I hoped that he would love me,
And he has kissed my mouth,
But I am like a stricken bird
That cannot reach the south.
For though I know he loves me,
To-night my heart is sad;
His kiss was not so wonderful
As all the dreams I had.
by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [one of us]
There was something wrong with her; that much was clear.
She ran around in circles, meowing or mooing,
the yellowjackets a cloud in the sun. Men in black suits
hovered in doorways, dodging shadows;
a safe kept locked at all times in her house.
The basement glowed and ticked, and the children
there emerged damaged. The furniture was cracked
and pasted back together – even the flowers
in their blooms knew soon they would be plowed under,
left as rubble. What chance did she have, even then,
did she know how her future was already written,
her roots stunted and sick like those dogwoods
with their grafted limbs? Someone kept stealing
their dogs, cars arrived in the night and disappeared again
before morning. Even though their strawberries
were so sweet, even though their daffodils nodded
cheerfully to us, we could see: she would never be one of us.
by Jeannine Hall Gailey, first published in The Journal, and is part of the new book, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter.
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Editor’s Note: The narrative in this poem is just slightly askew—the reader can follow the thread of the narrator’s thoughts, but the images contribute to a sense of strangeness that underscores the neighborhood’s rejection of the daughter.
From leafless branches etching crooked lines
against the sky—scars coldly cut across
a bloodless cheek—some poets weave designs
of desolation, stories laced with loss.
They find in webs of winter-blackened limbs
the shapes of emptiness and elegies—
but those who see the stuff of requiems
miss what another eye obliquely sees:
the rugged grace of living filigree
that scrawls a promise on the open air,
a craggy silhouette of constancy
that tacitly rebuts boot-deep despair.
Though darkly drawn, these etchings may impart
the vital signs at winter’s still-warm heart.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: This sonnet is so perfectly constructed that the volta at the end of the poem slips into the mind quietly, but with great effect.
. . . . . . . .A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads…
. . . . . . . .Jem, To Kill a Mockingbird
Every avenue a snowy dead end
we pause midway to note the damage
in felled trees and wires. Windows glitter
with frost so thick, no one sees
in or out, and the mountains at the corners
where two streets meet
halt all traffic. There’s little to say on your return
yet we don’t mourn the steamy days of summer, where
goldfinches twirled the humid air,
dove through the hydrangeas for shade. Heat
kept us distracted in its foggy mornings,
when sweat was a length of silk thread
down your chest, calling to be spun.
Our laughter’s risen and fled, blurred the sky
to a beautiful oblivion, and we watch juncos,
puffed twice their size,
huddle on the fallen branches. We are past
complaining about a distance
we can’t change, and the wind carries
all our frozen words to the river, where they cling
to cattails stiff in ice.
It’s impossible to go further, so we stand
blind with snow, sun and silver,
our warm breath ghosting behind us.
by Marybeth Rua-Larsen, first published in Poetry and Art: an exhibition of contemporary poetry and responsive art
Editor’s Note: This poem’s imagery combines the memory of summer with the glittering abandon of winter’s icy landscape. The best part is that it isn’t just a collection of pretty scenes—rather, the poem gives us an emotional framework where even our breath is part of the beauty.
For Ed, Who Lost JD
I drove the familiar tonight,
Berwyn to Lancaster, rutted route 30
through the once-nothing
studded with light, now-smaller fields
rotten with manure and heaped grass—
where once we raced your dad’s Renault
in the small hours, adrenalized
with pushing the meager limits
of our age and time. You sang
Johnny Cash with an abandon
I still cannot muster, and while I distrust
memory, I know these fields were empty,
that all I passed tonight—the halogen
gas stations, the glittering cul-de-sacs
like landing pads guttering in the dark—
all I passed had grown anew. We are rootless,
having moved from every place we ever lived,
now making some new place with people
we could not foresee, who came to love us,
awkward as we were and yet are,
wearing paths around us as your dog did,
as I read in your letter, who you had
to put down. I started at the line
you wrote, how his path in the yard remains,
though his feet no longer tell the dirt
of his domain. It will take years for grass to return,
and I think of you and that dog, you I have known
for so long, how you carry your depth
of hurt and care, how you hold tight
those you love, how you, without thinking,
give in to abandon, give in to what love
of other places, times, and things demands.
But now, I have decided to stop the cruelty
of trying to understand, and instead hold out
my hands, to gauge the weight of your grief.
by Gabriel Welsch
Editor’s note: The line breaks determine where to pause in this poem littered with long, conversational sentences. Is this a dirge? Possibly, though the narrator’s friend is not dead. The dog, though, carries a weight of grief and meaning not easily forgotten.
Under the bare branches shaking their last leaves,
increments of light never reach here.
Two barn swallows are soundless in miles of heat.
They are where the river once cut across.
Not from the church choir
they are too parched to practice for.
They have folded wings into starched clothes
like prayer hands etched from plowing.
They begin gliding for no reason.
Maybe they are trying to stir the stilled air.
Maybe this is why the miles are soundless,
why singing just doesn’t help anymore.
by Martin Willitts Jr.
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Editor’s Note: This poem makes its point indirectly, using non-literal imagery. As someone who has often watched barn swallows flying, the suggested reasons for their behavior appealed to me.
Tide and Terrain
(Long Beach, Plymouth, MA)
I didn’t know that it would be high tide;
I never check the charts. I felt the need
for salt air and drove east to walk a wide
soft swath of gold dust—but twice-daily greed
for territory had provoked the bay
to occupy the shore right to the rocks,
the beach now intermittent, and my way
a mix of grainy mud and granite blocks.
Compelled by this terrain to improvise,
I strolled through water, then on well-soaked sand,
then on the jetty. As the shoreline sifted
itself, I did the same, my feet and eyes
adjusting as each moment made its stand
against the last, then drowned as power shifted.
from Autumn Sky Poetry 23 — by Jean Kreiling
photo by Jean Kreiling