Spring/Summer 2017: Sweet Sorrow

Red Wolf Journal Issue 11 (Spring/Summer 2017)
Our theme: “Sweet Sorrow”


Cover art: John Henry Frederick Bacon, Romeo And Juliet

Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2017 issue.

What? Sweetness in sorrow? In heartbreak? In saying “goodbye”?

Do we see poems as memento mori? We attempt to immortalize what is already lost, or passing. What emotions well up when memory brings us back to the people and events that have filled our scant lives with richness, and our souls with an overflowing spirituality? In retrieving them through memory, in our poems, we filter everything into universal truths; through the impersonality of art, we invent fiction in order to see what truths continue to haunt us thus expressing our humanity. There is a kind of moral imperative in art. What is art but moral, though some may disagree.

Fellow sojourners, there is sorrow in the parting, as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet says, but sweetness too. There is a difference, whether the parting is temporary or lasting. When Juliet says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, she had meant it in the first sense. Parting is only sweet if her lover departs but is expected to return, thus filling her heart with joyful anticipation. The French says it well, au revoir (till we meet again). Imagine if one is at all times with one’s lover, wouldn’t the law of diminishing returns set in at some point? Aha. Perhaps we are creatures who need melodrama, because there is an intrinsic duality in our nature. We are ruled by the principle of opposites. How complicated we are, waxing and waning, goodness commingling with bad stuff. C’mon nobody’s an absolute angel or saint. And if the lover never shall return? If your heart still pulses with true love, a sweetness would have gone out of life, wouldn’t it? The tea would have gone tepid. Then of course, if the lover does return, the concomitant crap also returns. Nothing’s pure bliss. Love, or the lack thereof, could even drive one to suicide, as Romeo did, in the end, and Juliet too, in her turn. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “Parting is all we know of heaven,/And all we need of hell.”

This life is a paradox. We don’t know what joy is, till we’ve known sadness. We do not see light without shadow. We cherish life because there is death. Is it possible to experience pleasure and pain at the same time? Yes. This can come in whatever form. Our time together is pleasurable, deepened, heightened by the knowledge that we will ultimately part. So the deep abiding human experience is grieving. We grieve past relationships and things. We grieve injustices and anomalies that come up again and again to cause pain and suffering. We grieve our ageing bodies which we all know will one day bail on us. We grieve the dead. Death comes to us all. We do not know what comes after. Like birth, death is a mystery. This hit us acutely, and then with a dull nameless ache. If we see into our selves, we hear an echo. We move constantly between the poles of hope and despair. Human consciousness elevates us and also besieges us with a sense of loss and uncertainty. From our angst we have found religion, philosophy, spirituality, art. What art does, it survives us. Remember that one time when Meryl Streep quoted Carrie Fisher, “Take your broken heart, make it into art”? Bittersweet.

The sweetness in the memory, not in the sense of anticipation, alas, the second time round. Also in the sense of accepting the deep mystery of existence, by finding a peaceable way of being.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

–Wendell Berry

As sweet ol’ Charlie Brown would say, “Oh, good grief!” It is ultimately up to us to find sweetness in sorrow, if only to bear that sorrow.


Interpret the theme however you wish.


Please review the submission guidelines and then send us your poems in the body of an email. Submit poems to us by email here.

Poems will be published in ongoing posts on this site. Each posting will be announced on the Red Wolf Journal page on Facebook. Your poem may be published at any time from March to August 2017 so please check back here. If you do not see your poem(s) appear, you may deem it as not accepted for publication. We will not be sending out any acceptance or rejection letters.

The entire collection will be released in PDF format in due course. An announcement will be made at that point.

Au revoir!

Irene Toh and Tawnya Smith
Editors, Red Wolf Journal

Like Bourbon It’s Best Aged, by Debi Swim

Like Bourbon It’s Best Aged
by Debi Swim

Can it be possible
you look at me and see
something I don’t see?
You fell in love,
I can understand that,
cause love is blind they say.
What puzzles me is that you stay –
not stay with me, you’re a faithful man,
but stay in love with this old crone
of loose flesh and thinning bone.

Can it be possible
after all this time
of plodding forward arm in arm
you forgive the passing years
and gravity for the damage
to sweet young flesh?
Can overlook reality
and view instead
with eyes that gently see
beyond this shell
to the very soul of me.

Can it be possible?
Oh, yes.

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 319.

Debi Swim is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet.

My Heart Is A Crucible Of Light, by Elena Sands

My Heart Is A Crucible Of Light
by Elena Sands

Blue twilight frames your face
from the window above your bed.
My fingers trace contours,
weaving spells of sleep.

My heart is a crucible of light,
a maelstrom of surrender.

We poor devils in love,
how we spin.
We are storms of joy
in teacups and coffee mugs.

I catch raindrop seconds and die
over and over,
lying here watching you sleep,
sirens sing me stupid and blind
I don’t mind,
I never mind.

Maybe that’s what love is,
an extreme focus,
tunneled everything.
We wanderers in the dark
finally see the path.

I’ve found my home.
You are my home.

Originally from Texas, Elena Sands is currently a math teacher in Ohio. She’s been writing poems since first grade.

The Smell Of Death, by Debi Swim

The Smell Of Death
by Debi Swim

They urged me forward, “Go say hello”
they said, but he was asleep… I hoped,
sleeping behind the wrinkles of pain.
I tried to remember him tall and gentle,
a shy smile lighting his eyes, toting the black
bag he carried to doctor sick animals.
He took us kids on calls sometimes
in his 1940s Chrysler Sedan.
By that time he was retired,
just doctoring as a favor and passing time.
But now walking into this quiet room, shades pulled,
the sounds of shallow puffs through thin lips,
an occasional quiet moan, sheet drawn over
yellowed parchment skin and sharp bones
frightened me. My first face to face
with the ancient foe, and I’ll always recall
the smell of death not quite disguised
beneath the medicinal scent of Lysol.

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 315.

Debi Swim is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet.

Feeling Distant, by Christopher Hileman

Feeling Distant
by Christopher Hileman

I took a wrong turn
on the way to Pluto’s moon.
I forget the name
of the place I’ve been
searching for in all this time
circuiting the edge
where the sun is just
a bright, largish star.

It’s cold
out here, as you know.
I hoped to find signs
and I still might at a guess
but it feels remote
and getting more so
as the oxygen runs low
and the windows freeze.

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 314.

Christopher Hileman moved to Oregon in 1973. He has retired to live on the volcanic bluff overlooking Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Oregon. He ascends the stairs from his basement digs to improvise on his Yamaha keyboard or the house Playel grand when the calico cat releases him from below. The part-Irish Wolfhound here likes him.

between, by Diane Jackman

by Diane Jackman

at the water’s edge I see him skim
a stone across the waves
it bounces four five times
sinks into the ebb tide
waves roll in break on the shingle
there is no seventh wave

grey sky and grey sea
I see him bend to choose again
draw back his arm familiar
the stone flies against the sand-cliffs
the wandering dog’s pale coat
lost in the half-light

a bell tolls on the evening air
at my feet a square
of sea-glass thumbnail small
through a glass darkly
I see him move into the sea
strike out and swim away

Process note: An other-worldly incident walking my late husband’s dog along his favorite beach.

Diane Jackman’s poetry has appeared in small press magazines and many anthologies, and has won several competitions. Starting out as a children’s writer she now concentrates on poetry. Her writing draws heavily on the past, and often reflects elements of magic realism.

another birthday, by Sergio A. Ortiz

another birthday
by Sergio A. Ortiz

bundled up
with the sweat of your body

free of doctrine
i touched myself

with natural softness
the years crumbled

in the twinkling of an eye

born-again naked
at sixty-seven

Sergio A. Ortiz is a two-time Pushcart nominee, a four-time Best of the Web nominee, and 2016 Best of the Net nominee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Loch Raven Review, Drunk Monkeys, Algebra Of Owls, Free State Review, and The Paragon Journal. He is currently working on his first full-length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.

Keeping Company, by Ed Ahern

Keeping Company
by Ed Ahern

A woman I love
too much to hide from
has incurable cancer
flowing through her veins.

I offer what I can,
touch and presence,
while she begins to shed
what had seemed important

We talk of others loved
and of shared absurdities
so we can avoid broaching
in harsh certainty.

She cries sometimes
to an audience of one,
not because she’s dying,
but because of loss of living

Ed Ahern resumed writing after 40 odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had 150 stories and poems published so far. His collected fairy and folk tales, The Witch Made Me Do It, was published by Gypsy Shadow Press. His novella, The Witches’ Bane, was published by World Castle Publishing, and his collected fantasy and horror stories, Capricious Visions, was published by Gnome on Pig Press. Ed’s currently working on a paranormal/thriller novel tentatively titled The Rule of Chaos. He works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.

The Pleasure Of Your Words, by Debi Swim

The Pleasure Of Your Words
by Debi Swim

You will forgive me, I hope, for crashing your party.
I’ll just sit here on the fringe and only breathe.
You probably won’t even notice my presence for
I’m so totally in awe that I could not utter a word,
in fact it would be a kind of heresy even to speak.
I’ll be inebriated with the elixir of conversation,
the excerpts of your writing, the praises, the critique,
the literary acumen, the laughter, the jokes,
the comradery of good friends. I will silently raise
a toast to my good fortune to be in the presence
of giants though I’ll have little inkling of what I hear.

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 310.

Debi Swim is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet.

Waiting For Shelley, by Salvatore Buttaci

Waiting For Shelley
by Salvatore Buttaci

My dear brother in poetry,
I waited for your prompt return
from the Gulf of Spezia where
you sailed the Italian waters
with two friends who likewise loved
to sail the Ligurian Sea.
Only the month before, we cheered
your thirtieth birthday. Mary
prepared your favorite supper.
We toasted goblets filled with wine.
We cheered your poem “When Soft Voices
Die.” Now July gallops away
with you in tow. Percy, silent
the lyrical lines you will not write,
unheard laughter at Casa Magni!
How deep the sorrow, how great the loss!
I spend my hours now reading
your poetry, your timeless sonnet
of the colossus: “…boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 310.

Salvatore Buttaci won the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. His story collections, Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, were published by All Things That Matter Press. His work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times and The Writer. He and his wife Sharon reside in West Virginia.

Not This Time, by Christopher Hileman

Not This Time
by Christopher Hileman

I showed up, opened
the program and hoped for sauce
to squeeze out my heart
with my red red blood
that my words might mean a thing
for once, and maybe
appear soaring with
the flock of full fledged word birds.

Maybe I will get
it right this one time…

Then my head just exploded
and the heat of me
dispersed like day fog
on a summer coast morning
and I fluttered by –
a boy of all boys
in my dreamy escapades
from stumblebum shores.

Note: Written in response to Red Wolf Poems, Prompt 309.

Christopher Hileman moved to Oregon in 1973. He has retired to live on the volcanic bluff overlooking Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Oregon. He ascends the stairs from his basement digs to improvise on his Yamaha keyboard or the house Playel grand when the calico cat releases him from below. The part-Irish Wolfhound here likes him.