4 Poems by Jan Steckel

We are pleased to be able to bring you four new poems from Jan Steckel, who has been featured on our pages before. Her work is always elegantly thoughtful and shines brightly into inky dark corners and sunny green forest clearings alike. Her words are evocatively beautiful, perfectly matched to her themes, sure to bring clear imagery to your mind at her every turn of thought. Jan’s ideas perfectly realize the objectives of our magazine, a rational light showing the way…


Faint light under bathroom door
at dawn. Running water.
I rolled carefully out of bed.
Hew was in the shower,
wetting his long red hair
by the light of – a Yarzheit candle!
I was saving it for the anniversary
of our friend David’s passing.
What did Hew know
of Jewish death traditions?
It was just a pretty candle
making pretty candlelight
for my beloved to bathe in.

Earth’s Worms

Grateful worms
eat your leftovers,
poop out earth.

Adventurous worms
explore vast puddles,
dry up when they do.

Grateful worms
banquet on your flesh,
free your skeleton.

We are earth’s worms,
not just earthworms,
but hookworms and roundworms.

If the rest of the world disappeared,
you could still see earth’s outline
in grateful roundworms.

Be grateful for us,
the grateful worms, as we
are grateful for you.

The Pinkas

After God made, or didn’t make the world,
He made or didn’t make the artist Samuel Bak,
whom He did or didn’t drop in Vilna.

When Sammy still drew with crayons
the Germans took his grandfathers
to the  forest outside Vilna and shot them.
He started to draw with charcoal
made from wood gathered in the forest.

Two poets organized an art exhibit
in the Vilna ghetto, invited
the nine-year-old prodigy to show his work.
The next year the boy’s grandmothers
were taken to the forest and shot.

The poets pressed into the ten-year-old’s hands
the Pinkas, official record of the Vilna Jews,
so that their stories, if not their lives,
might be saved with the boy and his talent.

His mother escaped with him to a monastery.
All the boy saw in the Pinkas
was the blank spaces on the paper.
He covered the backs of the fragile pages
and the yellowed margins with drawings,
like a scribe illuminating a sacred text.
Ten days before liberation,
they shot his father.

Later Bak painted, over and over,
the absence of God
reaching from heaven
through the bones of a destroyed house
toward the forefinger
of war-torn man.

Always, in the background, showing
through where God would have been:
the crematoria smokestacks.

Joie’s Poems

She’s eating hummingbird hearts
for appetizers, drinking the Salton Sea
for a cocktail. She’s doctor bitch to you,
matey, so look seaworthy.
Inch-long nails, vinyl skin, elbow hicky,
teased hair with a dyed pink streak.
She’ll take that plunging neckline,
let the girls out to say hello.
She’s thinner than a flimsy excuse,
frailer than tornadoes,
richer than creosote,
inimitable, indescribable, delicious.
I’d give my supernumerary nipple
for a taste of that. She makes us rise
like bread, a fish belly-up, the sun.

About Jan Steckel

Award-winning author Jan Steckel is a retired pediatrician and a bisexual and disability rights activist. Her first full-length poetry book, The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) won the Gertrude Press Fiction Chapbook Award. Her chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) won a Rainbow Award for Lesbian and Bisexual Poetry. Her writing has been widely published and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband Hew Wolff. Find her books on Amazon, at www.zeitgeist-press.com, and in selected independent bookstores.

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