Scorn, the dead fish


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Bidding farewell to the longest January in recorded memory, a sonnet in the Shakespearean tradition felt apt.


Harpoons of scorn drive deep into the eye,
intent to wound apparent from their sharp
acuity…and yet, despite scorn’s wry
dissent, I cannot help but feel my carp
resembles fishy bones a parent threw
in lieu of longed affection. Let me be,
this spongy mind cried out, whatever you
would most approve. A whale like you must see
more wisely than this plankton with her nose
toward warmer seas—but, wait! Your blubber that
I once did aggravate lies in repose
and has for years, for coral to grow fat.
So now, as wailer of my fate, I yearn,
then see I’m free to barb. Avast, blind tern!

© Elaine Stirling, 2017
Image from New Bedford Whaling Museum

Who Needs Hell When You Have Facebook?


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~~a trio of triolets~~

begging your pardon, chatelaine, if you’ve a moment, please,
we’ve a crisis with the seating in the northern banquet hall.

the salty-tongued are wedged between the skipjack and the cheese.
begging your pardon, chatelaine, if you’ve a moment, please,

the curtains have caught fire & the cushions twitch with fleas;
the secretly entitled have engaged upon a brawl.

begging your pardon, chatelaine, if you’ve a moment, please,
we’ve a crisis with the seating in the northern banquet hall.

we have to find a way to seat the nasty with the kind;
otherwise, this realm is sure to split right down the middle.

the furious take too much space, defeated hoard the wine;
we have to find a way to seat the nasty with the kind.

the royal sanctimonious insist that we must dine
in deference to some history writ upon a holy griddle.

we have to find a way to seat the nasty with the kind;
otherwise, this realm is sure to split right down the middle.

o, servant dear, when will you learn there’s grace beyond the muddle,
and no one will be served by you exhausting your own station?

yesterday’s great deluge will become tomorrow’s puddle.
o, servant dear, when will you learn there’s grace beyond the muddle?

the beastly ones you can’t control, they hunger for a cuddle;
you’re not their ruler, nor the judge or source of their creation.

o, servant dear, when will you learn there’s grace beyond the muddle,
and no one will be served by you exhausting your own station?


© Elaine Stirling, 2017
Image: political cartoon from 1813

With apologies to Mark Zuckerberg and all hardworking FB employees. Truth is, I love the medium, but, boy, yesterday was a killer! I can’t even imagine what it’s like from where you sit. So, for all you do, Facebook, thank you!

Nightfall of the Iguana, 2017


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~~a trilogy of glosas, concluded~~

The jaguar brushed leaves
with his phosphorescent absence,
the puma speeds through bracken
like devouring fire.

—from “Some Beasts”, Pablo Neruda,
in his epic Canto General,
translation by Waldeen


Not long ago, I found a strange map
in the ruins of a Maracaibo mansion,
the corners held down with rough-cut rubies
round and plump as duck eggs. Palimpsests
throbbed like blue-black veins across the chart—
illegible, unscarred by zealots and thieves.
I was told by the raggedy viejo who sleeps
underneath that the map and her routes
can be viewed by whoever believes
the jaguar brushed leaves

with her tail and the weasely dictator fell.
Claims such as these, they never sit well
with the rushed and the rational. Being neither
that day, I asked the old man to explain.
Once a year, he said, when defenses
deflate, humankind’s natural omniscience
is recalled and recorded upon this map
by shades of the recently departed who’ve
dropped all pretence of sorrow and vehemence.
With his phosphorescent absence

of political skews and racial miscues,
he hovered over the map, and with a finger
gnarled as ebony burl, he cruised along
routes I’d been known to frequent and
rubbed them all out, pronouncing every one
irrelevant. Time to accept there’s no fact in
the past with the power to deplete or subvert
your future. Take a page from the wild. When
the cayman’s not hungry, he’s loath to attack, and
the puma speeds through bracken.

Likewise, in the seam between moments—and
years—that appear to engender and justify
fear, you will find a clear trail laid out by the good
that is you and your boundaryless kin. You are
timely, well compassed. Walk on, begin.
And now it is time for this Job to expire.
He dropped the fat rubies into a sack.
He rolled up the mansion and with it the map,
spinning all he had shown me into a gyre
like devouring fire…

Wishing you a happy and magical New Year!

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Nightfall of the Iguana, Part 2


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~~a trilogy of glosas~~

Someone who waited for me among violins
uncovered a world like a buried tower,
its spiral sunk beneath all
the hoarse, sulphur-covered leaves.

—from “The Heights of Macchu Picchu”, Pablo Neruda,
in his epic, Canto General; translation by Waldeen


Welcome to the board game, Self Creation.
I am Spartacus—like you, a former slave.
I’m here to walk you through the spaces
and the rules. First, you choose a playing piece:
preacher, prisoner, jailer, free. I heard you right?
You’ve chosen free? I am surprised, since
all I’ve heard about you says you feel oppressed
by governments, economy has jailed you, and
you’ve smothered happiness to combat violence.
Someone who waited for me among violins

gave me your name, suggesting you were ready
for Self Creation. Hell, who am I to disagree?
All right, you’re free! That means you move
around, above, and through whatever contradicts
freedom. Confront, you lose 100 chips. Complain
(the hamster wheel), forfeit a turn. Smell a flower,
go again. Overstating what you think, demanding
others say they’re sorry flips you into preacher
mode…oh, look! You’ve won a super power,
uncovered a world like a buried tower.

Now, we’re into deeper levels. See those cogs
and screws? Play them wrong, you’ll drop
into this oubliette, forget we ever met, until
you see Kirk Douglas playing me. You’ll
scratch your head, think, what the heck?!
At this stage, every rise and every fall
is measured by emotion of the here and now.
Focus toward the joy, momentum must ensue.
Despair will do the same, except the game
will spit you out. A dizzied slug, you’ll crawl,
its spiral sunk beneath all

the free and moving parts you built
and played so well. At this point, I will
be what you have chosen to believe—a heel
poised to squash you. My creator, Howard Fast,
blacklisted as a red, he got the royal squash, but
flattened, grabbed the BE FREE card. Reprieves
lie under every tragedy, you see. Howie moved to
Hollywood, grew rich as shit. McCarthy, playing
jailer, to this very day, haunts and heaves
the hoarse, sulphur-covered leaves.

© Elaine Stirling, 2016
Author’s Note: I noticed, post-posting, that there’s an extra line in the 3rd stanza, which the handful of glosa writers will undoubtedly notice. I’m going to leave it…because I’m pretty sure that some glosa in my past was short one line, and these things even out.

Nightfall of the Iguana


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Playing cards with the saying "Today is my lucky day!" written on them lie scattered about amongst lighters at a warehouse that held lighters and cigarettes in San Jose district, Tacloban, November 21, 2013. Photo by Will Baxter/for The Wall Street Journal

Photo by Will Baxter/for The Wall Street Journal

~~a trilogy of glosas~~

The American-born dancer and choreographer known as Waldeen (1913-1993) was among the first—and, in my opinion, best—translators of Pablo Neruda’s epic, Canto General. When Neruda arrived in Mexico in 1940 as Chile’s consul general, Waldeen was already well established as the director of her own dance school in Mexico City. Poet and dancer became lifelong friends.

Both the Canto and Waldeen’s translations remained virtually unread for decades in North America, thanks to the Cold War and fear of all things leftish. Happily, the complete 1950 chapbook, Let the Rail Splitter Awake and Other Poems, is now available online as a pdf, for those who’d like to read and know more.

Here, at Oceantics, I’ve developed an inadvertent tradition of closing the old year and opening the new with glosas, a medieval Spanish form with homage to a greater poet at its center. Over the next few days, I will post three glosas, with lines borrowed from Neruda’s Canto, all translations by Waldeen. The title of the trilogy comes from a poem within the Canto, “Some Beasts”.

I hope you enjoy “Nightfall of the Iguana”.


Give me your voice and the strength of your buried breast,
Walt Whitman, and the solemn roots that are your face
so as to sing of these reconstructions!
Together we will pay homage to what arises…

—from “Let the Rail Splitter Awake”, Pablo Neruda
Translation by Waldeen


A tattered deck of fifty-two lies scattered
in an alley behind the Government House.
Peer close, you’ll see. Face cards are scrubbed clean,
suits obliterated, numbers bleed, too thin
to read. I’m told they are apologies, not weeks,
shuffled and dealt routinely to the poorly dressed
committed activists each morning gather
them, assess the hands that cut and undercut
and from the bloodiest, demand arrest.
Give me your voice and the strength of your buried breast,

for if you don’t, if you, the partial deaf
continue to parlay in tonal motion ranges
of the one-note flute, I will fall away.
I must, for each of us, is pied and born
to play toward vast significance, adjusting
turn by turn through private grace
to seeds and shoots we placed ahead of us
in pre-born times, I didn’t question. Now
I choose deliberately condition, person, place,
Walt Whitman, and the solemn roots that are your face.

Come on, is it so hard to comprehend
that ease of mind and spirit are the wiser lead?
I have, by flabby habit, held a stopwatch to your
pace and watched for stumbles, cracks and
proofs of inconsistency. Looking back, I turn
myself to salt, am peppered by obstructions.
Ceilings made of trash are worse than glass.
They obfuscate, rain sticks and stones I can’t
recall as thrown by me. We need new instructions
so as to sing of these reconstructions!

For the building’s going on all around me—boom to
boom, regroup, I pause but never bust, when learning
to be serious regarding us as one magnanimous
and upward thrust, salubrious, percentages up-end,
odds even, then surpass. A rubber duck in mighty seas,
she’s surface prone or floating, has no terror of surprises.
Tankers in the Bosphorus collide, the whale informs
the stork who rides the dreaming tides, disclosing
from the future what our never-ending prize is.
Together we will pay homage to what arises…

© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Giving a Ripe Red Fig


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I love that there are figs.
I love that figs exist.
I love that figs have been preserved
to grace the plates of ancient royalists.

A day that starts with sweet
and old from orchards of Provence
means more to me than all the tea
and crumpets you might find
in fancy restaurants.

Good breakfast makes us champions
and this I do believe,
for even Richard Lionheart
from battling nasty dukes
each morning took a brief reprieve…

with crusty bread, a blob of jam,
and fresh ground chicory, he pushed
the foes of Aquitaine back to their
smarmy lairs and claimed
his figues rouges-fueled victory.

All hail therefore the mighty fig,
its Maker, and this day
where once again I’m free to choose
my battles, how to fight them—
and where not to give a frig!


© Elaine Stirling, 2016





When the grapes speak,
how soon do I listen?
The pinot noir who traveled
from the crumbly soil of a vintner’s legacy,
the subtle oil of tending hands
upon the fruit, picking up the whispers
of Etruscan poplar groves
passed down through generations;
hungry snuffles of the truffle pigs,
their handlers sharing tales
of honeymoons and fruitful traipses,
decades past.

Do I hear the symphonies
and feel the grace of wine amazing me—
or are numbness and escape the goal?

Obliteration’s all the rage, you know,
to wit, the Snapchat photos of the drunken wit
who, next day, wishes still she could be free
of it, whatever it may be.

Let’s not begrudge,
the vintage sings to me,
the excellence of depth humanity
provides to any mind who minds
her business and allows the rest
their rest or muddled conflict.

Nothing good will budge
or come of kicking at a wine
before its time.

A greater yield surrounds
with equanimity each comprehensive
soul contributing to greater wholes.

In this abide,
proclaims the pinot noir


© Elaine Stirling, 2016

Pot Belly Stove


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~~a villanelle~~

In the center of my kitchen sits a pot belly stove
made for cooking and for heating, just like every other.
My appliance has no cause to think and nothing to prove.

I gather wood from an apple grove,
buy yesterday’s news from a friend’s big brother.
In the center of my kitchen sits a pot belly stove.

Last night, a troubled neighbour drove
into the lake to get even with his mother.
My appliance has no cause to think and nothing to prove,

so I shall not comment on their familial love
or lack thereof. Too much of anything will smother.
In the center of my kitchen sits a pot belly stove.

Earlier this morning, an acquaintance shot a dove;
its peace, apparently, disturbed him. He could use a lover.
My appliance has no cause to think and nothing to prove.

Peddlers of corrosive fuel and cheap vitriol move
daily through our village. They are of small bother.
In the center of my kitchen sits a pot belly stove.
My appliance has no cause to think and nothing to prove.


© Elaine Stirling, 2016

One Quick Word Before You Go


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What a time you chose to disentangle, friend,
to leap when plummeting’s the rage. Cassandra’s
wailing everywhere with tolling bells, beware,
beware, by millions multipled, through fingertips
and tongues behind their masks of facial books
and other social casques.

I wouldn’t mind so much if all these prophets—
most well meaning, to be sure—were quick as well
to praise when praise is due. Alas, I seldom find
that to be true.

I grew beneath the concave dome of a catastrophist
and did not like it much. Direness shrinks heights
and dulls the taste of sweetness and of life.
Who lays the mat of strife unasked at doors of friends
and kin is fevered, yes, but this I learned and learned again—
contagion is a choice.

And so, the doom prognosticated by the people
I care deeply for and others not so much, I shall ignore.
The oaths they hurl, their smoke bombs, will not break
or cloud my stride. I shall abide content, believing hope,
convinced by you and all you’ve sung to us that death
is but a clearer set of eyes.


© Elaine Stirling, 2016
November 11, 2016

These are my current events




To eat outside at a long table in Tuscany
is not available to me today, but I did find
money on the beach two blocks from home
and five happy dogs named Basil, Bessie,
Daisy, Rowf, and Magog orbiting
their walker and my feet like a wet-nosed,
furry galaxy, alive and eager with the possibility
of treats. None of us, clearly evident to each,
was interested in argument, debate, in victory
or defeat. We’ll save that, maybe, for a day
that isn’t sunny or worth living.

And then came Leonard, toddler,
with curls like an Athenian athlete, who
deemed me worthy by holding out his little red
football. For one long and happy stretch along
the boardwalk, he and I, we scampered, laughed,
allowing Nonna to catch up with his stroller now
and then. Only eighteen months upon this planet,
my new friend used two words—“ball”, meaning,
let’s play some more, and “no”, I’m not yet ready
to say goodbye to you. An honour it was to be
selected from a world of big, anonymous—be
careful of them!—strangers to partake
of Leonard’s day.

Giddy with the joy of things, I came upon
and bought an Australian cabernet named
19 Crimes with the stark and vivid label of
a convict from the transportation days when
Australia was a prison, and to be hungry in
the British Empire was a grave offense.
Homeward, with a pause at the Little Free
Library where fresh books from neighbours
sprout like alfalfa every day. These are
my events, my currency, and they suffice.


© Elaine Stirling, 2016