Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Three poems ---- John Grey


She was all about morning light and lost causes.
Had she been born fifty years before,
she’s have taken up arms in the Spanish Civil war.
But her window looked out on discrimination.
And battered wives. And raids on gay bars.
And kids handed rifles and pointed toward the jungle.

She marched more than some armies
but with placards not weaponry.
And she paid for that more than once –
a blackjack across the skull for example,
or a family that just stopped speaking to her.

She was shot at in the South once.
The redneck missed but she figured next time,
she wouldn’t be so lucky.
But she was lucky.
At least, as much as a woman who lived in 
a low-rent flea-trap in the Bronx
could be said to live in sight of fortune’s smile.

She volunteered in foodbanks,
found shelter for the homeless,
read poetry to inmates,
some of it her own.
She never saw herself as a saint.
Just someone who rose to that morning light.
no matter where the darkness had taken her.

She never married. Nor did she have children.
Her long hair went silver in her thirties.
And then, when AIDS came for her friends,
she tended the dying, accosted the indifferent.

Maggie died in ’93, unreported by the newspapers.
The news even took its time getting out to the ones who knew her.
She’d become more of a hermit by then.
Her health was failing. Her spirit was like a purse
down to its last few grubby pennies.
I like to think that, even in the end,
she kept abreast of the light of the new day.
But then I always like to think.
Maggie liked to do.  

ISABELLE                                                                                Page One

Fourteen guys you dated.
The first at fifteen,
the last at twenty-five.
One reminded you of your father.
He wasn’t the one you married.
You figure ‘dated’ for an odd kind of word.
Did a movie with friends count?
What about an accidental meeting in a coffee shop?

Will was handsome.
The competition got too fierce,
Dan was cheerful.
That got obnoxious after a while.
You were with Paul for over a year
so the details squeeze together
but you do remember how
there was this kind of acceptance
that he was the one
you’d be spending the rest of your life with
but that fizzled.
And there was Frank.
He really had the mean gene.

Fourteen guys it was.
And surely, they all left some kind
of a mark on you.
None a bruise, thankfully.
But a place in the heart –
even for Joshua
who’s now in an institution.
You could see that coming.
His kisses always felt like symptoms.

Jerry is the one you finally said yes to.
He was the second to ask that question.
Strangely, the two of you didn’t date all that much.
You just hung together.
Neither had much money.
That seemed the cheapest way to honor the arrangement.

ISABELLE                                                                 Page Two

And marriage was just hanging
at a whole other level.
You ate out from time to time
but only because the two of you were hungry
and neither felt like cooking.
And you went out to the movies together.
But that was before the neighborhood was wired for cable.
Maybe that was the problem
with thirteen of the fourteen.
They had no idea how to just be some place.

You’ve been together twenty years now.
You’ve worked. You’ve traveled.
You’ve had kids. And, of course, your own home. 
If it really is a date, then it sure is a long one.
If you’re still just chilling
then you have redefined the word.


No point in further discussions.
The slopes before us will not hear of it.
And the peak itself points the way,
to inspire, to intimidate, or both.

We are not heroes. Not particularly smart.
But, unlike most dreams, ours take shape.
They rise up before us on the path we’ve taken.
No way we could ever turn around.

Here in the mountains, words know their place.
And so, does normal, from blinding ice glint
to the rumble of distant avalanches
and that stomach-punch of a drop below.

And the rocks’ chilling faces
are out-ogred by the creeping clouds
and a pure-white goat steps lightly up an incline,
grandstanding while we step shakily.

In the village, we were warned of
sudden weather shifts, told of those
who never returned. Even at lower levels,
there is no small talk. 

But here we are, having settled our
affairs, triple-kissed our loved ones, 
calmed their fears with our excitement,
and have struggled halfway toward the summit.

And in the mountains, there is nothing
we can say to each other. We just go on.
We know what we have set out to do.
Dangerous yes but, as ever, in our best interests.

Monday, May 11, 2020

It was in effect (Elmira sequence) ---- Koon Woon

It Was in Effect (Elmira Sequence)

It was in effect
It was in effect a river of sorts
the ocean returned its water
across the vacant hours at the slow crossings of the afternoons
in low-blood-sugared towns
while the pale lights of taverns burned.

The barber sat in his chair listening to the vacuum tube radio
the cigar vending machine full of Indianhead nickels
the Emerson Hotel with its dark stairs leading to dens of vacancy
this was the coastal Highway 101 in 1960.

Tracing my path, the random trajectory of a
housefly, I have coursed through the
backroads of the Pacific Northwest America when
I was a bit young for the Beats and not quite old enough for
the Hippies.
Merely a schoolboy in the logging and fishing town of Aberdeen when
rain and windshield wiper swings gave me a rhythm to beat words against
one another in the English creative writing class.
But Science was still the reigning discipline and Mathematics its Queen,
as America raced the Soviets to the moon and beyond after
the Spudnik scare of 1957.

It was in effect a town of sorts
the ocean lapped its tongue here
the mudflats harbored mussels
loggers shook dice for schooners of beer while
the sky threatened to rain all day.

The Chinese cook diced vegetables,
string beans a mile long, work expands to fill
idle hours while the Pacific tides contract and expand
across the pretense of commerce while
small fishing boats returned with Dungeness crabs three for a dollar.

The Beatles were all a rage while the Stones were in a rage
however, I paid no attention as I was trying to penetrate reality in
physics class and work out chemical valences and balancing
equations, that inequality was the fundamental state of the
universe did not enter my mind, nor did I think of going to law school
as the classmates who took Latin, justice was blindly followed
until the war in Vietnam erupted.
I was a loner who helped out at the family Chinese American restaurant
Even served my classmates and teachers as waiter
wearing that yellow waiter’s jacket that my forebears had
worn for three generations. I bring teapot and tea and
egg drop soup, and set their dinner down before retreating to a
back corner booth to puzzle out one last algebra equation.

It was in effect a time of sorts when
high school graduates still stayed in town
pulp and paper mills saturated the air that
spelled jobs and a fair shake for small homeowners.

These towns were strung along highway 101
the scenic drive that took you to Pacifica, California
where surfing was just getting on film newsreels and
soda was still dispensed in glass bottles.

When girls dressed to kill in physics class, they say we even
got Koon’s attention and yet I was accused of cheating in
biology, physics, and chemistry where Mr. Sieler gave a set of chemistry
handbooks with my name engraved in gold,
and MIT had invited me to their conference in Seattle and urged me to apply to
their school. Later I did and said I wanted to study electrical engineering or literature.
It became obvious I knew nothing of their school as they did not at that time have a
program in literature. I received a swift rejection.

It was in effect a life of sorts
when Vietnam was still some unfamiliar place in the Orient
when Ricky Nelson was a traveling man with a pretty girl in every port
and the price was right every night and Groucho hit his marks.

Those times and places burned like LSD
that flashed and burned into the next century, but basically
it was a time before waking up to the enormous world as it stirred while
the miser still counted his pennies.

Elmira Sequence

Who knows any more of time but its direction?
High school was completed when I read Heraclitus, who said,
“You can’t step into the same river twice…”

Night driving to Eugene, Oregon from Seattle
when I ended up in a greasy spoon next to the rail station
at 3 A.M. with the university catalogue and black coffee on the counter,
I suddenly veered from mathematics to philosophy,
keen on learning wisdom from a Professor Wisdom (no joke) of philosophy.
In the loneliness of the café, I turned to my first love
that was neither holy nor profane, also neither of blood nor sinew,
it was simply Platonic.

Around me those deported the train ate and gulped coffee
as daylight broke and here was my destination for mind as well as
for body. I had not a place to stay and I never did, really; however,
blankets were in the trunk and my pocket had cash.
I will register to sit next to Professor Wisdom with other pretentious
kids. Yes, we were kids, pretentious kids, I was one.

Like three-leaf clover camouflaged in weeds,
a lucky find, my love for logical parsimony and elegant
arguments began here, but I was not stellar.
It merely meant I did not want to be tainted by the world
and its worldly goods, for nothing impure will I let into
the Platonic heaven.

College begins. Here I am in my well-worn groove
trying to skip across a few bands by whatever means
to succeed, at whatever price in rubies or steeds.

Yet a shiver runs through me –
is this a pristine discovery? Or a nostalgic longing
for cold water flats and underheated rooms?
We could barely cover ourselves in the winter in the village in China!
The days went around and around as current in a super-cooled coil.

The lyric impulse rides the Greyhound past the mud pastures of
Elmira. At the sleepy Post House at 5 A.M., the flies under the
florescent lights over cakes and frosted donuts. Stirring my coffee, I
think of Brower’s Fixed-Point Theorem – that if you stir smoothly enough,
a particle of coffee will end up in its original position.

Math and philosophy, like the right and left palms, when closed together,
is a prayer to every solution.
But I was green, and my life was a game of musical chairs.
Sanity and insanity opened and closed my hands, my brain,
as materialism and idealism metronome inside my skull.

Forward a few decades, at the urban sirens my neighbors move about.
The roomers to the left of me, to the right of me,
change their faces as I sleep, in angst and anxiety,
and as I push myself off the mattress at night,
I feel the heaviness of incompetence and age struggle.
And now in this high-rise apartment twice last night
The helicopters whirled by transporting patients to
the trauma center at Harborview Hospital…

My parents had kept saying, “Don’t think too much!”
But let me return to the pasture at Elmira in 1970,
when a few cows, a few apple trees, and the night had us as
captive audience, the numeric sleep over backroads and bumpy
lanes were America not yet hardened and congealed by the
cold air in the sideroad diner as the gravy on the
plate of a three-hundred-pound man…
That was Elmira in 1970…

Now the urban landscape is to stack up density
as the cranes lower the sky
and building peak up to jet space.
Taxis rear end cars trying to accelerate the lives of passengers.
Brakes are tested at every intersection.
Stop! They are now collapsing new buildings,
while the construction of mindlessness goes on.

Here I find myself a “fixed-point,”
knowing that an “experiment” has taken place,
but in as much as my neighbors have changed,
I am unable to characterize my difference…

Koon Woon

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Angel Dust ----------------- poem by David Fewster


was the hip new drug in 1978.
Well, maybe not for the haute couture set,
who had their Fancy Dan “freebase”,
but for us, the lumpen proles.
I remember we (me & my roommates Doug & Brian)
were at a party at Greg Ross’ place,
overlooking the 405 freeway at Sepulveda and
everything was always coated in black soot.
If Charles Manson had a goofy,
possibly less-murderous little brother,
that could have been Greg.
Doug had met him in jail a couple months back,
when he got busted for drinking and being mouthy
on Venice Boardwalk.
(This is how we ‘social networked’ in our day.)
Greg became our go-to dealer for acid,
but the last shipment never came in,
and Greg owed us front money.
In lieu of the missing LSD, Greg offered to give equivalent value
in the new Wonder High, Angel Dust.
We figured we’d better take him up on his offer,
it was probably our only hope of reimbursement.
Taking us in the back bedroom,
he laid out lines of a vile-looking brown powder
(although not as vile as smoking it, I discovered,
unless one has an acquired taste for
dust-bunnies dipped in hot asphalt.)
I made a point of snorting the lion’s share,
as most of the money-owed was mine.
After that, I remember two things.
One is sitting in the corner, deprived of the power of speech,
yet smiling like an idiot, looking around at the mix of
bikers, burnt-out hippies, teen-age runaways & drunks an
realizing if  someone grabbed a ball peen hammer
and started beating me about the temples,
I’d still be wearing this shit-eating grin
as my brains oozed out over the carbon dust-covered floorboards.
“This is ‘total derangement of the senses’?” I wondered.
The other is standing alone in the kitchen,
because I apparently got the munchies,
but the only foodstuff was a jar of peanut butter
which I was eating with a fork when
Brian walked in, went “Well. Ok!”
and walked right out.
The rest of the night I only know second-hand:
blacking-out, foaming at the mouth, comatose,
to the point that our friend, who was nicknamed
“The Walking Scab with Boots” (not to his face however—
he worked at a chemical plant and was usually covered
with ulcerous lesions) felt impelled to give me
mouth-to-mouth (which made me a tad disgusted when
I found out later, but, to be fair,
he probably wasn’t too thrilled about the whole thing either)
before depositing my prone form in the back of his pickup
and carrying it back to our apartment
in the neighborhood east of Venice known as “Little Tijuana.”

So, anyhow, there I lay on my ratty sofa bed
in the front room/kitchenette area of
our squalid, motel-style complex
(Brian had the other sofa bed, Doug, being the elder,
got the bedroom--$240 a month,
which broke down to 80 bucks each),
my roomies’ drug-addled brains no doubt
vaguely worried by the thought that
I might up and croak on them,
when finally in the pre-dawn hour I found voice
and moaned “Where am I?”
“Home,” replied Doug.
in such a long drawn-out syllable of relief & joy
given our sordid circumstances that Doug and Brian
burst out in laughter that was some time dissipating.
In fact, my little verbal ejaculation became something
of a private catch-phrase for a bit,
a joke both mocking and acknowledging
a deep existential longing for us & our ilk—
strangers, hundred or thousands of miles
from our points of origin,
randomly thrown together, united
in our burning desire to wander
the streets of the City of Dreams.

I believe it took the better part of a month
for my brain to feel normal after this adventure.

Also, in case there is some perceived ambivalence,
these are what are fondly recalled as
‘the good times’—
We were 19, 20, & 21.

--David Fewster

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Welcome Hong Kong and China viewers of Five Willows Literary Review

We see a surge in viewers from Hong Kong and China to the Five Willows Literary Review site.

Thank you, enjoy, and please give feedback!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Franz Kafka interviews Tao Qian by koon woon

Franz Kafka (briefly) Interviews Tao Qian

Anywhere there is water
There I dip my line
Life can reside in depths

Truth is a bad deal, my friend,
It ruptures the Bohemian night

Fuzzy Wuzzy was he
But logically he was not he

My line drifts


Neither Franz Kafka nor Tao Qian knew of each other nor cared about fame. And they lived literally worlds apart in time and space. What follows is a brief fictional interview:

F:  Are you afraid of roaches?

T:  Of the kind that moved about, only the kind that moves in high places. I smoke them out.
      They pass legislations and suddenly illegal becomes legal, etc. They eat a meal, walk then as
      far as half a block, and then eat another meal.

F:  I understand that you are a famous poet on China. Is that correct?

T:  Look at it this way, my friend, if you are a successful traveling salesman of restaurant
      cookware, then I am a poet who has drowned himself many times in wine.

F:  I understand you gave up a government post to become a rustic farmer of chrysanthemums.

T:  Yes, my friend, just as you prefer Prague coffeehouses, I prefer anonymity amongst village
      dung. Confucius said there is beauty in all, except some fail to see it.

F:  Thank you, my friend, I must go see my friend Max now.

T: Good-bye, my friend, when you come this way again, look for the house surrounded by five

Epilogue:  Friends can be as eloquent as the long Great Wall of China or as terse as a legal brief.                         
                  You can hear each murmur in a crowded courtroom or the silence of a bamboo leaf.

-          Koon Woon, March 6, 2020


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Grant from the WA State Arts Commission

No photo description available.

We are indeed thankful for a grant of $1,200 from the WA State Arts Commission to publish the 2020 Chrysanthemum Literary Anthology and readings in the Seattle area. 

New Forum for Poems: Chrysanthemum Poems (above)

Submit poems to Chrysanthemum Poems by email to