Poetry from Merril D. Smith inspired by Joni Mitchell

Bio: Merril D. Smith lives in southern New Jersey. Her poetry has been published in journals including Black Bough Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Humana Obscura, and anthologies, such as the recent Our Own Coordinates: Poems about Dementia. Her full-length poetry collection, River Ghosts, was published by Nightingale & Sparrow Press and was a featured book on Black Bough Press.       

Twitter: @merril_mds  Instagram: mdsmithnj  Blog: merrildsmith.org

Roses and Endless Blue

A young soprano aged in blues,
carried on the wind-rustle of applause,
in susurration from the past,
the waves that crest and break,
drumbeats on beaches of time--

where love is tossed like roses,
an old lover sings, 
eyes remember souls and wine
captured in a case of verse,
and memory portraits
skate across a river’s ice--

yet, still, 
every Chelsea morning is born anew.

Suburban Yards

Garden hoses snake
across my memories, green
in a sea of brown.

We squished mud
between our bare toes,
and dreamt oceans in the hiss.

Now sprinklers twirl rainbows
above power-washed stone,
the magic smaller—beyond the darkness,

A few poems from Lawrence Miles inspired by various music

Bio:  Lawrence Miles is a poet living in White Plains, NY.  He has
recently been published in Post Grad Journal, The Wise Owl, and
Syncopation Literary Journal.

Two Door Sedan
 inspired by "Close My Eyes Forever" by Lita & Ozzy

Not sure when I decided
Going through the car wash in the car 
Was no longer a thing to do.

So I walk to the other end of the car wash
To stand with the others
Waiting for their cars to come out

Someone has lit a cigarette
And a nearby radio plays
“Close My Eyes Forever” by Lita and Ozzy

Suddenly I am thirty years younger
Even though the clothes I wear haven’t changed
And I hold the same key to my current ride

But I wonder if my old Chevy Citation
With Crue in the tape deck blaring out of broken speakers
Will come out of the car wash hand-toweled

I am relieved when my current ride emerges because
Some parts of the past are best left behind
Even if Home Sweet Home comes on the radio next …

Funky Cold War Blues 
inspired by James Brown at the Apollo during Cuban Missile Crisis

Everywhere but on 125th St.
The end of the world was at a hand

As JFK addressed the nation
On the placement of nuclear warheads
A stone's throw from Florida
The most dangerous man on earth
Was not in the bowels of the Kremlin or the Whitehouse
But was dictating foreign and domestic policy at the Apollo
Under the moniker of the
Hardest Working Man in Show Business
He commanded us to
Go crazy about everything but Armageddon
To live for yourself and nobody else
To think about the good things
Think about the bad things
Losing someone and finding someone
Making them know they got the power
Making the crowd scream all the way to Valerian Zorin’s ear at the UN
“All the mistakes we made
We got to try one more time
So I gotta sing this song for you”

The Russians blinked and withdrew
The world went back to the brink while the sun set in Harlem
Another engagement in a never-ending series
The night train kept rolling
Miami Florida
Havana Cuba
Moscow Russia
Boston Massachusetts
New Orleans the home of the Blues
The Godfather reinvented the world several more times
Through cold sweats and brand-new bags
Sex machines and funky good times
Doin’ it to death

Over sixty years
Since a new world was born
At the same time another sat so close to the end

Thank you JB
For your New Frontier of soul
inspired by Jeff Buckley's album "Grace"

The busker at Grand Central played Hallelujah 
Jeff Buckley style
For the hundredth straight day

The first time I heard that song
Was on a bus to a Philadelphia protest
Six months after her departure 
I was listening to the entire album
And every memory flowed back with an intensity
Which drove my sprit out of my body in feckless pursuit 

She chose another over me
Then moved to the other end of the country
And no one would have questioned either choice
But I was still eft shell shocked and defeated
By the end of Dream Brother

I assigned albums to lost loves
She had Buckley
Others had Sinatra and Billie
One had Dance Me to the End of Love by Cohen
One I renamed Martha for Tom Waits
With power ballads and one hit wonders thrown in for still more

But that bus ride to Brotherly Love
Brought back memories I thought I had released
Buskers and coffee shops and road trips
Twilight cityscapes
Barefoot patches of grass
And kisses before bus rides home

It does not do any good
For me or her or anyone else
To hold on to impossible dreams
And justify it as inspiration for verse
Not even showing decency to the busker
Performing an actual service for his supper

I am waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say enough
But the truth is I just haven’t paid attention
Until I am Back at Grand Central
Wishing for fifty dollars
To put in his guitar case
So he can change his song.

American Idol
a hypothetical piece if Ledbetter had been discovered on American Idol

A prematurely old man named
Huddie Ledbetter
Walks into the
Shreveport Louisiana audition of
American Idol

He introduces himself
Tunes his guitar and begins singing
Where did you Sleep Last Night
In a hauntingly distressed yodel
And staccato strumming

Three minutes later he stops
Says nothing
Waits for his prefabricated verdict
The judges speak empty bromides
Telling him he is not what they are looking for 
So he simply thanks them and
Returns to the bayou
To play for whomever will listen

But his audition makes the airwaves
And causes an overnight sensation
Soon thousands of people
The local and national media
Converge on Shreveport and Baton Rouge
Memphis and Mobile
New Orleans and Clarksdale and Highway 61
All searching for the new American phenomena
But they all become frustrated
Throwing their hands in the air
“We can’t find him; he shows himself on television
And now we can’t find him anywhere”

And they all walk away
Because nobody stopped and bothered to listen
To the faint echo of his strumming
Filling the clear warm air
Trying to tell them that a man
Is not judged by how he appears to be
But rather what he says ... 

Love Hurts

inspired by Gram Parsons

Missed the club by a year

Which was probably
His idea along 
Even if he never knew it

But I wished
He had made it to 


3 Poems from Glen Armstrong inspired by Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train”/ Tom Waits & Nick Cave

Bio: Glen Armstrong (he/him) holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters. His latest book is Night School: Selected Early Poems

Radio Station

Night falls on the radio station,
but its tower stands defiant, neon
call letters stacked, and topped with a crazy 
orange-red planet. I listen while eating
blackberry jam and butter on toast – 
a light, late supper – a chunk of salami 
and a beer. Sometimes, the energy
it takes to cling to this rotating
hunk of dirt amazes me. Gravity 
isn’t enough. Otis Redding, sometimes, is.
I listen imagining who else might
be out there hearing that same voice, that same
broadcast: lovers who will part forever
soon, young fools looking forward to their chance.

Requiem for King Oliver

I disassemble each day’s events
            and put the pieces away
            as a sniper cases his gun
            which is similar, I hope,
            to how the great ones case 
            their clarinets.
What was once so focused and warmed 
            by my breath is now a puzzle 
            to be assembled tomorrow morning.
I will see you after breakfast
            if I can finish this Requiem 
            for King Oliver.
The night is simple.
            I’ve spent it hundreds of times.
The doors in this hotel don’t quite lock.
            Half-written melodies
            run barefoot through the long 
            shadowy grass that dreamers dream,
            down these hallways 
            full of numbered rooms
            that all leave something behind
            after long division.
            Long enough for loneliness,
            too short for despair.
            A note, a quotient, a velvet rope.

 Skull Candy

She’ll make do with a bracelet.
A tee-shirt a stolen.
Prop from the community.
College’s production of Hamlet.
It’s the sort of badassery.
That one can buy on eBay.
The sun comes up like the opening credits.
Of White Zombie or The Black Cat.
And the bird skulls whistle.
The human skulls stir.
Nondairy creamer into their coffee.
They all go off to work.
And their teenage daughters.
Want them exposed for the hollow.
Things they have and will become.
They chew skull-flavored chewing gum.
And listen to “Nick the Stripper.”
Making do with skin.
While the bone is still.
Open to higher bids.

Poetry Showcase: Jacquelyn Shah (inspired by poets, artists, music)

BIO: Jacquelyn Shah holds: A.B. (Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude), Rutgers U; M.A. English, Drew U; M.F.A. and Ph.D. English literature/creative writing–poetry, U of Houston. Her publications include a chapbook, small fry; a full-length book, What to Do with Red; and poems in various journals. She was Literal Latté’s 2018 Food Verse Contest winner and is a 2023 non-fiction book contest winner, memoir publication forthcoming. Iconoclast, she loves surrealism and all quirky poems!

Gordian Knot
   Enriched by words, phrases,  
   tangled, from a few 
   Bill Knott poems

Concealed from the eye,
out of most of one dozen autumn drops,
a liquid moment
adequately echoes the picturesque
golden flights into my(s)elf
when I am blown from consummate capsules.
This extravagance of savage yearly tearfalls
attempts to assert the wisdom
of a sparsely inhabited archipelago––
in the opus of my wandering (s)elf. 
Ritual aggrandizements must adhere
on the ledge, dottily, just as caricature
hits mirrors from the world, sidelong.
Over the lip of this pit-deep surfeit of words
the ground breaks off a little crust
of exaggerated effortlessness
when making art slightly obscured,
to find you though
with flyswatters and grins
by the action of one thumb
with a inky string in its mouth, 
syllables babbling in a dribble
congealing to a damp knot.
Heavy Metal
after John Chamberlain’s Artur Banres, 1977 
                     Menil Collection, Houston 

Bumper strips   jagged rusty edges of random dents––
they don’t detract a bit from the gleaming chrome of  
Dodge, that’s his name––though the nameplate’s painted 
over, you can make out “Dee-O-Dee,” even a trace of the missing 
“Gee” & “Eee”––those squeals!  Sixth-grade kids amazed
to see a quarter of a wrecked car hanging on a wall   Girls giggle    
Boys jab each other in the ribs  Look at that!  Holes screws
peeling  rough projections––all coated with oils 
An upper-right protrusion curved like a football helmet   
Great colors globbed & streaked   intruding on one another––
maroon  cobalt  orange  charging against baby blue     
scarlet  chartreuse & ocher  scrambling cream  canary
green  gray  dripping over gold & silver metallic  black   
& blue butting against white-flesh dribble  His history is hot- 
rodding   Like a has-been president he loves the oooing & ahhing

No Other
Cento made from lyrics sung by pop stars 

I close my eyes, oh god I think I’m falling    	
and I’m floating in a most peculiar way,	
spinning through the town,       	
laughing in the purple rain	
’cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in,  	
’cause this is thriller, thriller night.	
Hey, you, get off of my cloud,	
send in the clowns.	

There’s such a difference between us,	
babe. I’m gonna leave you.	
It’s not the way I planned it,	
but now I know I’m better sleeping on my own     	
and I think it’s gonna be a long, long time.	

I found a new place to dwell:	
Strawberry Fields, forever.	
Such a lovely place, such a lovely place!	
It felt good to be out of the rain,	
and the vision that was planted in my brain?	
We were strangers in the night;	
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane.	

There is wonder in ’most everything I see!  	
Now I’m no longer doubtful.	
Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.	
Me, myself, and I, that’s all I got in the end––     	
baby, there’s no other superstar.     	

	Cento––lines, in order of appearance, from: Like a Prayer (Madonna); Space Oddity (David Bowie); 
	I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Whitney Houston); Purple Rain (Prince); I Knew You Were Trouble 			(Taylor Swift); Thriller (Michael Jackson); Get Off of My Cloud (Rolling Stones); Send in the Clowns 			(Judy Collins); Hello (Adele); Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (Joan Baez); Baby, One More Time (Britney 	Spears); Love Yourself (Justin Bieber); Rocket Man (Elton John); Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley); 			Strawberry Fields (Beatles); Hotel California (The Eagles); 	Horse with No Name (America); The Sound 	of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel); Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra); Leaving on a Jet Plane (Peter, 			Paul, and Mary); Top of the World (The Carpenters); A Natural Woman 	(Carole King); My Life (Billy 			Joel); Me, Myself, and I (Beyoncé); Paparazzi (Lady Gaga)

Inscrutable House With Sea Hag: A Centina*

September rain falls on the house							
but in a secret moon-beholden way.							
I’ll enjoy pleasure, in the garden or in the room,					
since I have traveled through the plains and hills					
and I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.					
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch. How pleasant!		

The iron kettle sings on the stove pleasantly.						
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 inscrutable house					
shut up with green leaves and a little crimson.					
Yes, I fill all the air in my musical way,						
at least secretly, where I won’t have any hills,					
though my desire will not lose its green room.					

The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in the room,		
and from Adam sprung nepenthe and Uncle Sam, pleasantly.”				
In the failing light, the old hills							
so formed he would have sparked love in a house.					
And I watch his spear through the dark way,					
but in the full face of the fire of crimson.					

Since (as the finger is close to the crimson					
in hot summer) I have a great room					
the color of spinach, Popeye chuckled and scratched away.						
This was the measure of my soul’s pleasant							
(for me, who would choose to sleep in a house)					
dance, like mad on the hot black hills.							

And the winds shriek through the clouds, mad hills				
closed around by all the highest crimson.				
I have no limb that doesn’t shake. Not even the house,					
laughing and talking to hide her room,								
had all its will of dreams and pleasant, pleasant					
inspiration. Plunge us now to the stars, for this is my way,				

so rooted is it in this hardest way!							
As a bird sleeping in a nest of hills							
I have no life save when the words are pleasant.					
From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges, crimson,				
hovers half open above the room.							
Wherever I am, out in the plains or in a house,
song, have your way with crimson! And let the music
from green hills of spinach hold the soul of Sea Hag in a room
of the pleasant, inscrutable house.

*Centina, a cento-sestina––built from words and lines of six sestinas: 
“Sestina” by Elizabeth Bishop; “Sestina” by Algernon Swinburne; “Lo Ferm Voler Qu’el Cor M’Intra” (The Firm Will That My Heart Enters) by Daniel Arnaut, twelfth-century troubadour and inventor of the sestina; “Sestina” by Dante Alighieri; “Sestina: Altaforte” 
by Ezra Pound; “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape” by John Ashbery. “Inscrutable House” follows the sestina’s form of thirty-nine lines with end-words that repeat according to the prescription, one each from those poets. As a cento, “Inscrutable House” uses exact lines from the poets in its first stanza; subsequent stanzas continue the form with prescribed end-word order using lines from “companion” poets. Example: in stanza two the first line is from Bishop but ends with the Ashbery word and the second line is from Ashbery but ends with the Bishop word. Only slight and occasional deviations exist within the lines.

Ten Shades
Ten shades of pleasing herself
	brings us to tomorrow.
		John Ashbery, “El Dorado”

A weird and wonderful INTRO:					
	buttered roofs, dandelion breath					
	the salad of Nevada							

Slog through the lines he’s reeled off,				
purloin, bring something of it						
back into the language melody					
to see what will happen conversely.					
(Has there been so much slogging outside and in?)			

Keep your units pliable and folded;					
customize tattered spaces.						
Comb it wet through these otherwise days,				
these torpid interpretations you see.					
Mark the flow once the sluices have been opened a little,		
and admit to no mistakes.						

Sometimes the stars wiggled,			
dangling from mistletoe						
(believe it, they feel the air).				
Along for the ride was a nursery of goats				
and poems, dream-dipped.						

Back at the jelly farm					
the scribes sank in wonderment––					
delightful! July passed very quickly.					

So why not, indeed, try something new?				
An outdated dispatch from the Mouse King?				
Hazy rituals whose ultimate purpose,				
far out, isn’t meant for us?						
Palinodes that charm our hearing?					
Digression or mild variation?						

In a small garden a harmonica was heard braying			
what is made and hard to screw up.					
The auks were squawking, the emus shrieking.			
Unlike a turkey vulture on parenthetical wing,			
one nuthatch covets the sky’s						
painted truths that can’t always be lively.			

One part fenugreek, 3 oz. filtered water?				
Why not? I’m game. Say no to nothing is my credo.			
For your attention: a scarf, a puff of soot,				
a little fawning for good measure.					

Better to act dumb and accept the inevitable.				
Be glad it’s over . . .							
but it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen daily,			
echoes of conspiracy.							
You know something?   I don’t care.									
The planets promise to roll next time.				

I’ll find a new wand, horizons will be bright,							
old panaceas rewired, good as new.						
Hail to something! Let bliss be unbuttoned.			

I wasn’t pretending to say much.	

	Cento––all lines (with occasional slight altercations) from: 
different poems in John Ashbery’s Planisphere and A Worldly Country	


Poetry Showcase from Emma Lee inspired by Lana Del Rey


Rain-slick makes the colours brighter: neon and jewels,
trashed by greasy fast food stench and strewn papers
and, above the slush of car tyres, sirens, always sirens.

I step on stories of murder and terrorism. I grind them 
to a pulp that I want to fashion into something beautiful,
paint and glitter and acrylic jewels: a mini Gaudí urn;

if it weren’t for the grit, dirt and germs, the lack of space 
in our threadbare place, sparsely furnished and still packed.
You love the timbre of strings, the lingering echo of violins.

You want to know where I’ve been, who I’ve met,
never what sort of day I’ve had. I’m tired, hungry.
You’ve not made dinner yet. It’s always my turn.

You grab and pull me close. Tell me you love me,
you’re looking out for me, you worry. But you think I’m lying.
The tension reverberates like a plucked cello string.

And cellos are always melancholy. I slacken: passive. 
I feel your fist, like a kiss. The room blackens. 
I’ll be tomorrow’s headline. I hear violins, sirens.


I was December,
pulled you on
like a favourite sweater
against my chill.

You were summer red,
arrived on a motorbike
to maternal disapproval,
ignition for love.

I needed you
to flush my skin
and melt my frost
encased heart.

You wanted me:
blue jeaned rebel,
your pillion,
your one true love.

But fires burn.
You wanted to recast me 
make me porcelain-fragile:
a doll you rescued,

repainted delicately
dress edged in gilt,
admired not loved.

I loved you too much
to break 
what you made of me.
It shattered us.

When I slip on blue jeans 
and my favourite sweater 
that hugs me, like you did,
I want to be in your hold again.

Dance in the Dark  (originally published by Silver Birch Press)

I feel like an echo.
I wear my siren prom dress,
killer heels, scarlet lipstick.
My skin ghost. Mind blank.

I could thread wire through my sleeves,
loop it round the mirrored disco ball,
then step out of my dress.
Slip away like a spirit.
Who’d notice me missing?

I want my blue dress.
I want my hair loose.
I want the shadows of a setting sun.
I want our song.
I want to feel alive.
I want the heat of your skin.
I want your kiss.
I want to dance in the dark.

Somehow I’m settling
for shoes that won’t dance,
a dress that won’t let me breathe,
hair styled, sprayed and pinned,
strobes that highlight every blemish,
coral imprints on drinks glasses
that are too neat, too polite,
too good-girl-pink
in a hall scattered with rose petals
the colour of blood.

Bio: Emma Lee’s publications include “The Significance of a Dress” (Arachne, 2020) and "Ghosts in the Desert" (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” (Five Leaves, 2015), was Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at https://emmalee1.wordpress.com.