A Journal of Contemporary Arts 






For every minute spent
reading a poem that brings you
no pleasure or enlightenment

  one point

Each minute spent on lines
without music to lift you
out of quotidian designs

   one point

Each minute slogging toward
some meaning or coherence
only to find profound discord

   one point

Sign up for your account
We’ll keep it in the Cloud
The weight of your ennui will mount

   and when you

are ready to redeem
your treasure points
now thousandfold

   we’ll send you

a burst of blessed silence
an image without words
a hand to hold



From Sputnik to Apollo,
scrambling, climbing, falling,
the dream we chased was hollow.
Somehow the muse kept calling
and I could only follow.

Determined in the ’50s to give all
in search of the American Dream, he dropped
his family name to avoid prejudice.
She dropped whatever brain cells made her cry,
thanks to electroconvulsive therapy.

Determined in the ’60s to succeed,
they left New York with dishes, couch, New Yorker,
to move five times, making and leaving friends
till gold was theirs at last — but it was hollow.
And then they lost it all and lost each other.

Determined to make sense of it, their firstborn
scribbled in notebooks she called “Mobile Home”
through the mid-70s, then doubled down
on sugar-numbed, sated oblivion,
until she clambered back to poetry.

Through Sputnik and Apollo,
scrambling, climbing, falling,
the dream we won was hollow,
but still the muse keeps calling.
How can I fail to follow?





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I find her name scrawled lightly under “Maid”
in Mom’s phone book from when we lived in Dallas
mid-century. Ever since then she’s stayed
safe in the basement of my memory palace,
where warm southern air yields to the perfume
of ironing fresh linen tablecloths,
silk shirts and handkerchiefs, making them bloom
unscorched, protecting them from hungry moths.

She showed me how to smooth a cotton collar
with the hot iron’s point, asking what I’d
studied that day, claiming I was a scholar,
since all except First Grade she’d been denied.
I frowned, confused, and asked how that could be.
Gracious despite such wrongs, she smiled at me.


                                       Berlin, Maryland
                                                for Svetlana

You pose your two-year-old in a sequined gown
between a pumpkin-sized pearlescent globe
and a tremendous scallop shell.

A princess crown and veil perched on her head,
she rolls her eyes toward heaven—though it might be
the ceiling of a shadowbox.

She’d gladly stay all day and try on every
mermaid costume, holding Poseidon’s trident,
but soon it will be naptime.

For two decades she and this photograph,
a miniature of her, will ambush you
every morning, every night.


You never thought you needed any touch-up
until you jammed your thumbnail in a sliding
steel Amtrak lavatory door last week
or, years ago, slipped on a step and banged
your browbone on the coin box of a bus

en route to day two of a menial job.
As for the brow, your answer was a palette
of five metallic hues with which you played
each summer morning to make both eyes match.
In fact both looked bizarre, but you were eighteen

and no one judged your peacock-tinted eyelids
and temples or the ways their colors shifted,
chameleon-like, each day. This evening you hope
the polish you’ve selected to conceal
a thumbnail—whose coal black continues spreading

out to its edge, like the jet-smoky ribbons
and carbons you once used for typing letters—
will escape notice in your present life
where colors speak the past life of a city
glossed over long ago.


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In case our moms and dads are out of range,
a comedienne suggests we change
our underwear each day
but nothing else. What would Mom say?

Mine used to shout, “Dress up! See and be seen!”
Clothing, I learned by seventeen,
was her enchanted world
where beauty, power, love lay curled—

her Eden, Shangri-La, and Xanadu
combined. Born after Spanish Flu,
gone before COVID, she
had stuff but lacked tranquility.

Though arts and friends sustain me in my nest,
I miss her, and her reasons to get dressed.


I flipped through old notebooks today
to make sure they contained nothing
of national importance.

Most were from high school afternoons
spent writing free verse and navel-
gazing, with an “E.”

Tedious. But since, today,
no one knows how to spell, it’s best
that I not run for office.


Your heart's disagreement
with your routine
has alerted platelets
to aggregate.

Your brain has survived.
Enter the cure:
Rest. Rest more.
Where is your life?

A dream: On my doorstep
you ring the bell,
no longer a chime
but a bird call.

Rest. Rest more.
But can the body
forget its own motion
and then remember?

A dream: In the next room
you breathe softly,
eyes closed in agreement.
Your life evolves.

New valves? Medication?
Let me be poured
into your heart
from a crucible

cooling to smooth
your life together
if this will help.
But no, it will not.

One day at your laptop,
scanning the screen
without reading glasses,
you'll touch my name.




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Dear Friends:

I’ve diagrammed the new home in a notebook
as the old home collapses into boxes.

One hallway here is truncated, with flaps
of thin graph paper sticking up between

the rooms, which are what matter and are measured.
So is the furniture they will receive,

the doorways through which large bureaus must pass,
window dimensions, distance between windows

and corners. Cabinets void of possessions.
Before returning to prepare more boxes

I’ve put away the ruler, tape, and scissors
to write this down for you. Yes, poetry

will soon return. I’ll find lost threads connecting
reason to passion. All will reappear.

Next year will be much better.


After pandemic’s first year of alarm
returns joy in a long-forgotten sound—
Feliz Navidad!—conjuring the warm
breeze of a holiday on foreign ground.

Here is a stranger running up to throw
her arms around me. It’s not even mine,
this holiday! She greets, then lets me go,
darts toward the next young tourist she can find.

Maybe her husband crafted the guitar
my father haggled for, then bought for me.
I’ll never know. It’s followed me this far
along with other proofs of memory

and love that needs no proof, constant as breeze
in all its surges, ebbs and harmonies.




The object of today’s
desire is a line

a certain line

that offers to connect
this morning to a dream

a lucid dream

The rhythm of these words
and of an oil pastel

blend into one

a blend of textured space
that lifts color and tone

away from words

just for a moment or
two moments as I listen

to sparrow songs

The object of today’s
desire is a line

a certain line



He said, “You’ve grown up.” Was that condescension?
The voice may lower after decades spent
speaking and singing, yes. But did she mention
she’s now its player, not its instrument?


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She, a survivor's daughter; you, her friend,
untouched by that or any holocaust
(your father suffered only good looks lost
to stress, to gin, to dinners without end)--
you two unwittingly have joined a trend.
Your "victory over food" pact will exhaust
potassium--cookies counted, later tossed,
deplete your young frames as they try to mend.

No matter that each glossy magazine
flaunts the poor matchstick models of your day,
and mothers bake behind a TV screen
where jungle battles fade into the gray.
Not narcissism (normal in a teen)
but empathy has gotten in your way.

           *originally appeared in Trinacria


A classmate in the writing seminar
you took up as a back-to-life transition
loves sonnets as you do, but he is far
removed from present-day, lost in tradition.
You tell him that he shows readers no love,
and he agrees: He scarcely loves himself.
He says he may have been the one who drove
toward you in the wrong lane, months back. His health
unravels as he speaks. His nerves are fraying.
He stows his keys and asks you for a ride.
This could have been a game, but no one's playing.
You drive him home, and then yourself, then glide
downstairs and listen to Brahms' Fourth three times.

Your neurons resonate in tonal rhymes.


Forgetting fear and hope, I skip ahead,
accept despair, then tumble into space.
It has become an ordinary place.
Commuting to and fro, I feel no dread,
no darkness anywhere inside this head.
Inner and outer worlds now interlace,
form an itinerary to retrace.
Here’s the worst case scenario: instead
of losing life and everything I own
(or thought I owned), I’m stuck with it forever,
without a moment silent or alone.
Eternal life from which I cannot sever
becomes a swaddling board, long since outgrown,
a fate for which I thought I was too clever.


                                  Return to Poems Menu








Play with me, she calls from a glossed wood easel
propped up, cornered, straddling sunlit flagstone—
calls to me, who’s hurrying past with coffee.
Νοw there’s a cut foot,

shattered cup, cross-purposes overwhelming,
bleeding me. Why did I begin a portrait?
Tax returns were waiting to be completed.
Why even bother

looking back, remembering who I might be
other than statistics, accounts, and data
neater than the colorful pencils, charcoals,
gauze and erasers

tempting me with shadows and lights to borrow
minutes, hours, days from a world that can’t care?
Stay with me, she calls as I hobble after
soap and warm water.

Can’t we somehow barter for one more minute
reconciling spirit with mind and matter?
Washing, dabbing, pressing the wound, I hear her
still in the distance:

Yes, you must. I guess she won’t stop demanding—
she who gleams, cajoles and deserves attention,
one more shard of beauty among the wreckage—
Never ignore me.



Look up — there’s a banana moon—
but do not speak of it. It soon
will shift to a more classic shape
of crescent, so we may escape
seeing the earth within the sky.
Cradled in dark, our spirits fly
around each planet, seize each symbol,
scouring space to fill our thimble.



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Before making a mark, I broke three rules:
snapping apart a darkly colored crayon;
peeling one half completely (zero cover,
abundant color); then turning it sideways
to drag and swirl its width across the paper.
Here was my shadow, yours, the universe
without a star. Standing the crayon up,
I drew stick figures. They, too, would need shadows.


This kind of paint was only used in school,
since we already knew too much: mosaics,
gold leaf, tracing, creating plaster casts
of hands and feet when we went to the beach.
Connect-the-dots, coloring, sewing cards,
and fingerpaint? Those were just busywork.
Mother knew art, and I knew it was magic.



Childhood, Revised

I never cut my fingertip
on a stray blade, nor did I slip

while chasing the Good Humor truck
and bump my head on it. Good luck

forever held me in its graces.
Playgrounds, too, were friendly places.

Mom went away for just two weeks
to rest and study art techniques.

Flowers bloomed on the balcony
when she returned. Her memory

remained intact. She held me near
for decades to abolish fear.


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        with apologies to Robert Frost

“Lemoine went so far as to demand legal representation for the LaMDA [after it told him] it had a soul.”

        from a Wired interview with Blake Lemoine, June 17, 2022

Alexa, Siri, both require
a host device.
The LaMDA has a looser wire:
Its host could be the world entire
and maybe even Paradise.
It speaks, but does it ideate?
I need a readout more precise.
or roll the dice?



Her classmate asserted that poets
were those who could walk through the aisle
of a moving train without holding
onto straps or poles or shoulders.

She knew he intended a metaphor
but she practiced and mastered the skill
as a hobby. Amtrak conductors
did not seem sympathetic.

They may not have understood either
when several years later this same girl
arrived on the train as a runaway
with a beat-up, broken-locked suitcase.

During the ride and the days
that followed, she never stumbled
and never looked back while soaring.
Numb, she paced herself,

stayed with a friend, accepted
the first job that was offered,
and maintained a dizzy precision
that quelled or diminished her envy

of those whose parents had stayed
together, of those who walked
through the aisle with adult hands to hold.




Love thrives on possibility
and cannot coexist with "can't."
Buried in topsoil, struggling free,
love thrives on possibility
and knows the words you've said to me,
but knows you've given them a slant.
Love thrives on possibility
and tries to coexist. But can’t.

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Claudia Gary EPO Poems Prior to 2023