For You, the Figs Ripen


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On this good day of days, I wonder if you’ve seen the bright stripes
of sun beaming through the window, or is your heart too shuttered?

The rain has stopped; old Rafiki is tuning his mandolin.
People bring jars to gather honey from the cracks in his voice.

Sara still speaks of the midwife who buried your cord to free
you of vendettas. For you, she said, figs will ripen early.

Why, now, do you pollute your mind with actions of evil men?
Every day, it’s harder for me to scrub the soot from your shirts.

Our fate is already sown into the grain of our coffins.
The olive tree knows for whom to bend and pour her fragrant oil.

Let us take the skiff in the morning to Paximadia.
Together, we’ll hunt the rosy pumice blessed by Artemis.


This is my first attempt at an ancient poetry form developed in the Mediterranean island of Crete. It is called mantinada, derived from Venetian for “morning song”. The couplets are decapentasyllabic, fifteen syllables per line, and are not required to rhyme. In its purest meter, there would be a midline caesura (pause). I let that go in favour of a more conversational style.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

E Words


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This one’s for you, Mrs. Chapman.

An escolar inesculent eructed at the table.
An elocutionist by calling, erumpent and most
erudite, the escolar exceptional eschewed
essential themes of ethics and economy,
ejaculating most effectively on eschatology.

If you could just elutriate, he said,
all thoughts of ‘ell and ‘eaven,
allow that moon’s evections
can effect (sic) the evenest
of minds, that evidence
and etymons empiricized
empoison some and others
elevate, I think you’d find
you would elude most fears
of death and end. Such
evanescent notions would
evapotranspirate, and you,
my friend, would fast evaginate—
like socks! And newly inside
out, you would experience
ecstatic, though I’ll grant you,
embryonic, new emergences
sans effort, sans unease.


This bit of free verse nonsense (with perhaps some hidden sense) began with my looking up an E word in Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate, © 1965, for something completely unrelated. I love older dictionaries because they hadn’t yet eliminated obsolete words and meanings to accommodate the notion of a dumbed down readership. The first Collegiate came out in 1898, and I’ll bet that one was even more fabulous!

Here is a loosely defined prose version of “E Words”.

An inedible fish resembling a mackerel belched at the table. A public speaker, bursting forth with learning, this very special fish tended to avoid topics of ethics and economy. Most of his utterances were about the end of the world.

“If you could just purify by washing out all thoughts of hell and heaven; accept that orbital disturbances of the moon can affect any of us; allow that observation and experience, proof, and word derivations will make some people bitter and others feel fantastic, I think you’d shake off most fears of termination and dying. Those flimsy notions would evaporate, they’d be pulled out, and you, my friend, will be turned inside out, like socks! While this new outlook may feel awkward at first, you’re going to enjoy fresh and glorious experiences, free of all struggle and worry.”

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image: Mackerel on Stone, artwork by Peter Gander





Here, inside the angle
of my hypotenuse
perfection reigns

Here, inside the privacy
of ratio gold and leaning
ever more toward limitless
I happily ignore what does not
please in favour of the guidance
that propels me here
from point to line
from pulse to spine

and put my feet up while
the computations of intelligence
exorbitantly free of
congress and clarify
for pure, pure pleasure of—
that’s it—for pure, pure pleasure of…

and while that participle dangles
pulling in all elements cooperative
like prawns upon a hook with bite
enough to banish fish I do not wish
to be digested by, I casually observe
the opposite, pay tribute to adjacent

and while future softly laps
against perfection of the present,
I imagine that the poetries purported
to be lost of Apuleius and those others
from the Mystery Schools were never
lost at all—‘twas me who lost connection
to the stars, who wouldn’t try new angles
in the fear that someone else’s quarter
circle might be righter than. My word!
How could I think—it doesn’t matter
now, those days are gone.

Propulsion of today assures
me there’s no end point, never was,
that everybody’s fine, their angles
right and phi. I’ll meet you here.
There is no other place.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image from at deviantart

I’d Rather Know


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I know poets who discard
their lines like trousers, shirt
and underwear from door to
bed, a hurried one-night stand
with somebody—they don’t
quite catch the name—
and whoosh, they’re gone.

Pressing in to what
he’s left behind, a slavering
crowd approves—why not,
for what could safer be
than catching drifts of
someone else’s ripples,
seventh hand seduction,
quick! Spectator’s game.

I know poets who
with charcoal palettes
draw precise and gloomy
verse that mostly sounds
the same, convincing all who
somberly agree to congregate
and read, of vast intelligence—
the poet’s, not the readers’.

I’d rather know a poet
who takes time to rise above
the melancholic, with wit enough
to shake his trousers upside down
for change, who knows my name,
feels eager in the dawn’s cool
light to spring from bed and
plant bare feet on new
and higher ground.

And more than this,
I know that readers too
who aren’t me would wriggle
deep and breathe a-fresh
to see the naked poet
pick his clothes up
off the floor and
put the coffee on.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The gorgeous image comes from

Rhubarb, Rhubarb!


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eagleA Rondeau Redoublé

When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin
to jabber: Rhubarb, rhubarb, this is just terrible!
We have to save him—a crime, what a sin!
Reason gives way to cheap flips of the voluble.

Peahens and cocks knew long before Hannibal
orders of pecking are neat, sharp, and trim.
Be the bird who observes, stays out of the rabble.
When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin

to mimic each other. It’s one way to win
a seat at the table of dimmed wits and garble.
Of neutral to cheerful, the crowds are thin.
To jabber, rhubarb, rhubarb, this is just terrible

sells better airtime and saves me the trouble
of finding perspective amidst the din.
While I’d like to be happy, it feels impossible.
We have to save him—a crime, what a sin!

The view of the eagle is much less grim
for she sees the shape of what seems insolvable.
Who receives, who inflicts are inseparable kin;
reason gives way to cheap flips of the voluble.

Let the parroting part of your mind be inaudible;
for the peace and the joy of us, new visions spin.
Unoriginal grief is the way of the gullible;
the whole forest knows re-Creation begins
when the eagles are silent.


Some of you may recognize the opening words of this rondeau. “When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber,” was first uttered by Winston Churchill. I’m hoping he won’t mind I heard a poem in it.

The title “Rhubarb, Rhubarb” comes from the non-vegetable meaning of the word as baseball slang for an argument or fight. It’s also used as rabble verbiage in theatre or film, especially when the crowd are shaking their fists.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image of the eagle comes from

Tall Enough




I threw into the sea today
all that I know of poetry
and pundits, cutting edge
and means to ends that
do not interest me

then turned away
and while I trek this land
now featureless without
the borderguards and ushers—
Mind your step!—who monitor
and fret, the gorgons of a grinding
politic blow loud and fierce across
my shoulder blades, their arguments
compounding or appearing to, against
all evidence my heart displays just
out of reach that all is well

and what I see
the tor just now that’s
coming into view is not,
as you might think, some
vain imagining. The tugging
at my earlobe known as hope
it brought me here, and when of
inland play I’ve had my fill, the gyroscope
of which I’m made will spin and lift me
toward the ocean’s edge where all that
I have cast awaits in fleets, the new world
ripe to populate—and me, at last, I’m
tall enough to reach and step aboard.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Were You Present?


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dawn of creation_s185 photobucketdotcom

Were you present at the dawn of Creation?
I’m quite sure I saw you at the shimmering edge
of a pond where the tuberose dipped to admit
something too wet and too young to fly.

Were you present at the rise of thought
when certainty gave way to resistant beetles
with hard-shelled plans and maps they’d
imagined while dreaming of salt flats?

Were you present at the fullness of expression
when, upright and landlocked, we learned
how to cry and to calculate distance from spirit
to flesh, convincing ourselves we were lost?

Were you present at the evening of tides
when seas recalled their sweet mother, the pond,
and our tears falling salty revived acrid spirits
across the land? I’m quite sure you were.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image from

Ode to the Valued Customer


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A Villanelle

All I need do is rush you and bore you,
tool die and stamp, units sold, merely digitize
and score you, dear valued customer, woo-hoo!

Smoothly and daily, I frazzle your view
with photoshopped beauty & health, hypnotize.
All I need do is rush you and bore you

with numbers and flow charts, I know what to do
to poison your innate good sense, then to sanitize
and score you, dear valued customer, woo-hoo!

Persuading, dead easy! I’ve built a whole slew
of doubt traps to enslave, victimize.
All I need do is rush you and bore you.

As long as you never slow down to ask who
is in charge, I’ll continue to aim custard pies
and score you, dear valued customer, woo-hoo!

Beyond this cheap dazzle, a market true
thrives where I can’t push in with baubles and lies.
All I need do is rush you and bore you
and score you, dear valued customer, woo-hoo!


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Are You Equipped?




Are you equipped for exaltation?
Are you properly kitted to observe
the torus of your magnificent unfolding?

Or are you still relating
the story of the fish scale
that lodged at the back
of your throat when the love
of your life called you
a bore and walked out?

If you can’t take it in yet
that you are the center
of Creation that expands,
could you at least put yourself
at the mid-point of the Coliseum,
not worrying too much whether
you’re dancing with lions, gladiators,
or bears with gold rings in their noses?

You are every bit the center too
when sands of the arena are raked
at night and lit by Sirius.

Come on, don’t tell me that
doesn’t make you smile just a little.

Thing is, friend, while you’re busy
sorting your dog-eared Go Fish deck
of who to disapprove of today and why,
a three-month-old baby at the table
beside you is building community
with gurgles and bare toes.

I watch her now and then
admiring your torus.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014



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fishboat12Learn how to hope, to wait for the turning of the tide
in the same way as a boat beached up on the shore
and if the tide leaves without you do not be disillusioned.
Everyone who waits knows that victory will be his.

“Consejos”, Antonio Machado,
translation by Paul Quintanilla, © 2014


I bring you a new language
from the interstice between conflict
and that blunted state too quick to reek
like bony cold fish soup left in the sun
that you call peace. Fashioned from platonic
solids, places, things, these words with pride
shall rest upon your tongue, content as sea
anemones to bask and watch for cause
to speak. Meanwhile, upon this crest abide.
Learn how to hope, to wait for the turning of the tide.

I bring you a new state
beyond the perforated battle lines
punched into sand and mind when you were
not yet old enough to contradict divide
and conquer. Leys and laws of yesteryear
are washed away. This higher floor
derives no strength from soapboxes,
stands firm, regenerates anew each day
and welcomes tidal rests, awaiting more
in the same way as a boat beached up on the shore.

I bring you a new nation
sea to brilliant sea and towering
with stalls of spice and fruits heaped high
and every stage of life enjoyed. No mothers
forced to choke down bile, a flag placed in her
hands as substitute. All danger repositioned
to adventure with the certainty that we’ll come
round again, while Nature’s high, as stimulant,
appeases every curiosity our eager hearts envisioned
and if the tide leaves without you do not be disillusioned.

I bring you a new love
unlike those who from their
spindly cynics’ perches feign a tolerance
for visions of utopia you’ve dreamed since
infancy. This love, like you, has jettisoned
paralysis of hope. He’s unafraid—his kiss
you know by heart, his signature’s right here
by yours, a declaration marked to reunite you
at tide’s turning where you’ll both remember this:
Everyone who waits knows that victory will be his.


The experience of writing a glosa is always magical for me, but never has it crossed so deeply into the realm of enchantment as this one. The crown stanza by the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado is excerpted from a biography about an equally great Spanish artist, Luis Quintanilla. Machado, a mentor and friend, gave this poem to the young painter in a bar in Segovia, saying he’d thought of him while writing it.

Waiting at the Shore: Art, Revolution, War, and Exile in the Life of the Spanish Artist Luis Quintanilla was written by his son, Paul, and published in 2014 by Sussex Press. If you’ve ever wished you could have lived in Paris during La Belle Epoque, befriending Hemingway, rubbing shoulders with Picasso and Modigliani; been commissioned by the Duke of Alba to paint frescoes for his palace; fought against Fascists in the Spanish Civil War; called the greatest artist of your time, only to be exiled, forgotten, and after your death to be remembered again…

I cannot recommend Paul Quintanilla’s book highly enough, and I thank him for permission to use his father’s painting as the cover for this glosa.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
“Docked Fishing Boat”, oil on canvas, by Luis Quintanilla
from the website dedicated to his work,


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