Your Violet Hair Ribbon

“Your Violet Hair Ribbon” by Stephen Page

Last night you slept with your head on my chest,

My nose in your hair.

While I dozed the violet ribbon upon my wrist

Broke and fell off. This morning I searched for it

But could not find it, anywhere. I tied a new one

To my ankle. Hid another in my journal cover.

Did you have the same dream I did last night,

You with your head on your husband’s chest,

My wife with hers on mine?

madswirl editor’s note: A ribbon of deception; identities mistaken, lovers mismatched. So hard to awaken… – mh clay

To read MORE mad poetry, visit http://www.MadSwirl.com!

http://madswirl.com/poetry/2019/08/your-violet-hair-ribbon/

As published on MadSwirl

And included in the book, “The Salty River Bleeds,” by Stephen Page https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-salty-river-bleeds-by-stephen-page/ and published by Finishing Line Press.

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“Bridges Made From Junk”

Bridges Made From Junk

a short story by Stephen Page

brookln bridge under constructionAs the glass and metal doors slide open, Jonathan Burns steps outside into the cool October air. Crisp brown leaves scrape across the sidewalk. He rolls up a sheaf of poems, sticks it in his jacket pocket, takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights on, inhales deeply then lifts his face to the sun and feels the nicotine rush wash over his body. First cigarette he has had in weeks. He takes another drag, exhales, and watches the smoke tunnel out of his mouth. When the doors close behind him, he walks down the drive and out the front gates, finds the nearest bar, and orders a beer.

Jonathan is walking down a cobblestone street. Choral music emanates from one of the many churches that line the street. Bells are calling people to prayer. Holy men, their faces dark in the shadows of hooded robes, stand within pointed window frames. Jonathan looks inside one of the churches and notices the ribbed, Gothic-style vault. The masonry is smooth and gray and smells freshly built. He goes in, steals the sacrificial wine, and runs outside into the blaring sun.

He is sitting cross-legged on a tapestry rug, smoking hashish from a water pipe, listening to Jimi Hendrix play If 6 was 9. Jimi wears a multicolored silk shirt and strangles notes from his white Stratocaster within the confines of a black-light poster that hangs upon a wall. The poster melts, swirls, and transforms into a gilt-framed painting. It is Rembrandt’s Self-portrait c. 1667. The paint is glistening. A bowling trophy sits on a table below the Rembrandt. A woman wearing a minute array of transparent veils glides into the room. Her skin is the color of lightly creamed coffee. She is sable-haired, has sweeping cheekbones, wears small jeweled rings, and has thin gold chains adorning her wrists, waist, and ankles. She is carrying a cardboard shoe box. Jonathan wants to reach out and touch her, to place his cheek against the mouth of her belly. She sits in a chair behind the table, pushes the bowling trophy aside, sets the shoe box upon the table, and slowly lifts the lid. From inside the box, she carefully extracts a note pad, a pencil, and a stack of cards. She methodically positions them equally apart in front of her. She sets the empty box near her nude feet. One at a time, she turns over each card, examines it front to back, then stacks it face down into a new pile. When she has gone through the entire deck, she lifts the pencil and writes something in the note pad. She looks up at him. Her eyes are crystal yellow.

Jonathan is in a red-draped room. An early jazz song sung in French begins to play. All around him are women in various stages of undress, and men wearing Nazi uniforms stand near the women. They are all talking, laughing, drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes. A white-gloves hand offers Jonathan an enormous bottle of Dom Pérignon ‘38 and he pours himself a glass. As he sips, the cool bubbles burst inside his nose, releasing small drops of chilled, fragrant air. He peers over the rim of his glass. The harem girl is still at the table in front of him, as are the Rembrandt above her, the bowling trophy near her, the cards, the note pad, the pencil, the rectangular box at her feet. She gazes into his eyes and begins to shuffle the cards.

The jukebox against the wall of the soda shop blasts American pop tunes. Girls in tight sweaters, poodle skirts, bobbysocks, and saddle shoes dance with boys that have their hair slicked back and packs of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves. One of the boys, an old friend of Jonathan who looks exactly the same as he had in high school, hands him an open pint of bourbon that smells like paint thinner. The harem girl is staring intently at him, and she begins to flip the cards face up and lay them out in neat vertical rows.

Jonathan and the harem girl are sitting together at the back of a dark, smoke-filled bar. Musicians on a low stage in the corner play bluesy jazz music with complicated be-bop riffs. Jonathan is squeezing the girl’s thigh. She is cradling the empty shoe box in one arm and pressing a breast into his ribs. They are sipping scotch. A man wearing a long black leather jacket walks up to their table and deposits a small packet of tinfoil. Jonathan pays the man, opens the packet, and puts the brown clump onto a spoon. It is the same color as the girl’s skin. He adds a few drops of water from a dripping ice cube, lights two matches, puts the flame under the spoon, allows the brown liquid to boil, and extracts it into a syringe. While the girl squeezes his biceps with one hand, he inserts the needle into a vein. She releases her hand. He jerks once and the girl drops the box, opens his shirt and frantically runs her fingers through his chest hair. His eyes flip closed. He floats with the girl to a small room in the back of the bar and drifts onto a bed. She removes his clothes, then, swaying to the music, slowly slips off her veils. She lies next to him and pulls him towards her so that his backbone is embedded in her warm spot and his shoulder blades upon her stomach. She turns his head, sets his cheek upon her breasts, wraps her legs around him, and places the soles of her feet upon his flaccid penis. She begins to hum. Her body smells of jasmine and salt. He falls asleep rocked in her arms.

Through the glass of a cracked-paint window frame is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge under construction. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D plays on a gramophone on the floor. Jonathan sits comfortably in an old brown chair, the only item of furniture in the flat, and stares at a wet spot on the hardwood floor. he has not changed his clothes nor shaven for a week. Roaches crawl on the walls. He is at peace.

Punk rock music is blaring. Jonathan is screaming. The ground is shaking and the ceiling of a dank basement is falling in chunks upon him. In front of him, the Rembrandt is hanging upside-down, the bowling trophy is smashed, the cards are scattered on the floor, and the girl is gone. Someone is lying in the box.

Brightness knifes into Jonathan’s eyes. The walls are white. Blaringly white. He is lying inert, face-down with his cheek on the cool white fabric of the floor. He pukes and lies there with his nose and cheek in the putrid, lumpy vomit. His throat is burning, his mouth feels sticky, he can feel bile clogged in his nasal passages. His intestines feel wrapped around his stomach and are moving up toward a point at the back of his throat. He pukes again. Attempting to rise, he finds it impossible to move his arms. The room begins to spin. He screams and a blonde, blue-eyed, beautifully pale woman wearing a white gown is standing over him.

this story first published on amphibi.us:

amphibi.us header

Riding the Wind by Stephen Page

The story you are about to read is a work of fiction.

Riding the Wind

by Stephen Page

Quarto cover w Riding the Wind original copyJuan was driving his pick-up, I was on the passenger side, and Isabel was in the back seat. The stick shift rattled between Juan and me. Juan had met us at the international airport in Montevideo and was taking us to his farm near the sea, a vacation that Isabel had pestered me into taking after three months of rattling on about how nice it would be for me to finally visit her home country and meet her oldest and dearest friend. The first thing I had noticed about Juan’s truck, besides the winch on the back, was its dull, dark green color. The first thing Juan noticed about me, by the way he looked me up‑and‑down at the airport, was my clothes‑‑an Army jacket, Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes‑‑the same easy‑going style that Isabel always said a man in his late thirties was too old to wear.

The back seat was a small pad bolted to the front seats, and it was barely big enough for one adult, maybe two children, yet the way Isabel was sitting closer to Juan’s side of the cab, she made it look larger. She was leaning so that her left elbow was resting on the back of Juan’s seat, her forearm pressing against his shoulder. They spoke English at first, but when I tried to jump into the conversation, they fell into their native language, Spanish. I was just learning to speak Spanish, and had only memorized a few nouns and phrases. Isabel’s vocal tones rose and fell. Juan occasionally regarded me out of the corner of his eye and laughed.   I glared at Isabel. Blood rushed to my face. I turned and looked out the passenger side window and watched some cows as they looked dumbly at our passing vehicle. The long lines of trees used as windbreaks between the plots of farm land were losing the last of their brown, curling leaves. I felt the onset of a headache and squeezed my thighs with my hands, imagining I was holding onto someone’s throat.

When we arrived at Juan’s farm, I was still staring out the window. I had been thinking about the conversation that Isabel and I had a few months back, when she first told me about Juan. “He moved away from the city and settled on the land he inherited from his father,” she said. “Built his own house, with his own two hands. Bought a few cows and now he’s got a whole herd. Plowed up half of the land and planted beans, right before the bean market skyrocketed. Wait ‘til you see his house,” she said. “It’s beautiful. He works wonderfully with his hands.”

Juan’s house was finished on the outside with oak‑wood slats, and on the north side there was a spacious sun room faced in large rectangular glass panels. Inside, the sun room blended smoothly into the living room.   The furniture was rustic but rich‑‑large hand‑carved wooden furniture that reeked of Spanish colonialism. Above the fireplace, there was a painting of an elderly man who had a J.P. Morgan stare. At the bottom of the picture was a gold engraved plaque that read, Soltero Juan Ladrón de Guerra. “My Grandfather,” said Juan. On the mantel in front of and next to the painting was a bronze statue of a conquistador. Above a desk on the far side of the room was a coat of arms. Hanging on all the walls were horse whips and riding crops.

Juan said we could have his room upstairs, since it had a larger bed, and he would take the guest room at the end of the hallway under the stairs. While I set our suitcases in the bedroom, next to an antique four poster bed, I noticed Isabel casually take a candy from a jar on the nightstand.

Juan started to grill us lunch. “From one of my steers,” he said. “Cured by a neighbor of mine.”   He seared the slab of beef on a grill he had placed over the fireplace. Isabel went into the kitchen to get something, and Juan followed her, giving me instructions to “Keep an eye on the meat.” Instead, I followed them, trying to pick up a few words of their conversation. They glanced at me then back at each other.

We sat down at the kitchen table while Isabel and Juan kept yakking away in Spanish. Isabel sat between Juan and me, her body twisted in his direction as she spoke. My headache was turning into a full‑fledged migraine. Juan got up to check on the meat and Isabel got up to get the plates. I reached for the large wooden pepper shaker that sat in the middle of the table and felt the heft of its weight as Isabel laid out the plates.   She laid my plate last. “Why don’t you ever help?” she whispered at me.

Juan brought in the meat. “This is the cut we call ‘tapa,’” he said. “Do you want a cut from the large end, where it is tender and juicy, or do you want a cut from the small end where it is tough and hard, the part the real men eat.” Isabel watched for my reaction. Juan smiled at me. I narrowed my eyes and ordered a piece that the real men eat.   Even though they were still speaking Spanish, I could tell that the conversation had turned to the subject of Laura, Isabel’s daughter by a former marriage. Laura was an beautiful, agitated bundle of post‑adolescent hormones that deftly managed, at least once a day, to get either Isabel angry at me, or me angry at Isabel. She had elected to stay home with the housekeeper, cook, gardener, and private tutor to study for her college entrance exams while we went on vacation. I can’t say I was disappointed.

“Juan was there when Laura was born,” Isabel said in English.

“Yes. I called her the little princess,” Juan said.

“That’s exactly what I always say,” I exclaimed. “She’s like a princess. And Isabel is like a queen.”

“Where does that leave you?” Juan said. “Are you the servant?”

This time I looked at Isabel for her reaction. She was staring down at her plate, watching her knife cut through a fat piece of meat. Juan laughed. I glared at him and abruptly pushed myself from the table. I went outside and had a smoke on the back porch. This was going to be the last time, I thought to myself.

I noticed Juan had a barn a hundred feet or so from the house. Funny I hadn’t seen it when we came in, it being so obvious, mansion sized and faced flat cement gray with two immense bright green front doors. The doors were shut and high above them was an open hay‑loft window. I crushed my cigarette out with the sole of my shoe. Next to the front doors and leaning against the wall of the barn was a pitchfork. Just as I was going to walk over to it, Isabel came outside. She took my hand. “Let’s go take a nap,” she said.

“I’m not tired.”

“The bed is very big and comfortable,” she said, pressing her breasts into my arm, “And Juan has some errands to run. We have the entire afternoon to ourselves.”

I followed her back into the house. Juan was cleaning the fireplace as we went up the stairs. He watched Isabel’s backside as she walked in front of me.

When I woke up, I was alone. I opened the bedroom window and saw them walking toward the truck. They had their backs to me and Juan had his arm around her neck while Isabel rested her head upon his shoulder. They were walking slowly and Juan seemed to be speaking rather softly. I flew down the stairs and stepped out the back door just as they were arriving at the truck. I let the screen door slam shut.

“My love,” Isabel said as she skipped towards me. Her blouse was open to the fourth button. I stared intently at Juan. He was mocking me with his eyes.

“You are awake,” he said.

“Yes, I am. And it seems to be just in time.”

“Oh, you mean to come with us,” Isabel said. “We were just going to pick up Juan’s kids. They live only ten minutes away.”

“That’s okay,” Juan said. “I can go alone. There’s coffee on the fireplace if you want some.”   He got in his truck and drove off, the winch on the back rattling and bobbing back and forth.

“Love, are you okay? You have a terrible look on your face.”

I lit a cigarette. “Where were you going?”

“To pick up his kids, I told you.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You were sleeping so well. Besides, Juan needed to speak. He feels comfortable speaking to me. We’re old friends, you know that. He wanted to talk about his divorce. Hey, wait a minute, what are you insinuating?”   She put her hands on her hips. I could see her bra and cleavage.

“Why didn’t he invite both of us to go with him?”

“Because there are three kids and the cab would be full. You’re being ridiculous.” She slipped inside the back door. I stayed on the porch and finished my smoke. Then I went for a walk.

After a walk around the barn, where I noticed the front doors were padlocked, I went back inside the house. Isabel was lying on a hammock in the sun room. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa. She leaned over and looked at me. The back door opened and three kids piled in, howling and yelling. They ranged in ages from three to eight.

“Lets go to the beach,” Juan said.

“It’s almost winter,” I said. “Don’t you think it’s a bit nippy for a swim?”

“We’re not going to swim, just have a picnic. The waves are beautiful to see crashing on the shore this time of year. They’re about five or six feet tall.”

The kids were running around the house and jumping up and down on the sofa. “Isn’t it going to be crowded in the cab?” I asked.

“Well, I have a suggestion. Isabel says you like to ride motorcycles.” My mind escaped to thoughts of my Harley‑‑that red and white Knucklehead that occasionally freed me from the stagnation of my marriage. He continued, “Well, I have a motocross bike. You can follow us. If you wear a sweater under your coat you’ll be fine.”

The road was overgrown with grass, but if I stayed in the wheel ruts, it was easy to ride on. I actually started to feel good after a mile or two. The sun was out, the wind was in my face, the briskness of the air incredibly invigorating. I started singing a song by Steppenwolf. “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure, in what ever comes our way. . . Born to be wi‑ii‑ii‑ii‑ld.   Born to be . . .”

After a meal of chicken sandwiches and red wine, and an afternoon of watching the kids build sand castles, then watching the sand castles get destroyed by the crashing waves, we headed back. Since I knew the way, I ventured out in front of the truck. I lost sight of them over some rolling hills, but I didn’t care, I had my freedom again‑‑the open road, the scenery passing by, the wind combing my hair and caressing my body through my clothes. When I saw the house loom up ahead of me, I slowed down.   I looked over my shoulder. I slowed down some more. I stopped. I rode to the top of a knoll and scanned the road to the beach. The truck was nowhere to be seen. I rode all the way back to the beach. Nothing. I returned to the house at full throttle. When I arrived, the sun was setting.

Around midnight, I heard the truck pull up and the doors slam shut. I went to the back porch with my hand around the neck of a bottle of bourbon I had found in the kitchen.

“Mi amor, how are you?” Isabel asked me. “Sorry, we had a flat tire.” Her hair was mussed.

“I went back to find you.”

Juan interrupted, “Sorry Jim, we took a different route. To drop off the kids.”

I lit a cigarette.

“Let’s go to bed, love,” Isabel said to me. “It’s late.” She put her hand over mine, the one that gripped the whiskey bottle.

In the bedroom I confronted her. “Did the flat tire happen before or after you dropped off the kids?”

She looked at me condescendingly. “Your petty jealousies belittle you. You have no right to speak to me like that. Juan is my friend. Whatever fantasy you’ve concocted in your mind is purely fictional. Besides, you know how I feel about infidelity.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel about infidelity. The same way you always feel about it.   The way you feel about it every time we go on a vacation together. The way you feel about it every time we meet someone new. Even the way you feel about it with all of our friends back home.” She stormed out of the room. I picked up the jar of candy and smashed it on the floor.

I sat on the bed and looked at the grass stains on my tennis shoes. After a few moments, I got up, went down the stairs, through the living room, and into the kitchen. I couldn’t find Isabel or Juan, so I walked, quite quickly, under the stairs and into the hallway that led to the guest room. I found the door closed. I pressed my ear to the door. Silence. Too much silence. A light shone from under the door and onto my feet. A double shadow passed by the light. I grabbed the door knob and drove my shoulder into the door, bursting into the room.

No one was there. A window a few feet from the unmade bed was open a couple of inches and its curtain fluttered in the breeze. The lamp between the bed and the window was on and the curtain periodically passed in front of it.

I paused for a moment, then went through the kitchen and out the back door. The moon was full and the sky was clear, giving the outdoors the appearance of a silvery low‑lit day. I could see the hills I had ridden upon earlier that day. A cold wind was blowing. The wild grass in the field next to the house rippled in the breeze. The main doors to the barn stood slightly ajar, and I watched as a white owl circled the barn twice then entered through the hay‑loft window. I glanced at the pitchfork where now it leaned within arm’s reach against the side of the house. The truck, its exterior looking black and shiny, its chrome bumpers reflecting the moon, sat pointed in the direction of the road that led to the airport. The skin on the back of my neck burned and my scalp tingled as I stepped off the porch and walked up to the driver’s side. Its keys dangled brightly in the ignition. I looked again at the dark slit made by the opening of the barn doors, over at the pitchfork, around at the hills, the wild grass, the road. The wind picked up and whistled in my ears.

The Suspense of Loneliness cover

Riding the Wind, as published in Quarto

Riding the Wind, as anthologized in The Suspense of Loneliness

This is a work of fiction. All people, places, and events in the story are fictitious.

You can also find this story on a Quarto website on page 27

Dear Father by Stephen Page


Dear Father,

I am so pleased that you have volunteered for Meals on Wheels–a noble endeavor to say the least. The driving around and handing out of containered food must surely keep you busy; which as we both know is something you need to do, especially now, at this point in your life.
Here on Santa Ana it is raining, a necessity for all ranches and farms alike. There always seems to be too much or too little of the wet stuff: cows either grazing in knee-deep water or chewing cud in puddles of dust, wheat like reeds in lakes or corn withering and dropping cracked ears. Last week the soy leaves turned from yellow to brown, a worsening state of bad, and the wind–break evergreens ochred the cow-lot borders. This afternoon, after two hours of steady raindrops the size of acorns, the whole ranch and everything on it seemed to sigh with relief; an almost audible sigh like one you hear in a dream as you are waking. The land has blackened to chocolate and the air chilled to jacket weather. Today’s downpour reprieved a two-month bout of ninety-degree swelter that made ill the character of the entire Santa Ana populace, not to mention tainted much of our cupboard tins and racked red wine.
We start the yerra next week–a picnic for us, as we watch while the gauchos perform. The cooler weather will be perfect for it. In a month or so we sell the calves.

I am sure you are happy that you will soon move to Florida after such a cold Michigan winter. Two months of breath-cracking below-zero is enough to make anyone seek guayaberas and daiquiris on the beach. Retirement will be pure pleasure. No more up before daybreak! No more “thru rain and shine!”

I hope your recovery from prostate surgery goes well. A hobby is in order for you to find, as we spoke about, to keep you occupied. Distracted. Don’t be like your father. Your career is over, not your life.

I trust this letter finds you and Mom well.

With much thought,

Your son, Jonathan

PS The jacket you gave me during my last visit, the bombardier with the shoulder insignia missing, keeps me from the wet and chill. I use it on my wood walks.
This poem first published on Foliate Oak. Read the poem there: http://www.foliateoak.com/stephen-page.html


Stephen Page is from Michigan. He is the author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, travel, family, and friends.

Woman in Purple Shirt by Stephen Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

woman in purple shirt

pointing out tulips–

children clinging to her legs

 

published on brass bell which is curated by Zee Zahava

http://brassbellhaiku.blogspot.com.ar/2017/06/haiku-about-ways-we-experienced-may-23.html

 

 

The Philosopher Savant

North of Oxford

ps

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Review by Stephen Page

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In the first poem of the book the narrator, as a young boy, skips church and wanders the countryside, discovering new truths, learning he is able to think for himself, coming to his own conclusions about himself and the world, and finding out he is not bound by non-secular dogma. This is where the Philosopher Savant comes into being.

The book follows the remembrances, dreams, fears, evaluation, assessments, and vision of the Philosopher Savant. He is an average person, a father, a householder with a job—but he has a vagrant soul and the fugue vision of a shaman.

Larson writes in the veins of Whitman and Shakespeare. Some of his poems read as contemporized sonnets, and they have as much genius entwined as Shakespeare’s.  While reading the poems, I had a feeling of transcending my self, a oneness with the “all”. The thesis of…

View original post 357 more words

Form plus Content equals Meaning

Source: Form plus Content equates Meaning: Form follows Content vs. Content follows Form

By Stephen Page  
 
            In poetry, form and content are related.  They support each other—they are a part of one other.  Form allows the reader to understand content, and content assists form.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  Meaning is derived not only from what the poet says, but also from how the poet says it.  The debate heard round the poetry world today springs from one question: which is more important, content or form?  For the benefit of the reader of this essay and to keep this paper concise, the term form will include not just the shape of the poem, but also type, style, meter, assonance, alliteration, stanza, syllabics and other language techniques.  Content shall include subject matter, plot, place, characters, narrator, theme, and word denotation.   Poems will fall under two main categories, fixed form and unfixed form.
            Let us begin with a fixed form poem, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:
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                   Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
              Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
              Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
              And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
             
              Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
              And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
              And every fair from fair sometime declines,
              By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
             
              But thy eternal summer shall not fade
              Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
              Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
              When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
                    
                     So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
                     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
 
Without getting too far into the complexities of the sonnet form, and the many different styles, which would take at least ten pages alone, let us cover the basic history and the main techniques.  The sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that most scholars believe originated in Italy.   The word sonnet translates to “little song,” so it should sound musical.  It is traditionally written in iambic pentameter and end rhyme. Shakespeare adapted the Italian “little song” to fit better the English language–since English had fewer rhyming words than Italian, his version has less lines that rhyme.  An intelligent move by an intelligent man.  The lines that rhyme are supposed to be thematically linked, as are the first lines in each of the first three quatrains, the second lines of the quatrains, the third and the fourth.  Thus said, the first three quatrains are stanzaically related.  These first three quatrains are the premise, the argument, or the question brought up in the poem.  The space between the premise and the last couplet is called the Volta, or turning point.  The last couplet is the answer to the premise, or often in Shakespearian sonnets, the moral or the didactic statement.    Considering this, the form requires a poet to consider carefully word choice when creating the poem.  Poets often outline before writing the form, with ideas of word choice and theme for each line.   The rhyme scheme is enough to constrain content, but meter also restricts which words will be used, and the complexity of the line and stanza relations makes the poem a definite content controller.  Contemporary poets have often changed the number of lines, done away with the rhyme, and often loosened up the meter to fit contemporary language, but usually the line and stanza associations, the Volta, and the song-like qualities are adhered.  Here is an example of a contemporary sonnet that follows most of the mechanics of the Shakespearian sonnet, written by an anonymous:
You are a lioness crossing a verdant veldt,
Hungry for flesh, sinewy muscles rippling
Rhythmically beneath a fine yellow pelt,
A bouncing black-tipped tail trailing.
 
In aftermeal, you lounge upon night’s sheets,
Your breath scented with blood-red wine,
Your hair crackling with star-lit cinders,
Your hips and thighs curved as lean cut steak.
 
I dream of evening strolls in Samburu,
Smell the grasses, hear our ravenous growls
For nocturnal meals lying upon rough
Linen scratched by your fine-nailed hands.
 
I hunt in sleep for your carnivorous lips,
And listen for your padding around my den.
 
            Another familiar fixed form is the haiku.  Again, without getting into a book-length explanation of what makes a haiku a haiku, I’ll cover the basics.  A haiku is a “transcendence of the normal self” as Bruce Ross said.  It should be a metaphysical experience, a losing of the ego, a oneness with nature, a capturing of the moment and making it eternal.  It is normally a three-line syllabic poem, with the first and third line having five syllables, and the second line seven.   Somewhere in the poem should be an allusion to season.   Haiku is believed to originate from Japan, and Basho is the most famous of the form users.    With all that in mind, the form restricts the content is some sense—sesonally, thus word choice, and the syllable count, thus the amount of words.  Some of the more learned of writers realize that English is less syllabic than Japanese and more metrical, so those erudites that write haiku often are often lenient on exact 5-7-5.  The problem with most poets is that they think since it is a condensed form, and syllabic, that it is easy to write, but most forget the spiritual aspect, the moment caught in time.  Borges said the thing that make a good haiku is that it “is.”  Another problem with contemporary haiku writers is that they write unoriginally, using the same season seasonal words and images that millions of other haiku writer used, or they write copies of Basho’s and his followers’ poems.  other people think that if you simply use 5-7-5 syllable form it is a haiku.  Here is an example of  one of Basho’s most famous poems:
                        old pond
                        a frog jumps in:
                        water sound
 
In this poem it is most likely summer, though it is not exactly stated, which is intelligent for there are only so many times a writer can say the names of the four season without it becoming old—so a seasoned haiku writer alludes.  The narrator in this poem becomes one with the frog and the water and the keplunkand thus all his surroundings.   He is not himself but a part of everything around him.  As I said, there is a lot of bad haiku being published today, but there are also some good contemporary haiku written, and I recommend to any writer or reader to acquire a copy of Haiku Moment by Bruce Ross to get an idea of the richness of good haiku, and immerse oneself in its particular content-form relation.  Here is a great contemporary haiku, by anonymous again:
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              high above the weeds
 closer to the sun, white
                        yucca plant flowers
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            Now let’s start moving a bit away from formally fixed poems and look at how content and form relate there.  Robert Frost’s second book, North of Boston is wonderful for its time, as it kept many aspects of formal poetry and freed them.  It broke away from fixed rhyme yet kept meter.  It was huge break in the sense that many of the poems are speech poems, or mini verse-plays.   The most popular and mootly his best poem ever is “Mending Wall,” and for good reason.  The famous line ‘good fences make good neighbors’ is derived from it, but the shape of it is that of a wall, and the meter mimics the mending action of a wall, the laying of boulder upon boulder:
.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The word ‘spills’ in the third line becomes a onomatopoeia, the word and the meter of the line sounding like the action of the boulders spilling out in the sunlight.  Another poem that I personally like is, “Home Burial”:
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: “What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.”
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: “What is it you see,”
Mounting until she cowered under him.
“I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.”
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and a while he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, “Oh,” and again, “Oh.”
 
“What is it—what?” she said.
 
                                                                     “Just that I see.”
 
“You don’t,” she challenged. “Tell me what it is.”
 
“The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound——”
 
                                “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried.
 
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
“Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?”
 
“Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.”
 
“Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.”
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
“There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.”
 
“You don’t know how to ask it.”
 
                                                                     “Help me, then.”
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
 
“My words are nearly always an offence.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.”
She moved the latch a little. “Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied——”
 
“There you go sneering now!”
 
                                                            “I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.”
 
“You can’t because you don’t know how.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
 
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.”
 
“I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.”
 
“I can repeat the very words you were saying.
‘Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.’
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlour.
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretence of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!”
 
“There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!”
 
“You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you——”
 
“If—you—do!” She was opening the door wider.
Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—”
 
The shape and meter help emphasize the stairway, or the location and setting, where either one or the other of the characters speaking in the poem are upon.  The shape is like a staircase, with the beginnings of some of the spoken lines tabbed over to the right margins.  And the meter helps in the visualization of the stepping up and down of the characters and moves the plot along.  The white spaces between the two characters lines can be seen as stanzaic but also as sepration between the two characters, as one of them is usually at the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom.  And they are obviously distant spiritually and physically, as they fight and do not communicate well nor comfort one another with words, and the female character has been having one or many affairs.
            Further along the unfixed spectrum we have frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems.  Here is a poem entitled “A Step Away From Them”:
 
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
                         cabs. First, down the sidewalk
 where laborers feed their dirty
 glistening torsos sandwiches
 and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
 on. They protect them from falling
 bricks, I guess. Then onto the
 avenue where skirts are flipping
 above heels and blow up over
 grates. The sun is hot, but the
 cabs stir up the air. I look
 at bargains in wristwatches. There
 are cats playing in sawdust.
  
 
                                                            On
 to Times Square, where the sign
 blows smoke over my head, and higher
 the waterfall pours lightly. A
 Negro stands in a doorway with a
 toothpick, languorously agitating
 A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
 smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
 suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
 a Thursday.
 
 Neon in daylight is a
 great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
 write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
 I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
 CORNER. Giulietta Maina, wife of
 Federico Fellini, é bell’ attrice.
 And chocolate malted. A lady in
 foxes on such a day puts her poodle
 in a cab.
  
 
                       There are several Puerto
 Ricans on the avenue today, which
 makes it beautiful and warm. First
 Bunny died, then John Latouche,
 then Jackson Pollock. But is the
 earth as full of life was full, of them?
 And one has eaten and one walks,
 past the magazines with nudes
 and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
 the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
 which they’ll soon tear down. I
 used to think they had the Armory
 Show there.
 
                       A glass of papaya juice
 and back to work. My heart is in my
 pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
.
O’Hara wrote the poems during his lunch hour while working a nine-to-fiver with a half hour to an hour for lunch, just enough time to go down to the streets, walk a few blocks, take in a bit of the cityscape, pick up a hot dog and sit on a bench to eat and write a brief poem, and return to work.  The poems, like this one, are mostly quick reads. They are this way because they are generally short and written in everyday language.  This allows the reader to read one or two of them on his own lunch hour. And the form of the book itself is small so one may keep it in suit pocket and carry it around at lunch time.  The lines in this poem are turned before they end, to  give the effect of movement, so the reader feels he is moving along the streets, stepping around construction sight barriers, turning on corners.  The stanzas end as if there is a stop on a street corner for the red-crossing sign, then where the narrator steps off the curb to cross or the scene changes O’Hara begins the next stanza on the right side of the page to give a feeling of onwardness.  The language, though simple and everyday, is vivid—rich nouns, sharp verbs—so the effect is that of the reader looking through the eyes of O’Hara and seeing the scenes, not being told what the scenes look like.
.
            Somewhere in the middle of the form spectrum, there are semi-fixed poems. like Christopher Bursk’s poem “You Only Get a few Chances to be of Interest to the Gods,” from his book The Improbable Swerving of Atoms:
.
                        When you pulled free from the man’s encouraging hands,
when you grabbed for the door,
 
when you left your coat, sweater, schoolbag in the car’s front seat,
when you ran down the street, shirttails flying,
 
when you crouched in the dark of the firs trees you recognized,
when you wiped the spittle from your hands
 
and began to think of how to explain losing
your algebra book, your pocket atlas, your Latin dictionary,
 
you know that you had failed the first real test
of your life.  All the man asked for
 
was a few moments of undivided attention, kindness
in return for kindness.  A kiss.
 
If a boy is going to be scared of something
that pathetically eager
 
to please, that naked
and exposed, the penis’s trembling
 
entreaties, how can he expect to brave anything
else that the gods might ask of him?
 
Fortitude.  Self-abnegation.  Compassion.  The valor
of  the Latin, the polysyllabic’s
 
magnanimity.  You’d been given and opportunity to prove
you too had a large heart
 
and a deep soul, and you had zipped up your fly
and ran for your life.  
 
 
The poem is in couplets, which has traditions in the heroic couplet, which might be a play on words with the title and theme.  The couplet form is most likely used here for a couple of other reasons.  One, there are two characters in the poem, the main character who is a boy and the pedophile.   Two, the couplet is the duality of the boy’s feeling.  He is feeling disgust at the man and for what has happened, but also arousal at the closeness of the man.  He is aroused and ambiguous about his awakenings to his bi-sexuality.  And he is feeling guilty for not being kind to the stranger to have completed the act—a revelation of his innocence, for the man who preyed upon him is a mentally sick person who should be jailed for his abnormal actions.  The couplets are loosely metered but the line length mostly coincides with the length of the breath and shortens and enjambs where the main character is breathing hard and emphasis is needed on certain words.
            On the far end of the form spectrum, we have, as some might call a misnomer, the prose poem.  B.H Fairchild uses this for his poem “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West,” from the book Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest:
The old roughnecks between jobs drunk in their cars outside the bowling alley; the school teacher in her rented room in live with the mechanic and dreaming of moving to Houston: new front tires for the Dodge, bright yellow curtains for the kitchen windows, a TV; the blood sunset in the corners for my father’s eyes after he worked a lather for two days and nights; 3 a.m., the welder on No Doz and Benzedrine smoking his last Pall Mall, listening to Tammy Wynette, waiting for the driller to show; the way the dust would bronze the window ledges and the kitchen table, a dust devil spinning a trash can in the backyard; the dog house at the rig, the good year calendar with a big-breasted nude blonde  kneeling in a truck tire, the empty bottle of Jim Beam, roustabouts passed out on cots; the little bridge that pain walked between astonishment and horror when John Santos caught his hand in the pipe clamps, his eyes dull as glass marbles afterwards; my mother enrolling me in school in the little town, eh, you’re on of those; a necklace of teardrop trailers on the edge of town, Lester Hill lived in one and went to holy roller meetings with his mom and had nightmares; the brown teeth of the trailer kids; revival meeting at the football fiend on Sunday afternoons, Gimpy Nederland saved from booze for the fourth time, the bankers strolling out of the Petroleum Club cleaning their teeth with toothpicks and loosening their belts; the old men in the back room of the pool hall, the click of dominoes, amber beer bottles glowing in the late afternoon sun; the boy with the green hair and lipstick who hung around the alley; Thomas Johnson, the old ex-Wobbly who hauled mud for the Lacey brothers, skull crushed fro a dropped drill collar; his wife, Luanne, who worked the ticket booth a the theater, got drunk on night and lay down on the railroad tracks; the wildcatter walking into the bank with the bad news, noticing for the first  time the plush carpet, the gleam of polished mahogany, the fragrance of orange peels rising form the hands of receptionists; oilfield kids standing in line at the El Dorado theatre in Snyder to see King Solomon’s Mines; my mother listening to Billie holiday and staring at a photograph of my father; my father with his head in bandages as I cradle in my palm the steel burr they removed from his eye; Lester and I waling the dir road behind the trailer, reciting once again the oath of the Green Lantern: In the brightest of day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
 
It is perhaps a prose poem in relation to the title, to represent the decline of high or elevated poetry.  If you notice, it is all one sentence, and a long list of different characters—perhaps a statement that ‘everyone’ is in the same predicament: the whole of western subculture, and even the whole of humanity—their dreams of a fair world and an even break, the return for hard working life, all, all is lost and untrue.
            So as you see, form + content = meaning.  Shape, meter, line length, enjambment, and language sound allow content to be better expressed, in other word, allow the reader to better interpret the poem.  It seems that in poems that lean toward the fixed side of the spectrum the content has to fit into the form, thus content follows form and can even be changed by form.  But in unfixed forms content is less contained by form, in fact content uses form as it chooses to help the content be better expressed and thus understood, perhaps even better enjoyed.  That is not to say fixed forms are not enjoyable, they are.  Through my personal experiences, through what I have read in my life, and through conversations with other authors, when a writer is writing in fixed form content is contained and harder to free, but in unfixed forms, form becomes a tool used at will and is only an extension of content (also said by Creeley and Olsen).  Either way, though, a practitioner in fixed forms will tell you that form is in fact liberating, for the writer learns how to use language in new ways.   I believe, and have heard, that most writers today who write in unfixed form let the poems form themselves as they are writing.  Sometime the poems come out naturally in free verse (another misnomer), couplets, triplets, quatrains, metric, rhyming; though it is mostly in the editing process that form is changed and shaped to help the content be expressed and thus understood and enjoyed.
.

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

Here is an excerpt from a letter sent to the publishers (Diane Sahms-Guarnieri and g) of Stephen Page’s essay “Content”:
Dear Diane & g,
I think your recent additions to North of Oxford were all excellent.
I especially think that Stephen Page ‘s Content & Meaning article could greatly aid high school English teachers who are skittish (and there are many, if admitted!) learn how to present poetry to their classes. His examples are lucid and down-to-earth.
North of Oxford continues to grow in so many areas.
Best to you both as Spring bursts to life. Ray.

Finally and In the Room of the Dead

zymbol-2-cover copyZymbol 2: Autumn/Winter

Poetry by Stephen Page

Finally

While it is yet dark I slide from between
the sheets, pad to the kitchen, brew coffee,
and pack sweetrolls in a plastic bag. I strip
off my pajamas, shower myself with insect
repellent, and put on yesterday’s clothes. I
shoulder my backpack, and slip out the back
door, closing it quietly behind me. In the vestige
of moonlight I walk past the barn, feeling the dew
wet my ankles. Just inside the edge of the
Wood I breakfast on a treestump. Two barn
owls screech at my invasion and leave their
branch perch. A bat flaps violently by my
head. I roll marmalade around my tongue
and smell fecund earth spiced with decaying
leaves. A silver fox darts across a clearing,
and I unseat myself to wander the wood.
In the penumbra of trees I walk–I listen to
silence–I do not feel the weight of my
pack–I misplace time–an hour when I click
the light on my digital watch. The Myth
I seek does not appear but feel I was close
to finding it, or it finding me. A wooddove pops
its wings as it departs eucalypti mist auraed by
a vanilla sunrise. Treefrog croaks crescendo
then stop as I exit the treeline. A peach sun rises
behind a windmill as I cross the field to breakfast
a second time, this time with my wife.

In a lemon tree behind our ranchhouse, I discover
a newly made wasp nest bowing a brace of branches.

In the Room of the Dead

Mothballs permeate.

Grandfather slits open
A forty-pound fish
From anus to throat,
His nostrils flaring
At the effluvium.

Grandmother sits upon the lap
Of her gray-suited father,
Her pale dress fluttering
Above her chubby thighs,
Their skin dusted
With corn silk,
Stubble in the field
Behind them.

Your high-headed friend
Who prefers blue oxfords
And khakis with loafers,
Who planted the blooms
That perfume your garden,
Breathes ether and oxygen
Through a plastic mask
And winces at each needle prick
Of the vein-finding nurse.

You mother in lavender chiffon
Who swallowed every morning
whole garlic clove
Wheezes in a sanitary cloud
Of baby powder,
Her stomach cancer
Taken over.

Your father, a tall man
In a baker apron,
Sips aromatic yerba
In front of flock
Of sparrow, the birds
scuttling upwind
Of his diabetic
Gangrene feet.

An antique wool blanket
Is folded neatly
Upon the foot of the bed,
And atop the cedar chest of drawers,
The sliver frames
Never quite tarnish to black,
But remain a constant state of gray,

The chromatic faces stilled
By the opening of the door.

 

these poems published in Zymbol

Alternative Cover Copy
         Alternative Cover Copy

Zymbol logo

walking at sunset

brass bell: a haiku journal

brass japanese wind bell

walking at sunset
a lightning bug lands
upon my T-shirt
– Stephen Page
this poem published on brass bell by editor 
lightning bugs
read more of zee zahava’s selection of night poems here

 

Stephen Page Teaching English