Story Quilts Poetry Writing Contest

In May, the PHES Gallery invited the public to join them for a creative dive into ekphrastic poetry – poetry is written in response to one (or more) of the artworks in “Story Quilts.” These powerful contemporary art quilts inspired over 50 poems. Please spend a few moments enjoying the ten winning poems by the Story Quilt Ekphrastic Poetry Winners.

What Remains Under the Layers

by Jeffrey Bettger

Quilt #15 “What Remains”
by Deborah Weir

A translucent tide pool. A shiny object reflects. I disturb the peaceful rest of this stone, or shell or perhaps the bone of a long extinct creature. The years have worn it smooth, yet it remains.

And what is found below this ever-changing surface? Earth’s history covered in sediment, portions revealed by the powerful tides of violent storms. What lived in this spot 1,000 or 10,000 years ago? Perhaps great herds grazing on a vast savannah or succulent plants surviving on a wind-blown desert? I fantasize burrowing deep, seeing each layer unique, the epochs of history marking their existence.

I imagine my memories as having similar layers. Recent memories remain vivid and clear. Past memories slowly fade into opaque shadows.

The realization that each memory, important or trivial, is of consequence, having influenced all that I am. Remove one layer and perhaps a drastically different me–different opinions, a different life. I search deeper, below my earliest memories, until I reach my very soul. The genetic framework upon which all knowledge gathers. Predispositions refined from the accumulation of ancestral experiences. Deeper yet, cellular influences from all past humanity. To this pool of evolution, my life now contributes.

Three Empty Vessels

by Jeff Bettger

Three Empty Vessels by Viviana Lombrozo
Quilt #4 “Three Empty Vessels”
by Viviana Lombrozo

A new home, a new beginning.  Life has not gone as planned.  A new perspective needed. I meet my neighbor, a sweet woman, a welcomed invitation for a cup of tea. As I enter, stunning art everywhere displayed. Anticipating my question, she proudly confesses, yes, each piece her own creation.

My attention is drawn, three unusual objects prominently sitting on the fireplace mantel. Those vessels are my pride and joy, she confirms. Why do you call them vessels? I ask.

With their open design, nothing could they contain. Pausing, she winks, then says. I made them to remember three of life’s most important things.

The first one is for all my dreams. The second one is for all my fears. The third one is for all my prayers. Dreams, fears, and prayers cannot be constrained. They need to be free to come and go as they please, she explains. Would you like some sugar in your tea?

Our Histories are a Collage

by Amanda Leigh Mattimoe

Reflections in the Glass by Sandra Lauterbach
#1 “Reflections in the Glass”
by Sandra Lauterbach

will you lay me down
beside the Beautiful Gates

will I gain entrance
where eons ago
others were denied

where the gathered
dead await
where prophets cry

where the worthy
and unworthy
come before judgment

will we see
familiar faces
recognize places

will we listen to
tales of multitudes
woven thru history

are we not all born
and lost
in the shadow
of the temple   

The Path Through Memory…

by Amanda Leigh Mattimoe

The New American Crucifix by Nancy Lemke
Quilt #2 “The New American Crucifix” by Nancy Lemke

becomes an endless scream
a frayed patchwork
holding terrors of the night
or afternoon carnage
of all those unrealized lives
on the barrel of a gun

are we not sickened
are we not tired enough
from deaths’ burdens
and blood-streaked garments so small they could clothe a child’s doll

who suffers these little children to come unto a place of shelter riddled with bullets who decries their bewilderment

who ends this slaughter if not you and I

Life Raft Earth

by Elizabeth Nash

Life Raft Earth by Deborah Weir
Quilt #17 “Life Raft Earth”
by Deborah Weir

Earth’s life raft on the rising tide
The passengers decide
If rain pours down outside
And reservoirs run dry.
More than a boat,
She must stay afloat.

Who will embark
On the new Noah’s ark?
Who is in command?
Where will we land?
Magic carpet, fly me to the moon!
Better take off soon
Before Earth is ruined.

Brick & Steel,
Glass & Sky

by Robert O’Sullivan

Downtown Windows by Dan Olfe
#7 “Downtown Windows”
by Dan Olfe

Hey look at me, no not down there I’m way up here, a small
part of this city’s cloud-bound everywhere I’m high
as the sky
and I
will rise to any occasion blown my way

The winds of change have designated towers of power have all debated this here is the future of the cityscape Stop looking down at your xeriscape, I’m up here in the sky I’m scraping by, looking fly and flying high like a bird on the wings of a prayer this close

to where the hosts of heaven are supposed to reside. I’m brick and mortar, steel and cocktail glasses, high-priced aperitifs for the masses thirsty for some brand new
deja vu’s  
360 views of bay & seaside ride up on the elevator’s 50-story trip & tip the maitre’d to get the best of what I have to offer

all of this can all be yours the price is all that’s left for you to negotiate
so don’t hesitate
I’m strong  iron built    
on mega-storied
stilts but soft as quilted patterns ‘gainst the sky    

Rousseau’s Beasts

by Joanne Sharp

Leafy Jungle by Susan Willen
Quilt #18 “Leafy Jungle”
by Susan Willen

The painter’s tropical jungle
opens before me
like a child’s dream,
simple leaves and stems
so strong and confident
in their myriad bright colors.

But chinks of darkness hint
that if I should part the foliage
and like Alice, step through,
I could surprise a woman
reclining under the trees

guarded by a lion or a tiger
who might bare their teeth,
perhaps ask themselves
what am I doing here?

Why I stopped going to the gym

by Carole F. Stabler

The New American Crucifix by Nancy Lemke
Quilt #2 “The New American Crucifix”
by Nancy Lemke

Resolved, I renew my gym membership at the front desk, make my way to the double doors. and swing them wide with determination, to be confronted by four flat screens directly in front of the ellipticals…Red ribbon news crawls, draped yellow caution tape, uniforms at their grim tasks. Light, sirens, cameras and microphones, thrust in the faces of what should be private spaces.

I can’t look.
I cannot not look.

The “anomalies” become more frequent, as does “random,” “no threat to the general public.” Bouquets wilt in the sun, in the snow…We search for words to reassure our children even as they drill for lockdown, as their teachers, their classrooms, disappear. “Never again!” grows to a chorus of shared lament.
Powers in High Places dither about definitions. Legal or illegal? Open carry or concealed?

When there’s a clash of opinions, the Second Amendment subsumes the First Amendment. “How many does it take to make a massacre?” In time, as shocks morphs into scars and scars layer to create calluses, the weight of statistics grows ungraspable. I can’t take this aggregate of cause and effect, of grief unloosed and inconsolable.

But here, on this rectangle of cloth and thread, an artist beckons me to consider the particular rather than the whole.
That bright red, again, assails me from across the gallery.

This is what “in guns we trust” has brought to our nation:
two children hang limp, helpless and bleeding, crucified on the silhouette of a firearm. Below, a woman kneels to aid another child, whose blood leaks onto a dark anywhere-background. Dotted by what? Moving closer I discern that the falling shapes are gravestones -so subtle that the eventual recognition jolts me. Two witnesses, a businessessman and a cammo/ammo guy in signifier mode, gawp upward, a silhouette of the Capital dome between them, as a bride passes from hand to hand.

“Why all the drama? What’s all the fuss?” “It’s just an anomaly – got nothing to do with us.”

Green Eye Got the Prize

by Jean Taddonio

"Green-Eyed Dog by Dinah Sargeant
Quilt #12 “Green-Eyed Dog”
by Dinah Sargeant

A cluster of canines
followed the girl
hungry for attention, or scraps.

They didn’t stand a chance
when she spied a dog with one eye. He was shy, just like her.

His eye was pure green.
The other strays bullied him,
treated him mean.

She scooped him right up,
begged him to stay, protect his green eye and love him each day.

Blue Jelly

by Jean Taddonio

Charged Up neon jellyfish dress
Quilt #11 “Charged Up”
neon jellyfish dress
by Tara Ritacco

When I grow old
don’t dress me in gold
or purple or red.

Choose instead
the blue of the sea
where some day my ashes will be.

Glue on some glitter neon netting and glitz loose wavy veils like free jelly fish.

Top it all off with more thrift shop stuff. Clean out my closet,
that will be tough.

When you visit the sea
and touch the gulls’ feathers
think of me, all sparkly and blue

and remember the love-glue that held us together.

Story Quilts

  • Reflections in the Glass by Sandra Lauterbach
  • The New American Crucifix by Nancy Lemke
  • Vessels to Hold Ephemeral Memories by Viviana Lobrozo
  • Three Empty Vessels by Viviana Lombrozo
  • Rockefeller's Flags by Nelda McComb
  • Walt Disney Concert Hall by Dan Olfe
  • Downtown Windows by Dan Olfe
  • despite her checkered history, they complained she was so straight laced by Marty Ornish
  • shy Lisbeth breaks out of her shell by Marty Ornish
  • Birds on a Wire Fence by Karen Rips
  • Charged Up neon jellyfish dress
  • "Green-Eyed Dog by Dinah Sargeant
  • Propulsion by Deborah Weir
  • Receding Figures by Deborah Weir
  • What Remains by Deborah Weir
  • After the 6th Extinction by Deborah Weir
  • Life Raft Earth by Deborah Weir
  • Leafy Jungle by Susan Willen
  • Leafy Jungle 2 by Susan Willen