Beltway Poetry Quarterly


Flamenco: Alexis Soto (translated by Allyson Lima)


no se me da el hablar así


más bien prefiero la sal

de los acantillados

el triste aullido de los perros

que reclaman a los astros

perdidos huesos de otras épocas

mucho más se me antoja el escabroso

flamenco llorar de los paganos

corceles de la ira

súbita guitarra escabrosa

tus acordes estrechos a lo insincero

y meditabundo

y sediento me llaman


I’m not given to speak


I prefer the risk

of cliffs

the sad howl of dogs

recalling the stars

lost bones of other times

I am drawn much more to pain

flamenco soul cry of pagans

horses of ire   

sudden struck guitar

its deep chord drama


thirsty calls me

House Musicians: Allyson Lima

House Musicians 

I only knew her by the music
Spied on her from behind the door
Pale fingers poised above black
And ivory keys—hold the low tones—
Flutter down cascading phrases

The falling leaves drift by my window
The autumn leaves of green and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hands I used to hold

She plays Nat King Cole but it’s her song too

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Who is that guy? I ask when she hangs a portrait
5×7 black and white in the hallway
Dapper bow-tied entertainer, piano player
His Hollywood gaze could stop you cold

Her music was no sing along
No Mitch no Bing no bedtime lullaby

Hers were the jazz riffs
Cubist tone fragments
Music undone broken notes smoky
Drifts shifting in air—dark dreams
caught on vinyl

Records of survived betrayals
Broken beats—lives revived
In low-lit smoky rooms
Blackhawk Blue Note urban clubs
And her glassed in living room

Cal Tjader’s red hot vinyl beats
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s guitar with
Brazilian accent—Latin’s catching on
Las Vegas nightclubs—Louis Prima Keely Smith
Ahmad Jamal’s Cry Young and

Not one single musical—no post-war feel good South Pacific
No Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
To blow away the 1950’s suburban housewife blues
But Ray Charles—Ruby and Georgia on My Mind to break your heart

Dad comes home—whiskey breath
Swings her ‘round the kitchen keepin’ the beat
One hand stuck down the back of her French blue
Stretch pants—no Jack no! she protests eyes sparkling
Singing along with Ray Hit the Road Jack

We didn’t know he would really go
Never guessed they would take new
Lovers—found the love letter in her
Lingerie drawer—musician too

Distant mystery mother of four
My younger sisters don’t remember
Her—ask me what she was like
Died in the hospital age 42
After a routine operation

Some say she died of suicide

I say it was a slow dance
In the wrong generation
For a woman like her
Who lived in music and
Couldn’t get enough.

Interludes at Union Station; Colony Collapse Disorder: Raga Ayyagari.

Interludes at Union Station

Bus stops at Union Station precisely
late at eight forty-six. Commuters in
gray suits march towards their meetings.
A concert greets us as we cross the street.

On Monday, an earnest guitarist writes
rhymes that make a rushed executive smile.

On Tuesday, two boys blast tunes on trombones,
bodies pulse to a boom box, bass and beats.

On Wednesday, a horn cracks high notes in
the national anthem, but keeps good time.

On Thursday, a man in army green belts
a ballad on his banjo on repeat.

On Friday, a pianist’s cool, smooth jazz
showers the stress off of sweltering streets.

Every morning, the music is the rest
from the relentless rhythm of routine.
Pigeons’ gray wings amplify my applause
as they soar, settling on silent statues.

Colony Collapse Disorder

The blind man’s cane, a third
leg, hybrid eye and tongue

tastes the concrete sidewalk.
Inching forward on tired wings,

the antenna’s steady rhythm lags
behind the accelerating stillness

of the neighborhood he once knew.
Buzz of rap and ranchero from portable

radios, laughter dancing on creaky
porches, voices raised in solace and song

silenced by the soulless whir of
construction, synthetic busyness.

Windows of fallen families slam shut
against the deserted drone of traffic.

School bus screeches to a halt, nurses zip
pouches of white bread and stale jelly.

All he can hear are kids’ untied shoes
racing toward ruthless metal doors.

Je suis Paris, Never Haiti: Luz Stella Mejía

“Adieu mon petit pays
Adieu ma famille
Adieu mon île, ô Haïti, adieu ma petite terre”
Raphael Haroche, Adieu Haiti song

To all the invisible countries,
pueblos and cities.

There are invisible countries
which have invisible cities and streets
and invisible beings who populate them,
There live invisible children
wearing blue and pink,
laughing and swimming,
singing and dancing,
but they don’t matter.

They suffer their invisible tragedies
which the world doesn’t share,
pain that only they feel
in their forgotten land.

Sometimes their laments reach us:
The rattling of rain on the window,
while the fire crackles in the hearth
and the dog sleeps warmly at our feet.

Sometimes we glimpse their ghosts
in photos that disappear from newspapers.
We will never see the bodies
—unburied on any map—
in an invisible place that drowns in tears,
a place so close in distance,
and yet, so far from our will.

There are somebodies who miss it and love it
and remember it.
And there are nobodies who cry it and live it
and die it.

This is the original version in Spanish:

Je sui Paris, Never Haiti

“Adieu mon petit pays
Adieu ma famille
Adieu mon île, ô Haïti, adieu ma petite terre”
Raphael Haroche, Adieu Haiti song

A todos los países, ciudades
y pueblos invisibles.

Hay países invisibles.
Tienen ciudades y calles
y seres invisibles que los pueblan,
y niños invisibles
que visten de azul y rosa,
ríen y nadan bulliciosos,
cantan y bailan
y no importan.

Sufren sus tragedias invisibles
que el mundo no comparte,
que sólo en su tierra menuda
se sienten.

A veces nos alcanzan sus lamentos:
repiqueteo de la lluvia en la ventana,
mientras el fuego crepita en el hogar
y el perro duerme cálido a los pies.

A veces vislumbramos los fantasmas
en fotos que desaparecen de los diarios.
Nunca veremos los cuerpos
—insepultos en ningún mapa—
en un lugar invisible que se viste de llanto,
un lugar tan cerca en la distancia,
un lugar tan lejos en querer.

Hay álguienes que lo extrañan y lo aman
y lo recuerdan.
Y hay nadies que lo lloran y lo viven
y lo mueren.

Offbounce: Jules Desroches

a bounce beat is power/ a call and response
district flowers bloom/all are ensconced
a form known as jungle/births oceans from ponds

GoGo revolution/ we translucent spawn
what you hearing/ drum and blood bond?
ain’t no concealing, freedom turned on

– in the same mirror, reflecting light-

one must acknowledge/ how frequent we listen,
frigid perspective, gone/ absent from kitchen
rhythmic faucets drip/ new waves
into dawning horizons
we stitch together/for glistening futures
we’ve been working/ our elbows have grease

too tired to dance, its not apathy
its surthriving,
between a living and a bounce beat

Sonny Boy Williamson I: Clifford Bernier

Sonny Boy Williamson I

Follow the Mississippi. North to St. Louis.

North to Chicago. Like a Sonny Boy

with his harmonicas, they said,

to blow the blues, like a wild cow moan,

like a little school girl, like a sugar mama

going solo, never been done,

not Hammie Nixon, not Noah Lewis,

not Will Shade and his jug band

scraping washboard, trap and string bass,

North like a blue bird, like a hoodoo-hoodoo,

like a whiskey-headed woman

shaking her boogie early in the morning,

Rice Miller pinching his name and his fame,

cupping his note like a crying child,

chasing him right out of Helena,

the original Sonny Boy, Sonny Boy I,

best harp of his generation,

100 tracks and 125 in session,

stabbed 17 times in the head with an ice pick

on the South Side, money in his pockets,

in the shadow of a doorway.

The Blue Years; When The Sky Is Upside Down: E. Ethelbert Miller


And then we walked out
into the rain as if we were walking
to the sea, so many weeping
because of dangerous memories.

Life is a flood of tears.
We were born somewhere
between heartbreak and desire.
The place we fled before the crying.

The blue years when we had
no food or water.
The blue years when many
were strangled by the air.

So much thirst.
Too much blueness on our tongues.


When the world slows
down I’ll pack a few things
and jump off.

No farewell or tears,
just a turn around a corner
and a wade into the sea.

I’ll forget everything.
Yes – everything I forget.

Gone- the first woman I wanted
not the last woman that left.

Dusk is when I sing the morning blues
and the sky is upside down.

My heart, my legs, no longer walk straight.
I’ve only known a crooked kind of love.

The Nora Arcane, The Gaza Arcane: Jack Hirschman


I can’t begin writing
this poem about you,
Nora, without wanting
suddenly to write a

Hebrew letter.

I’m a rather militant
anti-zionist, as you know,
and will have no word to
say to any opportunist

who makes

a religion of the holocaust
and says, “Karl Marx was
full of shit.” I know your
jewishness verges on


that Israel for you in your
days is Israel more than
five thousand years ago,
that you don’t see the


as the real jews of today,
that you keep to Israel
in living memory and
that is something after

the bestial

holocaust I understand,
even though politically
it’s engendered reciprocal
evil. Yet thinking of you

makes me want

to write or draw a Hebrew
letter—any one of the
Aleph-bais: I’ve learned
them all through my 82
years alive

because I’ve always adored
their shape, the way you
always adored me, dearest
cousin, perhaps through

my father, Sheppy,

for his having always made
you hysterically laugh with
his hundred jokes, and though
you never knew David, my son,

who died

at 25 of cancer in California,
you planted a Tree of Life
in his name in Israel
the following year, and for that

what might

an old communist kabbalist
say except: may you be the
thunder that rumbling says

that announces

the rain of the tears that wash
away the pain of the fears



Shema here,
shema hear me,
a child born
and raised originally
in Superman’s
capitol of Death,
whose rule is trumpery.

This stack of
matzos I fling
one after another
across your Rosh
Hashanah clear
to your Yom

like a paroxysm
of memory,
a matzography
of unforgettable
irony of ironies:
you, who were
so holocausted

by the nazis
have created
the largest
concentration camp
in the world,
in Gaza, yes
we in Gaza,

when Sari Shobaki 18,
Amir Al-Nimra, 15,
Louay Kahn, 16,
Kami Halas, 14,
Nasser Shurrab, 18,
Louay Hasan, 13

a series of non-violent
protests calling for
the return
of Palestinians
exiled all
over the world,
you murdered them

in cold State blood
or sniped their
legs or slingshot
arms off and—
irony of the ovens
where the nazis

so many of
your families—
those New York
settler thugs
celebrating a
wedding were
crying out:

“Ali’s on the grill”
referring to
Ali Dawbsheh,
whose 18
month-old body
they’d burned
to death.


Dilapidated shacks
or even tents
in which we live
all crazy now
without a capitol
and filling with

Gaza, we’re Gaza
who may rainbow:
Dareen Tatour,
you magnificent,
“terrorist” poet,
and you,
Ahed Tamimi

who physically
Took on a couple
of Israel’s cops,
you of a family
of grassroots

of Razan Al-Najar,
that glorious
21 year-old
who gave her
life helping to
nurse the wounded
in the protests.

We don’t hole up.
We stuff malice,
be terror cool,
steer no one wrong,
even as arms are torn,
even as wounded legs
are smoking.

The Nora Arcane was first published in The Arcanes (Multimedia Edizioni, Salerno, Italy, 2019) The book is available from the author. Write to him at