Archives for posts with tag: Self-Portraits

by Tobi Cogswell

She always had some tingling in her hands.
The tips of her left thumb and forefinger were numb,
sometimes her face got tingly and sometimes
she would walk down the hallway at work and
hit the corner of the wall. Numbness and tingling
happened to everyone and it just wasn’t that
big a deal. She might have twisted something
or pulled something. Occasionally she couldn’t
fasten her necklace but she didn’t have that
much jewelry anyway.

One day she had double vision. If she covered
her left eye she saw perfectly. If she covered her
right eye she saw perfectly. If she uncovered
both eyes she saw double. Not like the time
Tommy Jackson sat on her glasses in third grade,
just double.

She called her parents, not to worry them but
to let them know she would be going to the
hospital to find out what was wrong. She covered
one eye, and drove herself.

The doctor was a very nice man. He told her
to “hop up and let’s see what’s going on”. The
room was dimly lit and she worried that
he wouldn’t be able to see. She got on the bed
with no blankets or pillows and stared at the
ancient black phone on the bedside table. Somehow
she had changed out of her clothes but couldn’t
remember when, she was so scared.

The doctor positioned her perfectly – on her left side,
knees bent, left arm under her head, not knowing
what to expect. Her parents were there but
her mother was so upset she stayed on the other side of
the pale white-blue curtain. Her father stayed to comfort
her mother and there was no one to hold her hand.

The pop of the spinal tap came with excruciating pain.
She would never forget the champagne-cork sound
of the needle puncturing her spine, she could not believe
any human could withstand what was being done to her. And
then the doctor held up a syringe of spinal fluid for her
to see and said “the fluid is clear, you don’t have
meningitis” but that was the beginning of her own private hell.

IMAGE: “Portrait of Yseult Fayet” by Odilon Redon (1908).

Tobi - lapses and absences

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tobi Cogswell is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Credits include or are forthcoming in various journals in the US, UK, Sweden, and Australia.   In 2012 and 2013 she was short-listed for the Fermoy International Poetry Festival. In 2013 she received Honorable Mention for the Rachel Sherwood Poetry Prize. Her sixth and latest chapbook is Lapses & Absences (Blue Horse Press, 2013). She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review.

by Alan Birkelbach

The eyes, surrounded by lines, of course, are by Kubert,
as is the day-old beard. It is always a day-old beard.
Even after I shave. Sgt. Rock always had a shadow.
I always have a shadow.

You might think I have no input at all from Gil Kane
but if the light is just right
you’ll see the vertical tendon
that goes from my cheekbone to the top of my jaw,
there for no apparent reason.

There’s a hint, I’d like to think, from Carmine Infantino
in the little half smile I’m casting, kind of like when
Barry Allen was first starting to date Iris and couldn’t let her know
he was actually The Flash.

There, at the base of my neck, you might notice the
lax skin, wrinkled, kind of turtle-like, freckled.
Why do I look so stretched out right there, you might say
and then you will realize that
Berni Wrightson was given the shoulders and neck
and he really likes to add a touch of pending macabre,
full of sinew and age.

My bushy eyebrows are obviously Barry Smith
in his finest Zukala-Conan period. It is a shame
that I cannot conjure demons.

My head is long. Jim Aparo did that.
He’s always liked long heads. That–and he drew
the little silver in my hair around my temples
like on The Phantom Stranger.

You notice how I am facing the mirror squarely,
emphasizing the shoulders. You can even see the
lines of my breastbone through the t-shirt.
That’s because Jack Kirby drew that part of me that way
(although there are times I think someone else
might have done the inking.)

Sadly, there is no part of me that is Steranko,
No false perspectives, no layering of muscles.
And neither is there any part of me that you can see
that is penciled, and penciled only, by Neal Adams.
I stay within the frame. I am not cinematic.

And lastly,
if the mirror was only a little wider
then you would see just off to the side
my concubine, obviously designed by Wally Wood,
her massive bosom perfectly round,
and impossibly full.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process…It’s not seasonal, driven by exhaustion, coffee, or other writers. Sometimes deadlines make it happen faster. It’s as much a part of the spent hours of my life as eating tacos and drinking beer and watching old movies. It doesn’t depend on the Muses. My creative process is a river. I don’t know the headwaters. I don’t need to know.

IMAGE: Showcase #4 (October 1956), generally considered the start of the Silver Age of Comic Books (1956-1970). Cover art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

Alan Birkelbach 2 copyright cavern media

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Birkelbach’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as Grasslands Review, Borderlands, The Langdon Review, and Concho River Review.   He is member of The Texas Institute of Letters and The Academy of American Poets. He has nine collections of poetry.

Author photo by Cavern Media, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

by Kathryn Almy

I didn’t kill it myself, but I seem to float
towards decay.
           Instinct says stop,
drop and roll whenever any corpse washes up,

sand in my fur, this smell
changing me in a chemical way
not even my ancestors understood.

Fluff and bones are trophies, like snow-
flakes, socks, bumblebees: treasures I bury.

I open my mouth to shout in triumph, but
out comes only a hoarse croak
and puff of sticky, tickling down

          —the blades and barbs are black, mashed,
          the little white eyes hardly show,
          the iridescence dimmed.

It feels like being beaten for crimes I cannot see.

There is a knot within me: feathers, bugs, scum, and bark

          —everything I have eaten,

this eternal world beyond the reach of words.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am fortunate to live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a town of many fine writers. Just one of these is Diane Seuss, for whose class I wrote this poem.

Almy - selfie with dog

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Almy‘s poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in print and on-line publications, including the Great Lakes Review narrative map, City of the Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry, Shady Side Review, and The Smoking Poet. Visit her at

by Kaila Davis

My eyes are one-hundred penny boxes stacked
twenty times in the sky.

My eyes are books with 50 trillion stars
rolling around turning into big money.

I am a school that has wings that can fly
36 miles in the sky.

My dream is like a green and red car
coming down the street.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kaila Davis is a student at Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit, Michigan.

NOTE: This self-portrait is from the InsideOut Literary Arts Project of Detroit. To learn more, visit

IMAGE: “Le Champ de Mars” by Marc Chagall (1955).

self-portrait as Frank O’Hara
by Jax NTP

after the third carafe of grapefruit vodka
the thick jawline of streetlights clatter
such buttery clarity ― what is forgiveness

but submission defeat mistaken for love
crammed within the mint echoes of small
spaces rancid clementine moldy avocados

i swig mouthfuls of spoilt milk to calm
the bellyful of alcohol ― even if you check
the expiration date on the day of purchase

it doesn’t mean you’ll remember it
it’s pointless to ruin your life over a girl
who’s in love with a meth addict ― but you

can always go back to the store to get a refund
pain provides logic which is bad for you
for some animals the ritual pattern of courtship

is the dance of death the satisfaction of human needs
creates new needs the girl quotes theories of marxism
to refuse my love ― cowardice is the new order of her day

i wear my freudian slips like fancy evening gloves
exploratorium it’s not the anxiety that i am held up
but the anxiety that i am holding her up

i thought her lies would change me
but they didn’t that which corrodes will discolor
i am a whiskey jellyfish certain of uncertainties

each breath intensified by the solitude
of having nothing to look forward to and i savor
the fact that once ― i gave her the chance to ruin me

IMAGE: Portrait of Frank O’Hara by Larry Rivers (1955).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Jax NTP holds an MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry from CSULB. Jax was the former editor-in-chief of RipRap Literary Journal and associate editor of The Fat City Review. Jax has an affinity for jellyfish and polaris and a fetish for miniature succulent terrariums. Visit her at

by Birgit Zartl

There is a poem in my head
and dreams about a tornado
a cloud in the shape of a wedding cake
frilly and white.

But I am different.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The words, as well as the images I created to accompany the poem, came during the process of falling asleep.

IMAGE: “In My Head” by Birgit Zartl, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Birgit Zartl is a painter and photographer, based in Vienna/ Austria. Her main interest lies in subconscious symbolism and imagery. Visit her at

by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Every year my birthday comes in April,
with a fickle sun and pollen on my fingers.

I wake up in a field with a scrap of cloth in one hand
and a fistful of wheat in the other. Wheat represents
a blonde fertility goddess fading with the light; the cloth
is the floral print prom dress that still hangs in my closet.

Did you ever think you’d make it this far? Imagined children
in the distance like somber ghosts, taking notes. You have lost them,
your home, the name of their imaginary fathers.
Shades of a different country, forgotten.

In the years close to forty a woman might stop looking
in the mirror. But when I was thirteen, I dreamed of thirty-nine.
Even then my hair turning grey, my blue eyes washing out,
wishing to be taller, older, free as trees in the wind.

In my imagined future I wore pink heels with white shorts;
the future would be full of bookshelves, clean carpet, champagne glasses.

These days I drive fast and play the music as loud as I like.
I am not afraid of the policemen. The shine of water makes me
reckless, necklines more restless.

Come help me blow out the candles. We will eat only the frosting
and put on movies about vulnerable boys standing in the rain,
waiting for us to come out to them, pale and patient as the April moon.

IMAGE: “Pink Shoes” (mixed media) by Janelle Nichol. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and, upcoming in 2015 from Mayapple Press, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her website is

by Danielle Mitchell

I’m a dumb blonde living in a dumb blonde’s body. She’s helping me learn to cope. She says write & I write with duct tape. There are dark silver X’s on all the mirrors. It’s very hard to make revisions. She says write what you know & I plug my nose with two fingers. My best dive is the cannonball. My velocity is beyond my control. I was a child afraid of everything—fire in the bed, sharks in the pool, my cousins. Tawny said the fat-mouthed drain would pull me in, every summer the pool deepened. The dumb blonde wants to fill her hair with Plumeria until there’s no room left for braids. She’s a mouth full of licorice & an overripe sweater. She’s a math quiz stuck in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner—it’s all equations of the trinity & doldrums in her. A pretty face under the bleachers calls Can I come up? It’s all gum stains & split popcorn down there, but that soft dirt, that’s where we’re digging. I’ll tell you everything she swears. Something in her past caused an absentia, she calls it The Great Blood, but that’s all we know. We are the girl who buried herself alive. We are the girl who walked five miles to tour a castle only to be turned away at the gate. The king still lives here! the guard told us. So she turned to me, crossed her arms & said We’ll wait.

IMAGE: “Duct Tape Repair” by Dale Kincaid. Prints available at

Danielle Mitchell Author Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Mitchell is one of ten emerging poets featured in Pop Art: An Anthology of Southern California Poetry (Moon Tide Press). Her prose poems have appeared in journals such as Connotation Press, decomP, Union Station Magazine, Cease, Cows & Freeze Ray. Danielle directs The Poetry Lab in Long Beach, California, where she hosts workshops & craft seminars. She is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers & holds degrees in Women’s Studies & Creative Writing from the University of Redlands. She currently guest writes for DIY MFA & blogs at


CLARIFICATION: We have received an enthusiastic response to our recent call for self-portrait poetry submissions. But we’ve been unable to accept some submissions, not because of the quality of the poetry — but because the authors considered “autobiographical” synonymous with “self-portrait.” To clarify: We are interested in poems that reveal how you see yourself (your self-portrait), rather than what has happened to you (autobiography). Sorry for any confusion or lack of clarity in the original call for submissions. Onward!

ABOUT THE SELF-PORTRAIT POETRY SERIES: The word “self-portrait” usually calls to mind a painting by a famous artist such as Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, or Pablo Picasso. With the advent of smart phones, the word “selfie” has entered the lexicon, and anyone and everyone can create their own portraits — and Instagram allows people to turn the images into works of art. A less known or practiced art is the poetic self-portrait, where the writer creates a study in words of himself or herself. I think the idea of self-portrait poetry is fascinating and fun — yet a bit frightening. Sounds like something to explore — ergo this call for submissions.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: To explore the concept of “selfie” from a poetic perspective, Silver Birch Press is issuing a call for submissions. We are looking for original, found, or erasure poems that provide a self-portrait of the author — and will feature the poems on the Silver Birch Press blog from August 1-31, 2014. Note: We are NOT looking for autobiographical poetry (what has happened to you), but ARE looking for self-portrait poetry (how you see yourself).

HOW TO SUBMIT: Please send entries as MSWord attachments to along with your name, mailing address, email address, one-paragraph bio, and any notes about your creative process (send all of this in one MSWord document). For erasure poems, send typed version of poem and a jpg scan of the original erasure.

DEADLINE: July 31, 2014

by Cynthia Cruz

I did not want my body
Spackled in the world’s
Black beads and broke
Diamonds. What the world

Wanted, I did not. Of the things
It wanted. The body of Sunday
Morning, the warm wine and
The blood. The dripping fox

Furs dragged through the black New
York snow—the parked car, the pearls,
To the first pew—the funders,
The trustees, the bloat, the red weight of

The world. Their faces. I wanted not
That. I wanted Saint Francis, the love of
His animals. The wolf, broken and bleeding—
That was me.

SOURCE: “Self Portrait” appears in Cynthia Cruz‘s collection The Glimmering Room (Four Way Books, 2012), available at

IMAGE: “St. Francis of Assisi in the Desert Night” by Jane Cassidy (mixed media, 24 x 48″), available at indigoartgallery.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Germany, Cynthia Cruz grew up in Northern California and earned her BA at Mills College and her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of Ruin (2006) and The Glimmering Room (2012). Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Brown Paper, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, and The Paris Review, and in anthologies including Isn’t it Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger Poets (2004), and The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (2004). Cruz is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and is the Hodder Fellow in Poetry at Princeton University. She previously taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, the Juilliard School, Fordham University, Eugene Lang College, and Westchester Community College. She has also taught writing in homeless shelters, and to women in the eating disorder ward of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and to children in the West Bank. Her work with children includes tutoring homeless children in reading and writing, and teaching literature and writing to at-risk teenagers, and elementary school students. Cruz lives in Brooklyn.