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Unbroken #42: 

Devils Have the Best Tunes: The Ekphrastic Issue

​This is a design of the Shield of Achilles based on the description in The Iliad. It was completed by Angelo Monticelli c. 1820. This shield represents the art of ekphrastic poetry Homer used in his writings.

Editorial Note

I’ve either never written an ekphrastic poem, or if I did, I didn’t realize I had. Or forgot I did. But it’s never too late and so here I go. 


I’m No Art Critic But…


after any piece of art built by Jeff Koon’s assistants,

while Koons is depositing checks at the bank or posing for photos, 
with due respect to the assistants, who are only doing their jobs

Massive mound of various colors of Play-Doh

Gigantic plastic balloon dog

Garish sculptures of Koons having sex
      with a Hungarian-Italian former porn star-

      turned Italian parliament member

Big lobster inflatable pool toy

Michael Jackson and that chimp

Is it art, bullshit, or both?

I was open to all three until I saw all those colors of Play-Doh

      mashed together

      which are not supposed to be mixed like that.

It’s bullshit.

Here’s how much I respect my co-editors at Unbroken — Ken Chau, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Tom Fugalli, and Tina Carlson. They would not have taken that poem, even though they knew the boss wrote it, and that he could can them at any moment, depriving them of the only benefit of being an editor of any of his publications: really terrible dental insurance.

Tina Carlson recommended we do an issue of ekphrastic poems. The other editors got on board, as did I, after looking up “ekphrastic” for the 11th time.

Now let me drop the nonsense, get sincere, and write that I just read through the issue and am moved, delighted, inspired, and grateful.

I think almost everyone who reads Unbroken is an artist, writer, or both. Y’all probably don’t need to hear from me about the power of art. But here I go anyway.

A colleague and I were talking about the band R.E.M.

Back when there was a lot of talk about the imaginary toxic effects of rock & roll lyrics on youth — causing them, it was alleged, to be suicidal — Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam said that no one talks about how music has saved the lives of no small number of people.

When I practiced therapy for 25 years, I had a subspeciality of working with suicidal teenagers. A patient of mine entered therapy after a close call he had with suicide. He had the intent and the plan. Driving to the site of the planned suicide he heard R.E.M’s “Fall on Me” on the radio.

      Buy the sky and sell the sky

      and lift your arms up to the sky

      And ask the sky and ask the sky

      Don't fall on me

When he heard those lines, he pulled over and cried for an hour or so. Then he went home and went to bed. And decided to get into therapy.

My thanks to the aforementioned editors for their work on this issue, to all who submitted, and to all whose work appears in this fine issue.

Dale Wisely

publisher, Ambidextrous Bloodhound Press

Sean Whalen

The Kids Play “The First Circle”
at State Jazz While Ms. Hannah Battles Stage Four Cancer


















after “The First Circle” from the album, First Circle (ECM, 1984), Pat Metheny

Against the odds the kids crushed it, went heads down eyes up leaned in made their instruments hum! zing! bang! while Ms. Hannah, with her dew rag and pink baton, exhausted and triumphant, swung the kids around the room on a swirl of gauze, sailed them over the judges table, danced them from corner to corner and out into the hall where rival teams stood and wept. "The First Circle" was risky — it was too long too fast too real too cool. Parents clasped hands, watched the kids sweat, fingers flying on strings, lips pursed and cursing on reeds and embouchure, pounding tympanic membranes, rocking the piano, rocking the temporary stage, close to cacophony but saving melody. At the last note the crowd thundered, the judges scribbled frantically, the kids bowed and panted and cried. There should have been roses to throw. And no they didn’t win but they delivered the finest eulogy and the notes remain.



Sean Whalen lives near Pilot Mound, Iowa, and enjoys what life close to home has to offer. Recent poems have appeared in Halcyon Days, Last Leaves, Smoky Blue, After Happy Hour, The Ocotillo Review, and Oakwood.

Gwen Sayers

Devils Have the Best Tunes





















after “At the Devils Ball” (1913), Irving Berlin

After supper, when his mood was right, my father would strum a guitar and sing about the devils ball. He told my little sister a devil was a runaway train, a burning fuse, a murderer who hides the corpse then kills a witness, then another. Dad’s devils held their ball in a fiery hall. On those nights, bats sizzled, the moon cracked. Mimosa trees by our fence spat flames at purple skies. This summer, on our screens, we saw somewhere else catch fire every day; Australia, California, Canada, Greece, where devils were having a ball. Yet we carried on as if nothing was happening. Driving. Flying. Bombing. Felling trees. Stacking abattoirs. Fracking. And I admit to you, there were people there I knew; like my sister, who will drive two hundred miles to visit me tomorrow. We’ll eat devilled beef, worry about weather warnings, plan cheap flights from devilish airports. When she goes, she’ll rev like hell to beat rush hour.


Gwen Sayers is a poet living in London. Her chapbook, Ghost Sojourn, joint winner of Fool for Poetry International Chapbook Competition 2023, is published by Southword Editions. Her poetry appears in various literary magazines and anthologies.

Kathleen Aguero

Dance of the Two Sisters

after seeing the Jingle Dance at Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

After the baby was cut from my belly something went wrong. A tube down my nose into my stomach, a bag on a pole. And I, in my anger, refusing to speak, lay quiet as a corpse for three days. What could visitors do but shift in their seats near the foot of my bed? When I was alone my sister entered, leaned over the bedrail and lay her cool hands with their elegant fingers upon me to perform without sound, without motion, the dance of two sisters. It was then that I softened and spoke. It was then I made friends with the tube.


Kathleen Aguero’s most recent book of is World Happiness Index from Tiger Bark Press. She has also co-edited three volumes of multicultural literature for the University of Georgia Press. She teaches in the Solstice low-residency M.F.A. program and in Changing Lives through Literature, an alternative sentencing program.

Robin Michel

Saturday Night Fever


























after Saturday Night Fever (1977), directed by John Badham


A brilliantly fat moon spills its surplus light through the long narrow windows of your bedroom. Blessed with its abundance you slip from your bed and whip off the black velvet quilt dazzled with shiny silver stars that your mother appliqued by hand the way she once stitched together all of your dance costumes. You wrap yourself in its pillowy night and delight in how the stars refract the moon’s light to create a kaleidoscopic galaxy upon the expanding room’s walls, ceiling, floor. It is as if you are standing under a strobing disco ball in God’s Celestial Dance Palace. But — it is 1955. You shouldn’t know anything about disco yet, or John Travolta, and yet somehow, you do. How you miss dancing! You have not yet removed your leg brace and your right leg stands stiff in its metal casket. You softly move your left foot, toes pointed, in graceful circles on the floor and that steely dancer’s discipline helps you maintain your balance as you swirl your velvet quilt-cape around your future child-bearing hips, and you seduce the indolent moon to join in your dance. You both circle the floor until exhausted, you drag your polio leg and its five-pound costume with you and collapse on the bed, wanting more.


Robin Michel is the author of Beneath a Strawberry Night Sky (Raven & Wren Press, 2023) and Things Will Be Better in Bountiful (Comstock Review, 2024). Her poetry appears in The Ekphrastic Review, Cloudbank, Prime Number, and elsewhere. She was a public schools fine arts program docent for fifteen years.

Cora McCann Liderbach

A Time to Embrace


























after Dress Impression with Train, 2005 (design), 2007 (casting), Karen LaMonte

We peer at her from all angles on a rainy April day at the Toledo Museum of Art, milk-white gown of molten sand tracing the curves of the lady who isn’t there. A felt presence. Hurry under umbrellas to see Caravaggio’s Cardsharps, the friction he paints between the Magdalene sisters. In the café, over turkey, brie & apple paninis, you say you’ve quit chemo, were allergic to it. Your cancer, banished, will likely return. So I’ll live until I don’t live anymore — wide smile stretching your cheeks, your warm eyes gleaming. We drive to the neighborhood where you and your husband can stroll from Ohio into Michigan. Admire silver rings you’ve metal-smithed, swallow slow-cooker chicken and blueberry tarts by your backyard window. Soon, sun will burnish the male finches citron, your husband will snap their portraits at the feeder. Soon, the pool cover will come off, grandkids will splash cannonball fountains in the air. But not yet. Right now, I’m feeling really good, you say. This is what the hours and minutes are for.


Cora McCann Liderbach is a poet from Lakewood, Ohio. Her work appears in The RavensPerch, Common Threads (Ohio Poetry Association), Quiet Diamonds (Orchard Street Press), Hole in the Head Review, OpenDoor Magazine, and Last Stanza Poetry Journal. Finishing Line Press will publish her chapbook, Throughline, in fall 2024.

Kathleen McGookey

The Dream Trapper

after Après-Midi, 1987, Hughie Lee-Smith, see here


To catch the dreams of the waves, of the afternoon clouds and the far green shore, the dreams of the white ribbons that the wind tangles like hair, the trapper baits dark cement holes with pebbles and fish hooks, with torn envelopes and more ribbon. She wears red pants for luck and velvet slippers that squeak on the sand. She circles her traps, noting what the filmy shadows dream, however briefly. She leaves behind a window crowded with men wearing black bowler hats, a room filled to the brim with one rose blooming. Those are nightmares. She hums a lullaby, a symphony, a jingle from tv. She waves her blue towel to signal she means no harm, but still the dreams startle, they flicker and whisper as they rush past her traps, trailing feathers and ashes, and then they disappear.


Kathleen McGookey has published several books and chapbooks, most recently Cloud Reports (Celery City Chapbooks). Her next book, Paper Sky, is forthcoming from Press 53 in October.

Vera Sandronsky

Changing Colors
















after By the Seashore, 1883, Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Her head turns towards me as I approach. She longs to be alone, free from daily chores yet even now she is knitting. The blue of her cap and flowing skirt contrast with the bright green grass on the hillside. Who moved her chair to be near the cliffs? The ocean is not one color but many shades of blue and green, and this suits her, to contemplate what changes and what remains the same. Behind that calm lies restlessness. She gazes at me then looks back at the ocean, stretching without limit. Her brother will be sailing to England soon. A job and an adventure. She imagines what could be if she too could sail to England, or to any other country for that matter. Hasn’t it always been this way: that we are left with dreams, solitary unless shared. A soft orange pink appears in the distance. Her family will want her home soon. The wind rustles the lace on her hat, and she is taken from her thoughts.


Vera Sandronsky, a retired attorney and political activist, has published essays in Jewish Currents, Wordpeace, and The Sandy River Review. Find her at In the last year, she has returned to poetry, her first love. She likes to observe how the changing light throughout the day illuminates the leaves on the trees.

Kathleen Hellen

I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream












after The Starry Night, 1889, Vincent van Gogh


we might sing it together, Y.M.C.A. and laugh a little, Vincent, fantasize a village without people. a room of yellow wheat fields, a good example of the little good that art can do aside from hills so blue they hide the turbulence of failure. the paint squeezed from tubes, because the brushes were too dangerous, because the countryside’s imagined from the window of asylum. what exists outside the dream of swirling dizzy stars and swirling moon? the hallucination of a steeple. of rolling hills and wavy cypresses that grow from cataract and seizure, from psychosis. the jagged night, a fascination. i put my ear to view, listen for the green to tell me everything I need to know about the yellows and the blues. the violence of purple.


Kathleen Hellen’s work is featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and has been nominated multiple times for Best of the Net and the Pushcart. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections, including Umberto’s Night, which won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize, and two chapbooks.

Cherie Hunter Day

Keeping Tabs


























after The Lark's Wing, Encircled with Golden Blue, Rejoins the Heart of the Poppy Sleeping on a Diamond-Studded Meadow, 1967, Joan Miro

A black bear runs off with the bird feeder and leaves the yellow meadow as an anchor. Bold season. We rummage the sky for its blue refuge. We don’t see the bird, only blurry movement on the periphery, which approximates the bird. Our heartbeat feels like a lesser wing. Turbulence is expected to lift curved surfaces. Mix yellow and blue to make green. That hunger is fulfilled but only temporarily. The red poppy remains rimmed with doubt. Keep tabs on the bear. The physician will ask where it hurts. You will say “in the sky” and I won’t disagree.


Cherie Hunter Day lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and The Mackinaw. Her most recent collection, A House Meant Only for Summer (Red Moon Press, 2023), features haibun and tanka prose.

Mikki Aronoff

I Dial a Random Number to Complain














after Beach with Telephone, 1938, Salvador Dali


My qi’s wilting along with my hair. Let’s not even talk about my knees. I’m rooming in a zoo of two, with only the pooch to smooch. I rue the day the whale ran away with the panda. Who knew interspecies lust could be so compelling? “Which one is the groom?” I asked as they packed their trunks. They never write. My Nana says I’ll get my mojo back, but the cards? The cards say it could be weeks. The Tower and Death never lie. Bella and I sit on our haunches, grizzling and greying, taking it day by day.


Mikki Aronoff scribbles and scrawls and advocates for animals. Her work has received Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best American Short Stories, and Best Microfiction nominations.

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