Sterling Warner is a Washington-based author, educator, and Pushcart nominee for poetry. Warner’s works have appeared in many international literary magazines, journals, and anthologies such as Poetry Life & Times, Street Lit., The Ekphrastic Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Fib Review, and Sparks of Calliope. Warner also has written seven volumes of poetry, including Without Wheels, ShadowCat, Memento Mori: A Chapbook Redux, Edges, Rags & Feathers, Serpent’s Tooth, Flytraps and Cracks of Light: Pandemic Poetry & Fiction (2022)—as well as. Masques: Flash Fiction & Short Stories. Currently, he writes, turns wood, and hosts virtual poetry readings.
Entering my apartment ten to twelve
an arctic air blast air hit me as I opened
the door, followed by an ebon pitch—
except in the corner where my lava lamp
distinguished itself among all elements
and inanimate items, casting muted light
with its ever so fastidious lava churning
making remarkable shapes that appeared
as apparitions one moment and blobs
of energy even Steve McQueen would
appreciate the next; random sized
forms morphed into mythic creatures
as the night grew darker and minds took
lava lamp leaps of faith finding imaginative
impressions—a carnival of painted faces
or a crown of thorns—sights that became
more absurd yet distinct as we listened
to Pink Floyd…understood the moon’s dark side.
Listening to Nakai
Wooden throated flute song
winds no horse trainer can harness
travel back and forth soothingly, lightly, like
downy feathers floating
breeze back in spring, settling
nowhere, just filling a void
rising, fading, reappearing on horizon’s forehead
slapping watercolor granite mountains, bouncing
back into the valley invigorated,
reinvented, falling into Dawn’s cupped
hands, liberated from nightfall’s silent embrace.
Nakai, I hear you, like
whispering reeds, notes bunch together
only to push apart. Bear
walks between us, claws bark from
imaginary trees—I shudder, the
cacophony sending me to smoky
dens, iniquity’s stepchildren,
saplings and bone to fortify structures
shaping today’s creations, a balancing
act framing future losses . . . still listening,
listening to fluttering birds on wing,
sunlight’s noon advancement,
twilight’s amorous fan,
starlight’s flirtatious wink,
spontaneously accepting the
wavering wooden flute voice
nakedly shaking like a nervous lover,
clothes falling to the floor apprehensively, yet
in perfect accord with the moment.
Blue Collar Elizabethan
Mom bought me a work shirt
embroidered a facsimile
of Queen Elizabeth I on the back
expecting me to wear it
when I’d go out to Friday night
middle school dances held
in a gym—I obliged…still,
a conversation piece I didn’t need;
dark corners where we’d discuss
the Vietnam War (code for making out)
left little time & even less space
until late fall when I felt
perfumed hands trace knotted
lines & needle points; I can’t
remember her name—only
that she claimed to have been
Elizabeth Regina in a past life;
she thanked me for my patronage
& disappeared in the girl’s locker room;
I waited—futilely—expecting her to emerge
with arabesque precision & renaissance
glory, exalting an Elizabethan mystique.
Review of Cracks of Light
Nabokov once said, “Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Under Covid, we have all seen a lot of darkness. The idea is to make the most of the crack. And poet, Sterling Warner does that in his chapbook, “Cracks of Light…Pandemic Poetry & Fiction 2019 – 2022.
That sense of the finality of death came all-too-close in that first year of the Coronavirus. Americans like to shun, delay, or ignore the Grim Reaper, but we could not at a time of mass graves, refrigerated trucks stacking our relatives, and the isolation of city streets.
Sterling deals with this sense of time out of whack with poems such as “Elliott Bay Changelings,” in which he overlaps pre-Covid time with virus time in one circuit of a ferry. He writes: “Commuters breathe on plate glass windows, leave sheets of human fog across transparent surfaces…engrave initials on water vapor.” This is a kind of through line for the book, in which we all were thrown out of our comfort zones and forced to march to the ticking of one horrible grandfather clock, synchronizing us, like it or not, to its moribund schedule. We were out of time. The act of writing your initials in water vapor (laced with SARS cells?) is a defiant act, a poet’s act.
Time is not all that’s out of joint in this collection. The structure of things seems to give way to this invader. In “Trifecta Shroud” Sterling compares future plans to an “urn collapsing from within” – maybe a nod to Yeats’ “the center cannot hold.” Humans themselves seem to have changed too, as we see in “Peeling Grapes,” wherein a barfly, out on the prowl, is compared to a firefly. In “Major League Adjustment” baseball fans are mere cardboard cutouts.
Barriers of Plexiglas, “glass-bottomed boats, lucent zeppelins, and revolving window restaurants” are membranes allowing protagonists to observe the strange new human attributes, yet not partake. Has Corona changed humanity, or have we released a metaphoric virus of pandemic denial and defiance from political villains and “cure connoisseurs”?
Even the shape of three poems reflects the schism. The eponymous “Cracks of Light” has a crack separating its lines. In “Wondering” the middle lines are attenuated – maybe to suggest the spike proteins of SARS-COV-2?
If you think this is all a lamentation on futility, take hope; the last piece, “Resurgence,” comes from the later phase of our tragedy, when frozen ocean voyage photos can be put down, as we join the buzz of real backyard barbeques.