Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, was for
many years a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (now retired).
Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in
the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the
creatures and plants he encounters. His career in music has influenced his
fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in numerous literary
journals and anthologies in the US and abroad. His honors include Rhymezone’s
poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition
(2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015)
third place, and four Pushcart nominations. A full-length collection,
Celestial Euphony, was published by Plum White Press in 2019.
Your Abstract Body
Hon, you breathe the rarified air great ginkgoes
breathed as brontosauruses lumbered past them,
bending massive trunks as a wind might riffle
Ancient as the galaxies, old as space-time,
hoary as the oceans, but fresh as rollers
riding bareback over the brine to borrow
flung from dazzling suns that have squandered rations,
cycled through the eons, your precious body
must be worth, what, hundreds of thousands, millions,
billions of dollars?
Estimate: far less than a lunch at Denny’s.
You, pet, are the atoms of moons and mountains,
rushing rivers, thunderstorms, plants and planets—
common as comets.
Who, then, plays your melody? Why, the cosmos
coursing through your energy, through your matter,
through the living cells of your corporation.
You are a blueprint.
Dare I fall in love with an abstract template?
Dare I not? What curious magnetism—
strong force, weak force, gravity, cosmic laughter—
draws us together!
A Proton’s Fate at the LHC
I gallop like billy-o down a long hall,
colossal and shaped like a ring,
though my body is so inconceivably small,
I am almost not even a “thing.”
With each revolution, I’m ever more zippy
till, nearly as speedy as light,
I boogie like nobody’s business — Yippee! —
feeling as light as a mite.
But what’s that in front of me coming head-on?
A proton? It looks just like me.
It’s zipping as fast as I’m zipping. We’re drawn
together. How could I foresee
another speed-racer? Can’t dodge him. Collision!
We shatter, and parts of us spatter
in sizes and forms I could scarcely envision,
and that is the end of the matter.
(Appeared in Star*Line.)
Gratitude is a leaf that laughs
and falls up toward the sun
then glides and soars like a red-tailed hawk
whose heart won’t be undone
by clouds as inky as gaped jaws
of a giant carnivore.
It never wants to land on earth,
in an oak or sycamore,
but keeps ascending, drifting, wheeling
over peaks and lakes and fields
and thinks a cyclone sounds as fine
as a thousand glockenspiels.
It laughs with the glee of a major key,
though the world’s so full of minor,
and goes on hovering, coasting, gliding
beyond the last airliner.
Gratitude is not a whiner.
Gratitude will not moan.
While awestruck by the universe,
how can it feel alone?
crickets croon to a cornfield
of indifferent ears.
Fruit flies in the fridge
dining in the cold darkness—
outside, it’s summer.
These buds opening
like hungry baby bird mouths
just for butterflies.
A praying mantis
squashed dead against the doorjamb—
preyed on by the door
One tiny cricket
stridulates in the bedroom—
my dog sleeps; I don’t
do the crickets hear the din
A truck rumbles by;
little by little cricket
songs come back to me.
The katydids viol, as they're bid,
on twigs of sycamores and birches,
amid the leaves of oak and aspen,
like souls that briefly breathe, feet graspin’
the branches of these fleeting days
that will evaporate like haze,
well-hid on perches, claspin’.
This butterfly now flutters by
and, on each wing, a giant eye
conceals she is a fragile soul
darting about you as you stroll
through lullabies of late July.
She flutters low, flutters high,
then settles on a salsify.
You stop and watch, getting to know
What flower, though, can ever tie
her wings to Earth? When blossoms dry
and flowers fade and grasses grow
and birds give up their noisy show,
she’ll vanish with the briefest sigh,
(Forthcoming in Better Than Starbucks.)
Photograph of the Last Ili Pika on Earth
Up and up toward the peak the pika scrambled
just ahead of the heat fast-rising, mounting
like the waters around a sinking island,
bound for parts where no grasses ever flourish,
trees don’t blossom, no glaciers flow or glitter,
past the margin where even mosses wither.
Stand in awe at this climber of rock faces
gazing at the photographer, undaunted,
short-eared, shimmery, with windstorm-ruffled pelage,
forehead splashed with the red of rusty rubble.
All his fellows abruptly overheated,
some attempting to hop across the canyon
up a loftier mountain, others hiding
under talus that shed its snowy mantle,
while still others succumbed from want of flora.
See him scuttle across the icy boulder,
brave the blizzard, or tremble in the tempest.
Do not ask how the ruggedest of rabbits
could have found himself trapped inside a greenhouse,
how four paws could have been so damn unlucky.
The ant darts right, then left to dodge the shoe
which keeps on coming gravely into view.
The pounding of the savage shoe evokes
Mahler’s heavy, fateful hammer strokes
until, at last, it smashes our poor ant
who, while alive, served animal, soil, and plant,
but now becomes the victim of a boy
who seems to get some twisted kind of joy
destroying things he cannot grasp or know
so thus he thinks to strike a hammer blow.
I come to Elizabeth Park to see him feed
from a bent lady’s palm—a Canada goose
whose outward-angled wings (from too much bread),
like deadwood twigs, are of no earthly use.
He’d watched his flock take to the sky, and heard
their honks grow fainter, fainter . . . this wild bird
now nibbling oats and corn from a trembling hand
which got him through last winter on the pond.
Their common bond is clear as cloudless days,
solid as the crystal-covered oaks:
this longing for lost friends. No one will praise
her nurturing. Some night, a coon or fox
may catch him, or the elements may get him.
Yet watch him sidestep when she tries to pet him.
Snatched from the Farm: Three Sisters
One line consists of elderly and ill;
the other young and fit and working age,
who’ll get a bowl of drugged soup as their wage
and even get the hang of a new skill.
Two sisters in the “healthy” line now see
their sibling standing in the other row—
the sibling with the eczema. They know
that something doesn’t look right here. The three
must walk or die together. They’ve no choice.
The youngest sprints across the yard to pull
the “sick” one back. The trains will soon be full,
and when they stop, nobody will rejoice.
They’re off together rolling down the track,
three teens whose parents never will be back.
As fodder for the factories, they trekked
barefoot across the snow fields. Hunks of bread
were all that kept their reed-like frames erect.
One bitter morning, just beneath their tread,
they noticed spuds and scooped them up. Those raw
tubers they’d conceal and eat at night,
aware their persecutors had a law
prohibiting these girls from such delight.
In camp that evening, lined up in the quad,
the sisters, close amid the others, shook
as one in ten were murdered by the squad.
When the girl beside them dropped, they didn’t look,
but knew they had been spared. The following dawn
they held each other as they plodded on.
They walked and slept, but didn’t die together.
The Russians came and then the sisters set
their sights on Palestine, where each one met
a man, had kids, and then the crucial tether
that lasted through the horror snapped when two
stayed put and saw the youngest move away.
She watched her children blossom day by day
in a land of hope or, leastwise, somewhere new.
She and her family once owned a farm
in Bratislava. Now she’s in a place
where caregivers abound. The human race
will kill or comfort, dish out food or harm.
She dreams now, not of trials and ordeals,
but of the cows, the chickens, and the fields.
(Appeared in Poetry Super Highway.)
Close by the bridge, they javelin
the frosty blue. Flashing, fading,
dipping, climbing, as if to win
the Bird Olympics, emulating
their wild forebears, forever together,
bonded by the sturdy tether
of kinship. The townsfolk dare not bustle
about in gales. They’re all shut in
like rabbits in their huts. The rustle
of remnant leaves and twigs is a thin
and bony xylophone. The flocking
aces wheel round and round the walking
man on the bridge, who watches each bird
click with the cloud in euphoric flight.
Strolling alone, for a moment cured
of the whiteness under the frigid light
of sunset, he can’t help but stare
as spirits soar and fade and flare.
The Rat Behind the Wall
What shields the rat from the mighty terrier?
through which she feels the slaps of yaps.
have missed her, though they’ve held Swiss cheese.
she will if driven out. The breeze
grows colder every night. Soon white
will coat the earth and squalls will bite.
A barrier traps yet frees.
The Rooms of Bernadette
With scratching sounds and gnawing sounds
and periodically a squeak,
commensal mammals make their rounds
to search for edibles and seek
a place to nest before the bleak
raw blizzards bluster in. They’ll get
a taste of warmth within a week
inside the rooms of Bernadette.
Wise to the perils on these grounds
(traps, poison, predators), they speak
not just with voices but the nouns
and adjectives of smell. They reek
of things they’ve eaten, each unique,
life-or-death. A breach will let
them scurry, scamper, spring, and streak
across the bed of Bernadette.
She sleeps, as one now swiftly downs
a bit of cracker near her sleek
and lanky form. Another bounds
across a table, takes a peek
at the granola. Nervous, meek,
worldly-wise, and no one’s pet,
these stealthy creatures never creak
the boards that sag like Bernadette.
A bold one scuttles past her cheek
as others in stark silhouette
come in the night to prowl and sneak
inside the dreams of Bernadette.
The Woolly Bear
Along a silvan lane, you spy a critter
creeping with a mission, a woolly bear
fattened on autumn flora. So you crouch,
noting her triple stripes: the middle ginger,
each end as black as space. Her destination
is some unnoticed nook, a sanctuary
to settle in, greet the fangs of frost,
then freeze, wait winter out—lingering, lost
in dreams of summer, milkweed, huckleberry.
Though she’s in danger of obliteration
by wheel or boot, your fingers now unhinge her.
She bends into a ball of steel. No “ouch”
from bristles on your palm as you prepare
to toss her lightly to the forest litter.
She flies in a parabola, and lands
in leaves. Though she has vanished, both your hands
hold myriad tiny hairs, a souvenir
scattered like petals. When this hemisphere
turns warm again, she’ll waken, thaw, and feast
on shrubs and weeds (the bitterer the better)
then, by some wondrous conjuring, be released
from larval life. At length she will appear
a moth with coral wings—they’ll bravely bear
her through a night of bats or headlight glare,
be pulverized like paper in a shredder,
or briefly flare in a world that will forget her.
The last one died in Hobart Zoo
during a night so raw,
he curled up tight and, shivering,
froze from nose to paw.
Three years before, a chap appeared
with movie-making gear.
“Benjamin” paced and yawned, then nipped
the bloke’s placental rear.
With jaws too weak to maim a man
his wild kin chomped on possum
and, owing to their shyness, humans
rarely came across ’em.
Sheep vanished—from bad management—
yet who did farmers blame?
That’s right, you guessed it! So ten-thousand
riflemen took aim.
The chance his feral fellows prowl
these days is less than scant.
So why then don’t we say goodbye,
you ask? We simply can’t!
Across the windswept hinterlands,
we hunt with cameras, phones,
and sometimes glimpse a ghost, a shadow,
Through stands of fragrant Huon Pine
older than Canopus,
across the plains of button grass
(the island’s magnum opus);
on cliffs that overlook the deep
where sponges, crinoids, corals—
bright yellow, purple, cream and pink—
live far from human quarrels;
or on the outer edge of Hobart
(that quaint marina city
which, one day in a coming eon,
will all be rubble—pity!);
as tawny frogmouths croon unseen,
as bold rosellas whistle,
as pademelons graze, and quolls
keep hidden in the thistle;
under a crag, above a lake,
amid the heath and fern,
the wombat, wattlebird and devil,
we search for him and yearn
and think how we’re the first on Earth
that’s got a choice to make—
for we’re the killer asteroid,
the hurricane, and quake!
He’s merely one more casualty
that perished on a planet
where dwells an ape whose foremost task
is saving her. But can it?
In petroglyphs, on postage stamps,
badge of the cricket team,
symbol of Tasmania,
he rouses us to dream.
The Group Mind of Bees
While the scout drones and dances in the dark,
her sisters’ palpi mark
her every sign like Braille.
Who hears her hum her B will rarely fail
to find the food, too far to spot by smell
or sight. She yearns to tell
the others its location,
impatient spy in a covert operation.
What’s in the flower of a common weed
can comfortably feed
the queen and all her hive,
allowing the whole living thing to thrive.
You may conclude when speculating why
a drone must always die
minutes after mating
that, when the matter deals with procreating,
each part is for the good of the collection.
Those giving it protection,
who javelin your skin,
must also perish so the group can win.
Is Earth a hive? Observe it from a plane,
watch moving specks. You strain
your ear, yet cannot hear
the chatter of the people on that sphere,
as you cannot discern the conversations
of insects, whose relations
are always tête-à-tête
to us, whether a date or a debate.
Do bees and letter carriers look the same?
One organism’s aim,
to stop at every box,
the other’s to alight on hollyhocks,
whose nectar’s dried on tongues. When tongues of ice
hang down, it will suffice
to feed the colony,
more durable a creature than the bee
who, three days by her lonesome, will expire.
What does she most desire?
Working for a mind
whose nature’s still a puzzle to mankind.
A New Lease
You offered me a brand new lease
along with a hefty rent increase,
but since I'm no damn Rockefeller,
I’ll soon be moving from your cellar.
I will not miss the lack of heat
in winter when my hands and feet
are fish and frogs beneath ice water
cold enough to kill an otter.
I will not miss the airlessness
inside this cave in summer, less
the motorcycles, sirens, horns,
far more injurious than thorns.
Nor will I long to hear the noise
of babies, toys, and rowdy boys
that make the ceiling’s floorboards rattle
as if from hooves of panicked cattle.
This pad’s become a jumbo drum,
their frightful pan-de-mo-ni-um
more wounding of my calm than curses
(through which I’ve, somehow, written verses).
One matter, though, will cause me worry:
my tiny pals that perch or scurry.
House spiders, cellar spiders, small
as atoms, big as moons, they crawl
or dangle, hunt like wolves at night,
rappel down walls, or just sit tight.
I’m troubled when, for weeks, no patter
of bug feet nears a starved one’s platter.
I know that you’ll exterminate
my roommates when you renovate.
No, I won’t go! I’ll pay the rent,
and deem those greenbacks quite well-spent!
A flurry grays the April air
as clouds of speckles swirl and mate,
euphoric, blazing, unaware
of windshields on the interstate
hurtling through their fevered storm.
These whirlwind-wings pursuing their fate,
in red and black above the warm
blacktop, link up and live three days.
Tripping on truck exhaust, they swarm,
convinced it’s flora which decays.
They catch the fumes, sweet as the spice
of rot, home in on motorways
and, as they’re turned to mush, think, “Nice!—
manure, grass clippings—paradise!”
(Appeared in Lighten Up Online. Poetry Nook’s 182nd Poetry Contest
winner. Pushcart nomination from Poetry Nook.)
She views the world through touch. Faint throbs of thread
relay what prey is trapped, what class of mate
draws near, what bird has come to satiate
its greedy gut. The ring of string has spread
like ripples on a pond. Inside her head
a tiny brain unravels all the facts.
Her spokes have spoken to her. She reacts
quick as a wingbeat. Will she be well-fed?
One evening, groping through a grove, you mangle
the moonlit sanctuary of some spinner
serenely poised to pounce upon her dinner.
Face full of filaments, you watch her dangle
then disappear. You flee the fangs of night,
not knowing she’s too sensible to bite.
(Appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily.)
Who Owns the Earth?
We own the earth. We buzz or hug
you in your bed, at times will bug
you when you taste like toothsome prey.
We flit around your cold buffet.
We’re sweat bee, darner, skeeter, slug,
the flea that’s pestering your pug.
We’re everywhere. You might go, “Ugh!”
when centipedes cruise by. Yet, say
we left the earth.
Perhaps you’d shout with glee, or shrug.
But think: no cherry, apple, mug
of honeyed tea, nor silver tray
of leafy greens would come your way.
You see, Big Brain? Don’t be so smug!
We own the earth.
(Appeared in The New Verse News.)
In the Basement
The spider at the bottom of the bath,
engulfed in liquid, static as a tack,
legs folded inward, tiny torso black
as venom, clearly took a perilous path.
Slight as a droplet, a mere nano-blot
of ink or paint upon a field of white,
it likely fought the good arachnal fight
before it drowned like a forgotten thought.
Did this Lilliputian creature screak in panic?
Overturn itself and try to float,
limbs flailing like the oars of a foundering boat?
Sink like a seed? Or was its war titanic?
The water in the bathtub must be drained,
and the spiders in this basement must be trained.
(Appeared in The Centrifugal Eye.)
Each evening I fashion an intricate net
from the blueprint that lives in my minuscule brain.
Though it’s wrecked every day, I do not get upset;
and, though I will perish, the plan will remain
in my offspring and theirs—a measureless chain.
I will float a long line on the wind. Then I’ll set
it in place. Drop another. This pair will sustain
what each evening I fashion—an elegant net.
I’ll connect many circles and spokes, and then let
probability serve me my dinner. The rain
will be my champagne. I shall never forget
the blueprint that lives in this minuscule brain
in my miniature head, which I don’t have to strain
to rebuild my abode, while you slog and you sweat
erecting your mansions. There’s visible pain
in your eyes when they’re wrecked. Gawd, you get so upset!
It’s funny how even a vague silhouette
of my form is so startling to you, it can drain
all the tint from your cheeks. But there’s no need to fret.
I won’t bite. You won’t perish. I’ll always remain
unperturbed by your presence. Your lot can be vain
when you’ve put up some huge Taj Mahal, while a threat
to the structure can cause you to blubber. It’s plain
what you prize. Yet you’ll ruin with zero regret
what each evening I fashion.
Somewhere in the bedroom a common cricket
trills with inhibition like something bashful,
quavers growing ever more metronomic,
shaking the shadows,
rousing the rat terrier, height of fierceness,
blessed with ears of keenness and legs of lightness,
denticles of devilry. Hear it? Hear it?
Where is it hiding?
There it is! The acme of bouncy vigor
lacquered in the lamplight between the bookshelf,
bed, and table, preening its tarsal toenails,
taking a breather,
nonchalant—its glistening tar-black noggin
wigwags side to side as if deep in daydream,
pondering the blizzards that soon will bluster,
rattle the windows.
Dauntless Duncan, jittery as a jailbird,
promptly breaks the calm with his strident barking,
rushes like Sir Galahad toward the bug and,
shreds its heart, blue hemolymph slowly seeping.
Quietude returns as the hero slumbers
heedless of the others beyond these ramparts,
scraping and crooning,
warbles growing longer and longer, evenings
cooling like an animal lately fallen.
Fangs and hoarfrost: equally skilled and eager
killers of thrillers.
(Appeared in Siham Karami's poetry blog.)