Folktober Challenge, Day 3

Day 3, F1.3 Pwca, and F2.3, Will o the Wisp


Black bog, clouded night
comes the flash of fairy-fire—
a ghost-glow, trickster’s beacon—
the pwca lures—and you follow

through shadow-swallowed shadows
where tree arms shake and root-feet trip,
you go, seeking the glimmer

not as ship rescued by a flare
but moth to flame, unaware,
attracted, caught

left in the dark
when the pwca leaves,
abandoned, alone—no reprieve

without ghost-light,
only spirits and sprites,
when the ghost-laugh comes,
you quiver and run

but there’s no escape—
not till after their fun.

Paul Brookes is hosting a month-long ekphrastic challenge using folklore images to celebrate the launch of his new poetry collection, “As Folktaleteller.” You can see the images here, and also read the other responses.

Folktober Challenge, Day 2: Beware

For Paul Brooks Folktober Ekphrastic Challenge. I responded to all three images: F2.1. F2. 2., F2.3


On Halloween, the fairy folk ride
glide on steeds, that shine and glitter
and they as well, but beware their shimmer
and their beguiling queen with gold-spun hair

whose honeyed-scent drifts in the air,
stare not, and never take her hand
as she will take you to her land
where minutes drift ever-sweet and light

as decades here pass out of sight.
But on Halloween, take extra care
of all spirits, vengeful and fair—
who wander as the sun grows dimmer

gnomes mostly benign, though some are grimmer–
there’s La Llorona who wails and weeps
and seeks to keep
your children for hers, dead and gone.

Await the dawn
especially on Halloween,
do not go into graveyards, and don’t be keen
to display courage in haunted places, or the woods.

Don’t stray into the garden—understood?
when midnight strikes
run from shimmer, shadows, and all the ghost-like—

sometimes, things are not what they seem—
sometimes they are—no matter how bizarre,
truth may come in dreams. The unseen, seen.

Paul Brookes is hosting a month-long ekphrastic challenge using folklore images to celebrate the launch of his new poetry collection, “As Folktaleteller.” You can see the images here, and also read the other responses.

Folktober Challenge, Day 1

Images: F3.1, Bloody Mary, Pantoum Form

Be Afraid

You scoff. Say it’s merely folklore,
no fears from a mythical tale,
but away from the mirror, gaze at the floor,
beware the world’s thinned veil!

No fears from a mythical tale.
you say. But don’t light the candle,
don’t say her name, don’t watch for her image pale–
don’t yearn for what you cannot handle.

You say, “but don’t.” Light the candle
I will. There’s a dare in the air, and to it, I thrill—
don’t yearn for what you cannot handle.
I can. Yet suddenly I feel a chill.

Still, I will. There’s a dare in the air, and to it, I thrill–
until I don’t. Bloody Mary in the glass, I can’t—
I can. Yet suddenly I feel a chill.
I see her pass, I hear her laugh, rant, chant–

until . . . I don’t. Bloody Mary in the glass! I can’t.
But away from the mirror, gaze at the floor—
though I see her pass, I hear her laugh, rant, chant.
You scoff. Say it’s merely folklore.

Paul Brookes is hosting a month-long ekphrastic challenge using folklore images to celebrate the launch of his new poetry collection, “As Folktaleteller.” I just had a bit of fun with this one, but there are some other excellent responses. You can see the images here, and also read the other responses.

My favorite podcast, Ghosts in the Burbs, had a Bloody Mary episode.

Footprints in the Sand



Casting off her sleek brown pelt (but holding it close), she rises from the surf. No goddess, though men will be drawn to her, despite–or perhaps because of–her otherworldliness. Through the waves, she walks, clumsily at first, as she adjusts to two legs and to being upright. The world looks different to her now. It feels different, too. The air is cool against her skin; the breeze dances across the new womanly curves of her body. She steps onto the beach, eager to embrace this life, if only temporarily, leaving footprints in the sand. The sea covers and takes them, keeping a trace of her to hold in its depths till she returns to it. And she will.


I’m late, but this is for Frank’s Footprints in the Sand challenge.    

Another selkie story–because, well, selkies.
















The Selkie’s Lament: Haibun

In the wild water I thrive. I remember this. When I rise from the cold deep, the waves rock and cradle me. At dawn, the grey northern sea turns to fire. When darkness comes, the moon silvers the water, and I watch the stars twinkle and drift across the sky. I didn’t know how happy I was then, watching the days pass in light and shadow across the ocean. My brothers, sisters, and I danced our sleek bodies amidst the waves, laughing and singing our ancient songs. But I had glimpsed you from afar, and I was curious. When the summer sun lingered long and languid, I swam to the shallows, then walked ashore, my human form dripping dulse and smelling of brine. Love, I thought, but possession I became. And now— my true skin gone–I am marooned here, grounded, the sea forsworn forever more. And yet still it calls to me—come! Oh, my brothers and sisters–do you know my sadness? Do you hear my cries?


Tears under moon-glow

fall, drift, mingle with the sea

carried with the tides


Guillermo_Gómez_Gil_-_Salida_de_la_luna (1)

Guillermo Gómez Gil, “Moonrise,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


This is a haibun for Colleen Chesebro’s  Weekly Poetry Challenge. The prompt words were happy and sad. Sometimes my inner romantic pours out in a brain-tide. 😉



Secrets, Adaptations, and Joy

Monday Morning Musings:

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

–Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice*


“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

–Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending


 “Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away

No matter what they tell you

Let’s have another round tonight”

–Linn Manuel Miranda, “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton


Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 7.16.50 AM


We wandered

wet spring stone,

an ancient bough,

poetry of lonely bird & squirrel



I know


this secret garden




The dawn chorus sang

before the sun appeared

their secret language of chirps and trills

floated through the damp air,

early spring.

I began the day.


We wandered old city streets

stepped on bricks and cobblestones




the stories these stones and buildings could tell

the Founding Fathers wheeling and dealing,

letters and documents they wrote, still preserved,

our laws, our past, present, and future,

but what of the buried secrets

items tossed into privies,

and bodies,

uncovered in construction

thought to be moved long ago,

a lie from the past,

the new built over the old,

history in layers,

the way our life tales are constructed

with secrets and stories

hidden and revealed


private secrets and public secrets

the lies we tell ourselves,

the lies politicians tell us,

“Let sleeping dogs lie,”

bold-faced lies

little white lies

lies of omission

lies of commission

“What does the president know

and when did he know it?


We saw a movie about lies,

the lies a man has told himself,

stories he never told his wife


buried in a secret room in his mind

rooms we see on the screen

his past played over and over

more revealed each time,

we all have secret rooms,


where history is written and rewritten,

the personal,

the political,

and as we walked along these streets

we push past ghosts who linger there still

in rooms where they told their stories

and raised a glass to freedom


City Tavern, Philadelphia



We drink to our own freedom. Pondering the second round at Tria.

We saw a play,



Prague and New York City, 1977

there is an immigrant,

a Czech woman in a surreal dream

wanting the freedom to express herself,

to be an artist,

we hear the folksongs of her friend, Marek,

he was arrested for singing them,

a bird-woman goddess,

she who existed before the Thunder God,

shows the immigrant woman,


Her past?

Her possible future?

Men with pig faces,

followers of the Thunder God,

builders of walls,

conquerors of women,

they exist everywhere,

must we adapt,

live our secret lives within a police state,

a surreal dream

for the immigrant,

what will freedom bring,

What happens when the walls are torn down?

What is the American dream?

Is it a cautionary tale

that anyone can become the president—

cowboy, actor, failed businessman?

Perhaps their time is numbered.


We walked past a rally for the current president,

in the neighborhood where men gathered

over two hundred years ago

to give them that right to protest



in secret hearings

closed to the public,

they crafted a body of law,

then explicitly added others,

free speech,

freedom of the press,

I am thankful to live in a place where the president’s supporters have the right

to gather with signs and make speeches–

though I disagree with their views–

and will use my own voice to protest against hate and ignorance

to sing out

against oppression when I can,

but like a bird woman,

I will celebrate the world, too–

we all need a pop of color on a dreary day,

daffodils in the rain

and secret gardens.




*Thanks to Robin of Breezes at Dawn for the reminder about this quotation.

The Oracle gave me the magnetic poem that was perfect for the day.

We saw the play, Adapt, a world premiere by Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater. We saw the movie The Sense of an Ending.




Isle of the Dead: Microfiction


Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead (III), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common

Iona sailed her ship across the sun-dappled sea to save her beloved from the underworld. Iona had to rescue him tonight, for Halloween was the one night when humans could travel there. She traveled for hours, and as twilight descended, the Isle of the Dead appeared in front of her, shrouded in mist. Within that shroud she saw spectral figures, the stuff of nightmares, with misshapen bodies and eager, bloody mouths.

Iona ignored them and sailed into the cove. As she stepped upon the shore, a dragon appeared. Fire and smoke burst out, as it opened its massive jaws to roar.

With trembling legs, Iona approached the beast and sang in a voice that faltered at first, but then rang out, loud and pure:

Beast, stand down

Beast, do my bidding

Beast, reveal now

what is hidden

As she finished her song, the air shimmered. The dragon became a dog, red as flames. It licked her hand, and followed at her heels, as they walked to the cave—its opening now revealed.

They walked down steep stairs carved into stone, farther and farther under the earth. Iona carried an oak wand given to her by a Wise Woman. It glowed and lighted her way. She looked neither left nor right at the spirits around her, but traveled down, down, down. As she reached the bottom, she saw Dermid. He stood rooted, with no expression on his face.

She remembered the Wise Woman’s words, “Your courage and determination will get you to the Isle, but only true love and faith will save Dermid.”

She clasped her arms around his waist and held tightly as he turned into a huge snake, but she held on, and he turned into a lion, but still she held him, and finally he turned back into a man. Her man. With tears streamed from her eyes, she helped him journey up the stairs.

They climbed up and up for hours, it seemed, racing to get back to the surface before dawn. They reached the surface just before the sun, and as they climbed into Iona’s boat, they saw it rise pink and orange above the sea. The Isle disappeared.

Dermid said to her, “Thank you for saving me.”

Iona replied with a smile, “I thought our baby should have a father.” Then looked down, “and a dog.”


This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge.  The prompt was the painting above.

I’ve stolen, quite shamelessly, from many myths and tales, and once again gone over the word count.




Moon, Monsters, and Hope

harvest_moon-_7916064846By Phil Sangwell from United Kingdom (Harvest moon.) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday Morning Musings:

I gaze at the Harvest Moon

from my kitchen door.

Glorious, golden, and full,

she hums a message of hope,

and winks at me from the star-lit sea.


She appears, full moon

just before the autumnal equinox

gleaming and glowing for farmers’ gleaning,

giving them light in the darkness.


She’s a moon for lovers,

and for lunatics and werewolves, too.

Do you see them walking through the streets of Soho?

Lon Chaney and the queen? Aaooooooo!


Was it the call of the moon that brought to Whitechapel

a demon, a golem, a monster, a man

who ripped and mutilated bodies

and then vanished in the dark? Vanished in time?


We think monsters walk only in the night,

hiding in the shadows,

hiding under beds,

but some appear in daylight, too,

disguised as men.

They were there when the ovens glowed red hot,

the ovens that worked full-time, day and night

and yet people still deny they existed,

these extermination factories

though the stench of death rose in the air

and ashes drifted like snow.


And monsters are here now still, spreading hatred

spreading lies, burying truth like old bones,

denial, the métier of despotic regimes

We see the movie, Demon,

my husband and I

a Polish wedding goes horribly wrong,

the groom possessed by a dybbuk,

a Jewish woman who lived in the town

(I did say horribly wrong.)

A nightmare of a wedding,

but it goes on,

the guests getting drunker and wilder,

the bride’s parents denying anything is wrong,

until her father says,

“We must forget what we didn’t see here.”

Ghosts of the past haunt people and nations.


And so it goes,

bury the bones, bury the truth

but the truth is out there,

so I’ve heard,

and history is bound to be repeated.

But bones can be dug up,

And truth can be recovered.


After the movie, we see a wedding party

they are smiling and taking photos,

to remember the moment, the joy,

a record of a golden day.

At Independence Mall,

love glowing, love growing

in the cradle of liberty.


And so, we strive, we try.

Men have reached the moon

and ships have sailed past it.

We seek to tell other beings we are here

here on this pale blue dot,

the third planet from our sun.

Our golden record,

gold like our sun,

gold like the Harvest Moon,

is journeying, telling our story.

It carries the music of Berry and Bach,

bagpipes and flutes, a mother’s kiss, a baby’s cry,

the sounds of love, the sounds of creativity.



So shine on Harvest Moon,

way up in the sky,

Hum your song, do your magic.

Down here, we love and we kill,

We’re angels and demons,

We’re romantics and scientists

We’re human, fallible and strong.

We live in hope.


By NASA/JPL (The Sounds of Earth Record Cover) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



This week my husband and I watched the season finale of Season 4 of Ripper Street, a British show about police detectives in 19th century London in the area of Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper once lurked. This season, the show focused on Jewish characters who had fled Russian pogroms. Some in the neighborhood believed there was a golem attacking people there.


Yesterday we saw the movie, Demon (d. Marcin Wrona, 2015), released in U.S. September 2016. You can see a trailer and reviews here.


On the radio show, Science Friday this past week, there was a segment on the Golden Record. They are also asking for suggestions from listeners of what they would include in a new golden record.

According to legend, werewolves turn from their human form to wolves at the full moon. “Werewolves of London” is a song by Warren Zevon.

The Voyage is Not Easy



The voyage is not easy

in our small canoe,

traveling across the ocean

we sing,

I am coming hither,

liquid vowels gliding from our throats

punctuated by the rhythm of the oars

sliding almost silently

into sapphire sea


There is no time here,

there are no hours,

just the sea and the sky

we navigate by the stars,

watching them chase each other

guiding our way

we sleep with water flowing under us

and I laugh and laugh and laugh

feeling joy in being alive

as the water rocks me like a cradle


Here in this small craft

I will sing of the shrimp

and of a maiden rescued from the eel

I am coming hither

I will sing a song of the seas

rolling waves carry me

in this tiny craft

the water is wide

but I row steadily

silver fish fly through the water

and white birds dive to seize them


I am coming hither

the moon shines full and bright

I am coming hither

My voice will drown the siren calls

I sing,

I am coming hither

I am coming hither

the sun is rising

turning the sky orange and pink

leaving a path on the water’s surface

I am almost there.


A few days ago, I saw a story about a Hawaiian canoe traveling around the world. You can read about the canoe here and here.  Then this morning I heard the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole  singing a song called “Opae E.”  I imagined a man on one of these canoes singing the song. There is a legend that a young woman is kidnapped by an eel. He calls on the creatures of the sea for help, but only the shrimp will help the man to free his sister. The shrimp blind the eel, and the man frees his sister.


In the dreamworld time

words were born,

they tumbled in waves

through air and sea and

scattered like seashells on the beach

sparkling, sharp, buried, bright,

gathered like mussels,

polished like pearls

to feed minds and souls–

Words of wisdom

(Beat the drum)

Words of joy

(Do not destroy)

Words of sorrow

(Keep for tomorrow)

Words of hate

(Oh, please wait)

and most importantly,

Words of love

(A thousand examples of)

Words resplendent and complete

Words, some bitter and some so sweet

In the dreamtime born uncertainly

But lasting through all eternity.


©Merril D. Smith 2016


Here in the U.S., it’s Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere!


My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!