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Unread 02-16-2021, 05:22 PM
Daniel Kemper's Avatar
Daniel Kemper Daniel Kemper is offline
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: California
Posts: 1,188
Default Concerto For The Human Voice: The Wisdom of Decay

Concerto for the Spoken Word: The Wisdom of Decay
Meta-Formalist Poem, Beta version
Five sections, total reading time (out loud) ~ 25 min --I know it's l.o.n.g.

ON FORM AND META-FORM (then to the poem -- belated preface)
Virtually all English metrical poetry prior to this, specifically in terms of meter itself and generally in terms of sonics, is a chant. (Roman? Gallican? Gregorian?)

...buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH

The lengthy are epics/liturgies; the brief, folk songs/fixed forms.

...buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH buh-BAH

It's time for more. (Medieval? Renaissance? Baroque?) The organization of sound in poetry has gorgeous potential not even scratched yet.

I said this in beta and know it has shortcomings. It is symphonic/sonata in form as stanzas are arranged but mixed w/sonnet (Eng. & Ital). Variation and return was the call in my heart.

In retrospect, I think mixing variations of sonnet structure with a poetic version of sonata form was an error in judgement. I tried to get too much in, made too much complexity.

The strength of the meta-form itself came forward though, because despite those errors, the feeling, thought and thrust were still largely carried. Lesson learned: choose either variatons on a sonnet or stick with sonata form. Lesson learned: the concept itself has strength and can be a viable way of writing pieces of extended length.

No randomness though. None. Yet free.

This is not a fixed form, just as symphonies are not fixed forms. It is the result of a way of looking at the music of words so that a poet can *produce fixed forms*. A form of making forms; hence, "meta-formal" poetics.



A troubled night
drew back belatedly; the light
all gray and gray and gray
But always there are fires, always there are stones
and always unrepentant groans
for sky and street, a sigh from every door
for more.

The dawn
has passed in rain, but now a light is drawn
between the buildings; sky wears through
the clouds. It is not golden toned. It is not blue.
It moans
as rusty cobblestones
wear through the tar, in slow reprise,
and so we rise.

A puddle shines
as mirrors shine, as it combines
a glow that cannot crack
with black
and all the world reflected there climbs toward the sun
in walls of windows, waking one by one.
Above the alley glimmerings appear.
Not here.

The rain,
since past, has found its ground like wisdom, pain,
humility and heart, and from
the widest watersheds the weight has come
to this,
a pool of painful bliss,
a formless, framed integrity,
a broken city.


The puddle at
the alley's edge lays like a mat
but quivers, ripples when
just then,
the ground around it's shaken by a garbage truck
that backing out, was almost stuck,
and scrapes a rusty set of steps that rise
and rise

as eyes
emerge through dusty blinds to scrutinize
the awful sound. The trash-men duck
and cringe and carry on, but who would not be struck
by men
-- it happens that it's men --
who smile and laugh, and work like that,
like that!

Who tries
to smile through the broken bags and flies,
the banging metal, mire, muck,
the withering looks of those they serve? Who’d give a fuck?
And then
they do it all again,
again. They have it so down pat.
They chat

and pause and chat
again, and flawlessly combat
fatigue, despair. Such Zen,
these men,
in whom no past indignity has ever stuck.
Their minds are mirrors; I'm awestruck.
They blow their horn and fade through fog. No sighs
or cries,

but only flat
and empty space. A wonder that
the alley's both the city's glen
and fen
of human hurting, hoping, happiness, of luck
and fate, of whispers best to tuck
away, of serenades that scandalize
the skies.

We rise
the same way walls of background windows rise
through this, whose waxing auras pluck
the amber from the sun, from coffee fires struck
back when
no darkling hint had been
in sight that there is more to where we're at
than that.

has almost come, but at this hour lies
below the gray, gray, gray, still stuck
in limbo. Doors re-open; faces slumber-struck
as when
they dreamed, yawn, groan and then
move on. And yet there's life in that,
a gesture at

the waking that
arrives with tones both sharp and flat
of women and of men
as then
the lights come up. The breeze and footfalls are the pluck
and bow of strings. A chord's been struck.
The blue of everyone begins to rise,
to rhapsodize.


ons split: the darkened earth, the lightened skies.
Inside the buildings, dawn peers through
the steam-edged windows, golden-toned and fuzzy blue.
The men
and women, waking then
share all the faults the days reprise.
They know. They rise.

Above the alley, where the metal scaffolds block
the stubborn windows that won't lock,
and through the panes and in the kitchen where
the air
is barely lit
by flame and stove-light over it
a hand removes a pot
but not

the troubled night.
The hand draws back belatedly from light
and heat. Then click. And that
is that.
But always we have fires, always we have stones
and always unrepentant groans,
desires, and burdens that we all despise
and prize.

The dawn
has passed in rain, but now as light is drawn
in windows, water's drawn into
an old French press. The steam rolls up from the dark brew.
And moans.
And rusty cobblestones
outside below are hinting at
the reason that

an emptiness persists. The street is slick
with runoff rain and calls. The trick
is serve the coffee. Do not think about
the doubt.
Of course the press
can't moan and streets can't call, much less
the nights, in tears, depart.
The heart

expels all that:
the rest are echoes back. The flat,
old gray and gray and gray,
is drifting off. The coffee's served. The table's set.
His mind's on what he can't forget
of sky and street, and sighs behind a door
for more.

The French roast shines
as mirrors shine, as it combines
the black and light again
with when
the private worlds reflected there climbed toward the sun
in walls of windows, waking one by one;
and this, the man begins to realize,
then sighs,

"Mornin' Evelynn."
Chuckling softly, "Welcome! Come in,
Redley. Drink your coffee."
sipping, minutes slipping past, he chooses
"Bet you wondered where the muses
left me," as his phrasing to engage her,
assuage her...

Her eyes
reflect the breadth of years, but synthesize
humility and heart, and from
those widest watersheds her wait has come
to when
she asks for more. Just then,
his formless, framed integrity,
his broken city,

that's stirred in that
imagined cup of his, goes flat.
Her glow, it cannot crack.
A blackened
silhouette slips out a window. She can see
her daughter wave. Well, c'est la vie.
Along the alley footprints disappear
from here.

She's misgiven,
tiptoes to her daughter's heaven,
while he makes her coffee,
wipes the sill of prints -- she can guess the ruses,
doesn’t question how the muses
tempt her daughter, or the way to gauge her

The rain,
since past, has found its ground like wisdom, pain;
and what remains is what endures:
The wisdom of decay. She's back. Her husband pours
her this,
this cup of painful bliss,
she wipes her hands and lays them flat
and that is that.

The daughter, flush with youth and drifting like a speck
of pollen, hair around her neck
like petals on a flower, feels just air,
not where
the stem of it
supports her dreams, and not a bit
of parents, garbage men,
or Zen.

Her cries
of ecstasy and grief are only sighs
right now, a breeze she'll gather from
another room and hour, eventually the sum
of when
the dawn and dusk again
reveal in their decay what's at
the end of that.

What she's given
isn't what endures, but Evelynn
has some petals off; she
smiles; she
knows the stem appears because it loses
petals. How the time abuses
daughter-angels. So why gauge her

The girl is at
the time where sense obscures all that
supports her angel's ken.
But when
caught up in thorns and blooms and leaves, we all forget
the wisdom of the stem. We get
conscripted by the press of hands and eyes
and thighs.

It's dim and cold, but here what spring and morning lack
Is what cannot be lured back,
but what might be recaptured. C'est la guerre,
all's fair,
or isn't it?
The wisdom of decay has writ
with unrepentant pen,

Her eyes,
at start of summer romance cannot realize
that she must come,
eventually, to siege a winter castle from
the men
who just withdraw til when
her c'est l'amour is staring at
the scope of that

endless, driven
snow where toute est juste... is given
echoes of Tchaikovski,
As in ears of Frenchmen. Still her heart refuses
everything of why the muses'
taunting trillings played in E-flat Major
age her.

Une brève éclat
de larmes
. It's foreign, yes, but at
the same time known. Though gently
notions of forever after, she
is cut by what she feels to be
decay on which each tear of things relies,
and dies.


Though Evelynn might
evade her husband, Redley's, sight
when slipping out, once she
can see
his smiling face as she slips back, she grins and groans.
He chuckles too and makes no bones
about it, only teases in return,
"My turn."

His eyes,
in-lit with gentle mischief, satirize
her trip, "And welcome! Come in! Glad
you're back; your coffee's warm." He twinkles, "Why so sad?"
They enter
ever so, so tenderly
into a conversation.
That’s their way.

What we're given,
leaves and blooms, the scent of heaven,
fade and cool like coffee.
Daughters hate the cup their mothers drink. It loses
gall with time, but as the muses
dazzle Evelynn's girl, enrapture or enrage her,
they age her.

Now Evelynn's at
a time, half dawn, half evening, that
she hates. O gray, gray, gray,
none stay.
The vacant, inter-tenemental spaces let
our hollow-chest-clad hearts forget
what fragile, skull-clad minds cannot endure:
the pure

is gone.
She's walked from room to vacant room and on,
half hoping, dreading that the madness
of her girl will pass. She’s scared. She knows it’s bad
and groans,
but strict and pious tones
although they’re lofty, show us that
their grasp is flat.

Redley's havin'
none of all that Evelynn
serves him now and scoffs, he
coughs, he
shifts in silence though before he disabuses
what she says. It's right. The muses
leave them each descending. What is left me
of me?

Although they might
have joined before the wedding night,
and nothing gold can stay,
and they
are less, as down the rising count of years they're drawn;
what they loved well, it has not gone
so Mister Clay and Misses Clay adore
it more.

What's gone,
reveals such stuff as dreams were carried on,
but not the dreams, themselves. They flew
like petals on the wind, but once the wind withdrew
the groans
of ecstasy, the groans
of grief -- what's left us is called wise
and makes us rise.

Although we might
caress and bless the petals, spite
and fight the thorns, the day
can't stay.
We still must grasp the stem. The bones
protrude, flesh sags, but something hones
a purpose. It's not only to endure,
but more;

what's gone
reveals the wonder of what's carried on
again. The black reveals the blue;
the door reveals the passage to
diminuendo tones
prepare the longing soul to rise,
to rhapsodize.

Concerto lines
emerge from noise as each combines
with themes that cycle back
to crack
the purpose of decay if ever there was one.
A purpose. Always there is one
that makes the wisdom that was so unclear,

A painful
flash and crashing trash the brain:
the evening has already come.
The day has passed away unnoticed; now, by some
or by some commission,
shows with off-tone clarity,

The stain
of small black sky outside the window pane,
and alley-pool mysterium
that's always there though no one knows where it came from,
in the coffee, this
profound compound eternity
of our city.

The black combines
with fading blue and golden spines
of solar embers tacking
to take us under sail, but as our time is done,
we re-behold, just one
by one, the stars that from the blank austere


A puddle here,
regathers yesterday and year
for everyone.
The sun
has pulled another day out of the fading black
and passing fog. In coming back
it overcomes what darkness undermines
and shines.

The city
in all its gritty
and glorious recurring bliss,
its safe position on the edge of such abyss,
in sum,
remains unsounded: from
the darkness, light we can't explain
and joy from pain.

And so days rise
in full view of decay, reprise
the wants-and-weights, fires-stones,
and moans
of grief and ecstasy, and then emerge in blue
along the alleyway where through
angelic garbage men, again, have drawn
the dawn.

These poor
reflections here: What can they reassure?
It's true that always there are knowns.
They fade. And always, enigmatically, unknowns.
They stay.
We know -- O gray gray gray
a troubled final flash of white
then night.

Last edited by Daniel Kemper; 05-04-2021 at 11:46 AM. Reason: "human voice" to "spoken word"; smooth both "And more"s add preface, fix many nits
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Unread 02-17-2021, 08:15 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
Join Date: May 2007
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 4,589

Daniel, I am impressed with this ambitious piece. I like the Eliotic rhymes and the het met, as well as the scope of the thing.

I confess I am a little overwhelmed.

I do find, in the first section, too much abstraction and telling. "pains" and groans" are telly--I'd rather, masochist that I am, read something that makes me feel pain and makes me groan.

Also, the "and more" rhyme, since it doesn't make good sense to me, seems tacked on, forced.

Still, this piece deserves an "A" for effort. We'll see what other people say.


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Unread 02-17-2021, 09:02 PM
A. Baez's Avatar
A. Baez A. Baez is offline
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Location: Alexandria, VA, USA
Posts: 88

I had the privilege of seeing a preview of this in an earlier but not too different form, so the comments I’m posting here are slightly adapted from the initial ones that I had made in response to that preview. This was before I got explanations of certain things that refined my understanding! I've added a few technical nits.

I don't blame Aaron at all for feeling a bit overwhelmed by this piece. But it's rife with rewards for the reader who forges forward: a rich, intense lyricism and a mesmerizing grandeur that inexorably, sure-footedly build on themselves, word by word, line by line. To your great credit, there was no point in my reading of this lengthy work that I grew tired of it or wished to move on! I have not been able to say the same of many other long poetic works that I've read, including those by masters. Instead, I quickly became an organic part of the composition, it seemed, so that leaving it did not even feel like a realistic option. When I copied this poem to a Word document with the thought of printing it out, I was astonished to find that it was a full 20 pages long! I had estimated it to be only four.

Remarkably too, although when I scrutinized some of the phrases for solid intellectual meaning, I sometimes found such meaning slithering between and even through my fingers, at no point did this elusiveness strike me as a reflection of lazy uncertainty or inexactitude on the part of you, the writer. Rather, I found myself perceiving meaning transmitted to me on a deeper level--a combination of literal meaning and the non-literal meaning of feeling and suggestion, and this way of experiencing the poem did not even require much effort of will on my part. It seemed instinctive. Having just read through this poem the second time, I still cannot really articulate what it is about, particularly in terms of how the different parts relate to each other, and yet the impression it has left me with is profound. The poem's ineffable quality almost seems to constitute its greatness. At each read, I've found myself reveling in the ample loose space that you've given each reader to divine their own experience, and the way that you've done this without sacrificing the poem's power.

I'm also highly enthusiastic about your unusual, intricate, highly effective rhythm and rhyme scheme, which packs a powerful punch. Despite the complexity of these elements, by and large they feel highly natural, even inevitable--an especially remarkable feat for such a lengthy and thematically complicated work.

This poem's mood, its interplay of exalted and mundane language and subject matter, as well as specific elements of its subject matter, continually reminded me of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." As in that work, the interweaving of contrasting "high" and "low" elements is artless and unnerving; I found myself thrilled to experience the mythic above, within, through, and beyond the everyday:

this cup of painful bliss,
a single day, a three-room flat
You open with a storytelling that's intense, almost biblical in its archetypal imagery, and throughout, I love your bold use of generalizations and archetypes that universalize and exalt this poem, making it, I'm sure, relatable in a unique sense for each respective reader--rather than, as is so much more common with poetic generalizations, fuzzing the reader's mind into vagueness and apathy. I do appreciate Aaron’s observations about the poem’s abstractions and their arguable telliness, but somehow, the seesaw managed to tip in the other direction for me. It helps that each passage of abstraction is followed by lines rife with concrete, specific images.

the withering looks of those they serve? Who gives a fuck?
Undoubtedly in large part because of my own prejudice--but a prejudice that I think is justified--I must say that I found the particularly coarse language of the last word at odds with the spirit of the rest of the poem. I realize that you've a need for rhyme here and that by the time this line arrives, you've limited your options, but I thirst for a different solution. I do find it interesting that in this "Exposition" section and certain places thereafter, you introduce the "uck" sound as a rhyme repeated over multiple stanzas, which, especially because of its roughness, emphasizes your descent into mundane particularity from the generalized sweep of the "Introduction." It's nice, too, how you choose two rhymes ("en" and "ize") to carry over from the end of this section to the following "Development." There's a great reprise in the latter, too, of elements from the poem's first stanza, and many similar reprises occur from here on out, all of which lend a powerful rhetorical cohesiveness to the work and none of which feel "too much" to me. To my mind, this is incredible testimony for your uncommon sixth sense of "rightness," on full display in this poem in this and many other ways. I also love your near-rhymes between the "Exposition" and the "Development" (pluck etc., block) and those that emerge partway through the latter (e.g. coffee/softly, misgiven/heaven). They seem to emphasize the often-awkward connection between the "high" and the "low."

This is a particularly beautiful image:

The daughter, flush with youth and drifting like a speck
of pollen, hair around her neck
like petals on a flower, feels just air,
not where
the stem of it
supports her dreams,
Interesting echoes of your rose poem here, continuing more explicitly with:

caught up in thorns and blooms and leaves, we all forget
the wisdom of the stem and get
conscripted by the press of hands and eyes
and thighs.
And wow, what a fantastic imagistic expression of meaning in those last two lines!

There are so many beautiful phrases throughout this poem that for me to cite them all would be tantamount to quoting the entire piece.

A few nits:

In the title, "for" and the first "the" should not be capitalized.

A troubled night
drew back belatedly, the light,
all gray and gray and gray,
though always there are fires, always there are stones
Syntactically, this doesn’t hold together. What are you trying to say? I can picture this making sense if you replaced the comma after "belatedly" with a semicolon and then removed the next two commas, replacing the second one with a period and beginning a new sentence with "but" to replace "though."

I can see Aaron’s point about “and more” for both places in which it occurs.

Em dashes should be written as either a single dash with spaces on each side, or a double dash (double hyphen).

We rise
the same away walls of background windows rise
I think you mean “way” here, not “away.”

and through the panes and in the kitchen where,
the air
No comma is needed after “where.”

But as the man begins to realize,
he sighs,
Realize what? This verb requires a direct object.

left me," as his phrasing to engage her
assuage her...
Since you haven't employed end stops as substitutes for punctuation anywhere else in this poem, a comma after the first “her" would be logical.

his 'formless, framed integrity',
his 'broken city',
The commas should be inside the quote marks here.

and what remains, is what endures:
No need for a comma here.

I do feel that all the French phrases should be italicized and their first words not capitalized when they appear mid-line. I had thought them curious and even a bit trite, but I have been provided an explanation of them by you…I’ll be interested to see if others make this connection or if they remain mystified as I did!

hollow-chest clad hearts
I think you need another hyphen between “chest” and “clad.” This is a curious turn of phrase, as is the following “skull-clad minds”—like Hopkins with a twist!

half hoping, dreading that the madness,
of her girl will pass.
No comma is needed after “madness.”

remains unsounded: From
“from” should not be capitalized.

On my first reading, I thought that the last stanza was a bit anticlimactic in the way it feathers out into generality, eschewing any direct reference to all the meat and sinew of the piece. However, on my second reading, I was able to experience this stanza as rising back to the bird’s eye view from which I first entered this work. Still, initial impressions count, perhaps more than any others, so you might think about this area. A little judicious "help" to the reader in the form of the most minimally necessary verbal "bridge" could probably exponentially improve this critical send-off.

Overall, I stand in awe of the poetic stamina that was able to see this magnum opus through with focus and sustained power from beginning to end, despite all its varied elements. Not to overstate things, but nits aside, I feel that this is a TRULY GREAT POEM, a work of the highest order.

Last edited by A. Baez; 02-18-2021 at 12:04 PM.
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Unread 02-18-2021, 06:31 AM
conny conny is offline
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Location: UK
Posts: 1,843

Blimey, it is long.

i didn't make it to the end, but will at some point.
the blandness of the rhyme pairs in the first couple of stanzas
really doesn't help imo. In fact those first 3 could probably go
without much being lost. i'm not really sure they have anything
to say.

back in a while.
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Unread 02-18-2021, 07:52 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,889

Daniel, I never thought I’d say this but — The wordiness of this is blissful. I enjoy the spoonfuls as they are fed and never get my fill. I have no “deep-end” thoughts to suggest you do anything different, but that’s just me and who I am and what I do and don’t look for. I could be as exhaustive in my praise as A. Baez but will instead just sit on what I’ve said already and go back and read it some more — Pick a spot and read. It’s word play in the highest, most ambitious sense. For me. Humble reader.

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Unread 02-18-2021, 08:36 AM
conny conny is offline
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Location: UK
Posts: 1,843

I actually think S1 should go. Starting at dawn should be enough.
those rhyme pairs just seem too bland.

In a poem this length we could be at it for weeks if we get down to
anything too technical. I like the tone of the voice very much. though,
for a 25 minute live’s gonna have to be a real hum-dinger to
keep the audience on-side.
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Unread 02-18-2021, 09:35 AM
A. Baez's Avatar
A. Baez A. Baez is offline
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Location: Alexandria, VA, USA
Posts: 88

Conny, interesting--I read the rhymes in S1 as powerful in their primal simplicity, not bland. I guess it's a matter of taste! I also feel that this stanza is serviceful in creating the sense of a grand, symbolic, almost mythic opening sweep, which lends a sense of universal significance to the whole piece. In contrast, beginning with S2 would simply set the tone of "a day in the life" fiction. While this poem certainly arcs down into that level, it seems to me that it is about more than that.
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Unread 02-18-2021, 11:01 AM
conny conny is offline
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Location: UK
Posts: 1,843

well, fair enough.

but, i have to tell you, if i'm at the recital
and i get

all gray and gray and gray..

annonced like its some kind of mythically profound thing to say,
i'll be off to the bar, bar, bar.
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Unread 02-18-2021, 01:13 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 5,853

Daniel, a mighty undertaking! I’ve had time to read through only once but the rhythm throughout makes for a smooth reading and the rhymes, often very clever, carry the music. I like the framing in three parts over a single day; especially like “The wisdom of the stem” trope throughout as part of the overall organic metaphor; the sly reminders of other works about entropy (nothing gold can stay) and loss (the "stuff of dreams”) and other allusions. I like also the dignity of work, the responsibility of marriage and parenting, and the optimism implicit in the triadic organic metaphor. Will read it again.

A tiny, possible nit: "past" in "Development" S12; is it meant to be passed, or is a pun on past/passed?

Last edited by RCL; 02-18-2021 at 02:45 PM.
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Unread 02-19-2021, 05:25 AM
conny conny is offline
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Location: UK
Posts: 1,843

finished it.

sorry to say, but while i appreciate some of the city-scape imagery i
can't help thinking this over reaches itself. a lot of it is just a bit
of a ramble round all sorts of rather metaphysical sounding
stuff, most of which is just not very insightful.

all designed to maybe make sound-sense to the poet, but
bamboozle the audience with metaphysical sounding language,
flashing past with little explanation. If its only meant to
be music, then, well, fine. but...

as said above, what i really get from S1/2 is just that light
rhymes with bright, gray with today, stones with groans,
door with more, etc. all of which i know already. it's just
that it doesn't really tell me much. as only sounds, fine, but i
want more than that from a poem. or less in fact. the real
details i like quite a bit and make the thing come alive.

i do appreciate ethereal music is really very, very difficult.

and as its the deep end, this guy was the master:

from Maud, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

But the broad light glares and beats,
And the shadow flits and fleets
And will not let me be;
And I loathe the squares and streets,
And the faces that one meets,
Hearts with no love for me:
Always I long to creep
Into some still cavern deep,
There to weep, and weep, and weep
My whole soul out to thee.

Last edited by conny; 02-19-2021 at 05:34 AM.
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