids dumb
Enough to hit the pilings
Beneath the pier, water ran
silent blue with white rages
From surge, from waves. Riding
underneath a cruel initiation of youth
Never far from razor on steel
The water runs red now; I have no board
I hide, clutch the side, anchored on
Cut-glass barnacles, the surge tossing me
Too afraid to flee crustacean
Blades slivering skin
In the sky: ships, firing at everything
My sanctuary: dagger-sharp and full of blood
I pray there are no sharks
Gargantuan curtains of concrete form, slowly drift apart,
hint at a world less substantial—an ethereal glow.
Countless tiny creatures, piled high upon their mates,
feed, reproduce, and die; while my limbs, with no volition
of their own, are drawn towards the opalescent light,
as if some strange attraction has its hold. I sense
that the fluid surrounding me, pulling me onwards,
is also under the sway of some otherworldly force.
As if dragged by a million infinitesimal hands,
I slowly approach the gossamer curtain from which
all illumination emanates. And I reach for that unknown
presence beyond the veil.
—Dennis M. Lane
this lofty pier
now covered by the sea
reminds us of our ancestors
how they squandered
fossil fuels while ice caps
melted and raised the sea
how they never thought
of us who linger poor
from wooden boats
when seaweed gropes
these holy columns
an era will change
hunger will fade
our people will rejoice
as seas recede revealing
the golden treasure city
of our ancestors
this must be the gateway
to the other side
we have tried every other
nest of beams or peephole ruin
surely this gate
has to be the one
Cold Stone Fall
She holds my hand, and we sit quietly. The maelstrom outside hurls the ancient stone globes, pitted moons, up into the boiling air. Moons smash into each other in a cataclysm of thunder and fire, loosing a million shards of stone to sparkle in the dark skies as they fall. Defiant trees, shredded and wind-whipped, spring back again. Her smile is faint. Her darkening eyes flash bright again, a moment, or is it the lightning outside? We will not see each other again, she says. And I have nothing to say, no false comfort. Her hand grows cold in mine.
The Delusions of Trees
In the Book of Everything, between
the Psychology of Wood and Saprophobia,
is a chapter on the delusions of trees;
how they summered in fair Eden once,
one with the earth, the sun and the rain
before the coming of the quick,
whose hungers test a faith
of letting go and the green return.
Banished from their parent’s shade,
trees know nothing of fathers
nor any arbour above. Convinced
the wind lifts prayers like pollen
to the bright horizons, their deity is the forest,
which is honoured even by the quick,
who nail its wood to their own dead god.
The Masters of Sound
An arranged marriage
is made by the Gods.
It works out quite well.
She orchestrates the seasons,
the elements on a chain
that locks behind her neck.
He makes the melodies,
an ocean in his mind,
that creeps between curtains
& under the coverlet,
passions he knows best—
those strident chords
of exploding tsunamis,
& slow and deep the tympani
of glacial evolution.
She adds the wingbeat of geese,
the chitter of summer crickets,
& woodwind whispers,
the whorls of time within the bark.
Together their harmonies
resonate into the cosmos.
Their music forms life’s heartbeat,
defying science, prolonging magic.
“45 Years Ago We Landed Men on The Moon”
—The Atlantic, In Focus with Alan Taylor, July 15, 2014
Hot night, our apartment unbearable, thunderstorms
flood the creek below, no relief. On the television
screen a blurred shadow—robot-like, he bounces on his
trampoline: the moon. The moon! My belly, earthbound
orb, protects our daughter, her birth two months away.
We can do anything, I think, walk on the moon, bring life
into the world. How peaceful Neil Armstrong looks, how
frightened his wife might have been. (I’m frightened too.)
Two months later we view a moon rock behind glass,
protected like the girl who would make her first voyage,
a giant leap into our lives five days later.
—Gail Fishman Gerwin
The last of the moons has risen, there are no more days to be done.
Algid winds scour this prison; climb heights lit by no burning suns.
The last of us stands in the gloom as meteors come streaming down;
the aether is sluggish with plumes where mantle is cleft, reddish brown.
With limbs stretching skyward he cries; begs reprieve from pending chaos:
he screams his last breath and he dies, the cosmos unmoved at his loss.
Now as the maelstrom's forgotten, day dawns for the first time, again,
daughters of worlds are begotten of breath, and of fragments. Amen
The girl with the emblazoned hair
And bluer eyes than Peacock’s breast
Surveyed the land with all its fare,
Searching for a place to rest.
Alone she wandered, grey and lost,
Since Earth was born and long before,
To seek, no matter what the cost,
Freedom from the pain she bore.
Her soul was sick with loneliness.
Her punishment: to always roam.
No one quelled her aged distress
Nor offered help to find her home.
Until, at last, the day arrived
When she collapsed onto her knees
And, caring not if she survived,
Pulled down the stars into the seas.
In the Repetitive Dawn
of ionized radiation:
quick brilliance hidden
in the drenching breath
Fade quietly, softly,
a languid rumble
through a million (million) years
that pass under the curve
and the caress
of a giant.
(there is no silence which,
being composed of light,
fails to make an impact)
Continents under the heel of a spark
lack the time to flinch;
lack, also, the knowledge
And in the brief infinity
that spans the slow curl of the world,
waltzing her silent entreaty to brighter powers,
think what would remain if, in that wide ballroom,
she did not.
Transit of Venus
The point of her mischievous son’s
arrow showed through the hidden
panel as the teardrop
that lulled the gecko.
Eight years later, when cogs rolled,
the scales tipped, the pot’s lip
honeyed, the wheel now equipped
to circle, the tripod finds the table
against the sill. She draws all eyes
with the passing spot of her cover,
prisms igniting on fiber glass
fixed in sight, the forefinger’s shadow
tensing for the candid snapshot.
Her light rings our planet like diamond.
We ask the pilot to synchronize
our module with her travel,
not to let her slip out of the horizon.
orbits tick like a holo-drama bomb
that the good guy has to stop to save
the spaceship full of innocents
but real life bad guys are often
chance breakdowns in essential systems
leaving launch crews scrambling
to resurface in proximity to the
orbital window required to leave
rushing engineers and crewmen
have no mood music, no dramatic
confrontations, no close-ups
there are hurried welds and seals
hopeful calculations of never
before tried possibilities including
launching before fully surfaced
and in the end, as always
there is a massive explosion into space
a leap of faith more dramatic
than any fiction
My mouth filled. Imperceptible with constellation. He gazed onward. She poured a sun boiled scotch over the back of her hand. The recurrent nurse in my sleep vanished. A sleep starched. And demanded. Moons orbit moons. No longer. Civility,
the language we speak with the maturity of the dead.
I stroke your brow. The splintered shifts of your tracks in dust. There may be a name for this kind of reliquary. The immediacy of your face. The spaces letters began. Shaping the winnow as grief. Body’s anodyne. And in the close. Pages our names spring within us. Loam’s subsequent huddle.
Speed of Light
Light seems rapid when you’re young
and the world’s undeveloped;
today I cannot contemplate its speed
without reflecting on the empty vast
infinity wherein it dwells.
Yesterday, images pinged
against mirrors, shot through lenses
hot, strong, full of fun distortions;
now, radiation ambles listless from the sun,
swims sluggishly past planetary orbits,
crawls between other stars
then leaves this galaxy
for the long beyond.
A photon on its constant course
across the cosmos
seems a lonely object,
more red than blue.
Perhaps it doesn’t mind;
it moves at its determined rate, no less,
though now it seems so relatively slow.
The ears ring
like a thousand telephones—
the old-fashioned kind
you cannot answer them;
there’s no hello,
can’t pick up the receiver,
nor even leave a message,
they ring just so.
Try to get inside the sound, the bells
to find the center, get control,
find the switch that turns them off;
they ring just so.
Surrounded by a
swarm of buzzing bells
crying false alarms
in the ears’ cockle-shells:
the bells will not let go.
No, you cannot answer them,
they ring just so—
you cannot answer them,
there’s no hello.
“Sex was first recognized in the fossil records and the oldest known penis is about 100 million years old.”
From the wisdom of the Internet
Before it came, we all were singles
like slices of Kraft cheese,
in clear plastic.
Every one could tell
how pure we were
by examining our intact orifices
or by eating us.
Since we needed no partners,
love had only gastronomical meaning—
you loved your food either raw or very raw—
for the first three billion years.
Who wanted love anyway
when you had peace
within the same species?
No locking of horns,
No expensive weddings,
Until the penis came,
thrown in as a bone of contention,
and ripped it all apart.