Archives for posts with tag: history

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg Stone Circle
by Frances Daggar Roberts

There was a spirit of excitement and of fear
as we climbed to the ancient site.
I was the first to crest the hill
and stood transfixed
by the 360-degree view across the fells
through golden and green light.
Threads of pink and white striped the sky
above bright grass and huge and ancient
glowering standing stones.
Captured by magic
even our youngsters stared in silence
as though bewitched.
There was no one to rescue us it seemed,
as if the old ones were alive again
inside our breath,
under our feet…
There was no sound at all
but within the huge stone circle
we could see a slender shine of water.
We stood there together
like figures in an ancient play
4,500 years ago.
It seemed we could neither go nor stay
until, carrying the baby, we began to walk the circle
through a time beyond meaning in this ancient space.
One arm and the face of our five-year-old daughter
was just visible, like a spirit child,
behind the furthermost standing stone on the left.
The clouds had begun to move above us
both with us and beyond us
in our small drizzle of earthly time.

PHOTO: Castlerigg Stone Circle Kewsick looking towards Helvellyn by Graham Moore, used by permission. The stone circle at Castlerigg is situated near Keswick in Cumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. Learn more at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My encounter with the Castlerigg Stone Circle made a huge impact on me as a result of the way it swept the truly ancient world into my understanding of human existence. Time itself acquired a different meaning because of the presence of my young family and the beautiful reality of the ancient place on which we stood. It was truly an encounter with a “landmark.”

Roberts3 copyA

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frances Daggar Roberts is an Australian poet who grew up in a remote area where she began to write poetry to capture the love she felt for plants, animals, and landscape.  She now lives in a bushland setting close to Sydney and works as a psychologist treating significant anxiety and depression. Compassion for those who struggle with such issues has led to the frequent exploration in her more recent poetry of human need, sorrow, and resilience.

A Prophecy
by James Schwartz

Pu’ukoholā Heiau bursts into view majestically
Rising red rocks assembled by Hawaiian hands
Without mortar & before Americans overthrew
The sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii…

Historians speculate the spectacular
Structure’s construction was built by
A human chain stretching 25 miles
Hand by hand passing lava rock…

From Pololu Valley to Kohala coast
Fulfilling Kamehameha’s kahunas prophecy
Dedicating the temple to the war god

To unite the islands in 1810
Which came to pass
As King Kamehameha
Was foretold…

The sweetest winds play
On this rugged coastline
Preserved in time today
As I offer my prayers here too…

* Heiau (temple)

PHOTO: Pu’ukoholā Heiau by Bamse (2007). Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site is  located on the northwestern coast of the island of Hawaiʻi. The site preserves the National Historic Landmark ruins of the last major Ancient Hawaiian temple and other historic sites. Completed in 1791, the massive temple measures 224 by 100 feet.


PHOTO: Author James Schwartz at Pu’ukoholā Heiau on Hawai’i Island, where he resided from 2017-2020. For more information about the location, visit the official site.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Schwartz s a poet, writer, slam performer, and author of five poetry collections, including The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in AmericaVisit him at his blog and on Twitter @queeraspoetry.

third reich book

by Courtney Watson

inside cover1

It was the first estate sale of the year, an event of note in my sleepy corner of Virginia. The house was unremarkable except for the master bedroom, which had been converted into a library. The former owners, deceased, had been history buffs, and resting at eye level was a copy of Rise and Fall of the Third Reich — a book described as an account of the nightmare empire built by Hitler. When I opened the front cover, I discovered a Christmas tag taped over a map of Axis-occupied territories with yellowed Santa Claus stickers. Written in blue over the Atlantic Ocean, a sweep of ink brushing against the golden Reichsadler, was merrily inscribed “To Auddy With Love, Mabel 12-25-60.”

The 1200+ page book was well-read, with sentences underlined in green and purple. There was urgency in the arrows and questions and comments in the margins, with special attention paid to Karl Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust. Auddy commented on every mention of Eichmann, and such was his obsession that he left a bit of treasure for me to find 50 years later. Taped to the final page of the book was a fat yellowed envelope adhered with cracking brown tape labeled “Adolf Eichmann’s Death” in capital letters. In it was the end of the story, a folded page of newspaper detailing Eichmann’s capture in Argentina and subsequent execution on the gallows of Tel Aviv’s Ramleh prison, the first in Israeli history. I like to imagine that Mabel read the article before Auddy, and saved it for him.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I love stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and learning about who people are—who they truly are—through their possessions. I’m deeply interested in marginalia and the story it tells, which is why I’m always on the lookout for books wherein the reader has visibly interacted with a piece of text; there is something fascinating, to me, about that conversation.

Courtney Watson1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Courtney Watson is a writer and college professor in Roanoke, Virginia, where she directs the Humanities & Social Sciences program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences. Her writing has been published in Long Story, Short, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Boston Literary Magazine, 100 Word Story, and more. She is co-founder and co-editor of Rum Punch Press.


Congratulations to Chris Forhan — author of the poetry collection Ransack and Dance (Silver Birch Press, 2013) — on the June 28, 2016 release of his memoir My Father Before Me by Scribner, prestigious publisher of some of the greatest of the great (F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut).

BOOK DESCRIPTION: An award-winning poet offers a multi-generational portrait of an American family—weaving together the lives of his ancestors, his parents, and his own coming of age in the 60s and 70s in the wake of his father’s suicide, in this superbly written, “fiercely honest” (Nick Flynn) memoir. The fifth of eight children, Chris Forhan was born into a family of silence. He and his siblings learned, without being told, that certain thoughts and feelings were not to be shared. On the evenings his father didn’t come home, the rest of the family would eat dinner without him, his whereabouts unknown, his absence pronounced but not mentioned. And on a cold night in 1973, just before Christmas, Forhan’s father killed himself in the carport. Forty years later, Forhan “bravely considers the way he is and is not his father’s son” (Larry Watson), digging into his family’s past and finding within each generation the same abandonment, loss, and silence in which he was raised. Like Ian Frazier in Family or Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, Forhan shows his family members as both a part and a product of their time. My Father Before Me is a family history, an investigation into a death, and a stirring portrait of growing up in an Irish Catholic childhood, all set against a backdrop of America from the Great Depression to the Ramones.

chris forhan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Forhan is the author of the poetry collections Forgive Us Our Happiness, winner of the Bakeless Prize; The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars, winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize; and Black Leapt In, chosen by poet Phillis Levin for the Barrow Street Press Book Prize. He was raised in Seattle and earned an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA from the University of Virginia. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two Pushcart prizes. His poetry has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2008 and has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, New England Review, Parnassus, and other magazines. He teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Find My Father Before Me by Chris Forhan at

In the Company of Orphans
by R.H. Slansky

My last name hangs on me like an ill-fitting suit
clatters from my mouth
as if it isn’t mine
a nasal honk sliding
into a timid trailing vowel: Slaaan-skeee
no one has heard it before
so I have to spell it out for them

Oh, says everyone
that’s just how it sounds

My homeroom class is given an assignment
to map out our family trees
I know mine will be boring, average
Polish, probably, that’s how everyone thinks Slansky sounds
Italian, probably, Dad’s from Long Island and we eat too much pasta,
that’s just math

But Slansky is not Polish, it’s Czech
and our name isn’t Slansky, it’s Robitschek
it was changed
by a second or third great-grandfather
in order to avoid a military draft
skewed unevenly toward the recruitment of Jewish men

Lost to the Holocaust,
the European family cannot tell me this story is wrong,
we are all that’s left.
until the granddaughter of my grandfather’s aunt turns up

a toddler at the war’s end
she survived the camps and the Angel of Death
to spend the next sixty years
cursed with a photographic memory
and the belief that she was all that was left

The real story of Slansky is
a second or third great-grandfather was caught married with a child
when the legal limit for Jewish families had already been reached
the family name was stripped from us as punishment

Slansky is a Scarlet letter we still wear
and we are all that’s left

Childhood summer road trips
I pull the White Pages out from under the Gideon’s bible
in the nightstand of every Motel 6 and Super 8
by age 16 I have been to 36 states
and found my name in only one

when my father meets the famous Russian poet
he asks if we’re related to Rudolf

arrested by the Czech government in 1951 along with 13 others
charged with treason,
tortured in prison,
then publicly hanged
Rudolph Slansky was one of 11 who were Jewish
and this is no coincidence

I try and fail to find a connection to Rudolf
but learn that his name
may have also once been something else, that perhaps he
is another orphan star without a galaxy

My father told the poet no
but could have said
and yes

Somehow, in adulthood
Slansky has become my first name,
my only name
people bray it at me with joy: Slaaan-SKEEE!
as if they are grumpy police lieutenants
and I am their rogue detective

they tell me it’s just fun to say
and I smile
having grown into that suit
at last

IMAGE: (Left) Czech politician Rudolf Slánský (1901-1952); (right) author R.H. Slansky outside the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There was a time in my life where I felt so estranged from the name Slansky that I planned to drop it when I reached legal age and use my middle name — my mother’s maiden name — as my last. Over the course of my life, as I’ve learned more about the family members, both those I couldn’t have known and those I did but didn’t really, I’ve come to love it. Somehow, without any doing on my part, wherever I go, it’s how people address me now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: R. H. Slansky, a six-time 3-Day Novel Contest entrant, two-time short-lister, and 2013 winner, has been featured in the Silver Birch Press ME, IN FICTION series, Geist literary magazine,, and the Literary Press Group of Canada’s website All Lit Up. Vancouver-based Anvil Press released her novella, Moss-Haired Girl, the Confessions of a Circus Performer in 2015. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Johnson - Cold War
Cold War
by Nina Johnson
In memory of Nina Kulagina

At 14, Nina rose against the Nazis, operated the radio in a Russian tank.
900 days of bitter cold, bombs, becoming senior sergeant,
when artillery fire scarred, discharged her home.

Stalin banned women from marching in the Moscow Victory Day Parade.
So Nina got married, birthed a son, lived under radar
until nuclear threat shot her nerves, broke her down.

Nina sat sewing, feeling thread colors with her fingers, rousing
Russian scientists in search of paranormal human powers.
They insisted she could see the inside of their pockets,

move a matchbox, wine glass, needles with her hands hovering.
When she broke an egg in half, stopped the beating heart
of a frog without a touch, Americans feared

Russia’s new secret weapon. Doubters refuted, claimed magnets,
string, breathy tricks. And when I watch the videos
of her telekinetics, her mind over matter,

I can’t help but notice how like mine her face becomes.
Round, average and spent, arms waving with robotic
effort to move things, to break an egg, to stop a heart.

PHOTOGRAPH: (left) Nina Kulagina (right) Author doing her best Kulagina.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Nina Kulagina did, indeed, begin her service in the Red Army at the age of 14 during WWII. After her near-fatal injuries, I can only imagine how insulting it was when Stalin banned all female military from participation in the Moscow Victory Day Parade. At 38, after years as a mother and housewife, she suffered a nervous breakdown triggered by PTSD. While recovering in the hospital, military scientists noticed her uncanny ability to choose the correct color thread from her sewing basket without looking at it. They began to study her in earnest, seeking a new psychic weapon for their Cold War with the United States. Many videos of her demonstrations are available online. Russian scientists insisted she possessed the power of telekinesis and they continued to study her until her heart gave out at age 63.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nina Johnson is a writer based in the Indianapolis, Indiana, area. Her poetry has appeared in Silver Birch Press, the Lament for the Dead project, and The Lighter. Her short story “Headstones on Hidden Hill” will appear in the Ghosts anthology by Main Street Rag Publishing. She was most recently an Education Reporter for a local publication. Her husband and three daughters are patiently waiting for her to finish editing her first novel. You can follow her progress on Facebook.

Lady Randolph Churchill
by Jennifer Finstrom

“From too much love of living, from hope and fear set free.”—Swinburne

Her death is what initially captivates me. Tragic, avoidable, much like what I imagine happening someday when I’m walking down stairs in impractical shoes while texting. Jennie Jerome Churchill kept her collection of shoes in ornate glass cases to show them off, fell wearing new high heels, and broke her ankle. Her leg was amputated, but she died nonetheless.

I know little more than this when I begin to read the two volumes of Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Ralph G. Martin but soon learn of our shared literary pursuits. I read in volume one that “an increasing number of society women smuggled Swinburne’s poems into their bedrooms,” wish I could tell her how, in the late 1980s, I sought out Swinburne in second-hand bookshops, picked out the second last stanza of “The Garden of Proserpine” for my future gravestone.

“Had she only been the mother of Winston Churchill, her place in history would have been assured,” the inside front cover of the first volume tells us, and already, I have almost forgotten that he is her son. When volume one ends in 1895, she is forty years old, younger than I am now. She laments that her life is over: her husband dead, her admirers all married or gone.

She doesn’t know that she will marry twice more, doesn’t know what courage and wit she will summon at the end, telling the doctor to be sure he cuts high enough. I like to think that I might somehow share those qualities—though not the additional marriages—and her pragmatic optimism as well, when she says of her third husband, a man not much older than her son, “He has a future and I have a past, so we should be all right.”

IMAGE: “Jennie Churchill,” 1880 (artist unknown).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The more I learn about Jennie Churchill (1854-1921) the more captivated I am.


Jennifer Finstrom
 teaches in the First-Year Writing Program, tutors in writing, and facilitates writing groups at DePaul University. She is the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine, and recent publications include Escape Into LifeExtract(s), Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, and NEAT. For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, and in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks.

Nine Day Queen
by Jane Burn

One month apart. Born
when autumn loosens the leaves,
fades the rose, buds all in earth —
believing we carry this gloom
of shortening days, leaving light.
Turning within, holding onto our green.
That Paul Delaroche —
he made her this pitiable thing.
I loved the touch of red
in her hair. I envied the length,
her kiss of a mouth.
How tender they are,
I used to think, with her.
She is about to die
and she is an angel’s galleon of silk.
Her ladies cry and clutch pearls —
I made a fantasy of all that delicate woe.
Named for the woman who birthed a King —
we Janes, we do our duty.
Such readers! Always
a book in our hands. Our mothers,
cold as hillstone, both.

IMAGE: “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche (1834).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Lady Jane Grey was a young woman who has fascinated me most of my life. When I was a small child, I saw the painting “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche. It became a great favourite of mine, and even before I found out the truth about her sad end, I built many a fantasy around that picture. Tried to imagine what was happening to this beautiful girl. I believe this inspired the lifelong interest I have in history and I did, of course find out what did happen to her — found out about the circumstances and people that surrounded her. As I did, I could not help feeling that there had been parallels between us — that we had some sort of connection. I did not want to make these connections obvious in the poem — rather, as the painting did with me back then, I wanted to let hints and clues come through and allow the reader to interpret from the piece what they wish.

jane burn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Burn is a writer and artist who was originally born in Yorkshire, England, but has lived in the North East for the last 20 years. Her poems have been published in a variety of magazines, including Butcher’s Dog, Obsessed With Pipework, The Black Light Engine Room Magazine, and The Rialto. Her work has also appeared in anthologies from The Emma Press and Kind of a Hurricane Press. Jane’s first and second pamphlets are Fat Around the Middle, published in 2015 by Talking Pen, and Tongues of Fire, published in 2016 by The Black Light Engine Room. She established the online magazine, The Fat Damsel in 2015.

PHOTO: Jane Burn on her 44th birthday. Happiness is art, poetry, friends, family, outlandish necklaces and hair bows.

by Patrick T. Reardon

A jolly good reason to run the world.
A serious religion.
A curious leaden feeling.

If you only tried.

SOURCE: “A Terrible Tragedy” by Patrick T. Reardon (Chicago Tribune: July 9, 1999).

PHOTO: John Keegan by Jerry Bauer.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I cheated here. I used an interview I did in 1999 with the great military historian John Keegan, who died in 2012. I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune then, and you can find the story I wrote here. I didn’t go back to my notes of that interview, but only used the quotes that are actually in the story. Taken by themselves, they made a pretty interesting commentary on war, but that was too literal for my taste, so I did a lot of carving. I liked blossoming the ideas out.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick T. Reardon‘s poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Westigan Review and Rhino. His essays have run in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, and, in Ireland, in Reality magazine. He is the author of five books, including Catholic and Starting Out, and has contributed chapters to six others.  He is writing a history of the Chicago Loop and has lectured at the Chicago History Museum. For nearly thirty-three years, he was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune.  His website is

If you don’t know why people celebrate Cinco de Mayo, here’s a fun, fast way to get a history lesson from a song written and performed by Jonathan Mann. Happy Cinco de Mayo!