I don’t want to write another nature poem but I can no longer look at TV news and I have to look somewhere by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

I don’t want to write another nature poem but I can no longer look at TV news
and I have to look somewhere

Lozenges of hay bales dry in the field, now a bed of nails underfoot
I write but how will that help put a bowl of food before a hungry child I saw on CNN
when my deer and skunks eat better than some citizens of Earth,
and when the compost bowl is full of scraps, peels, heels, rinds
too slightly bruised to eat, and they rain on the compost pile,
do the raccoons realize their luck, why there can be six little ones
rolling out of the ground cover like tiny clowns as this land tries to look
like a forest so the deer can choose between red bud and rose of Sharon

but some citizens have only bad options: poison oak or poison ivy, trying
to make senselessness into sense, last week one junco dying at the birdbath
tendered me more than a nation suffering inside a flat screen, so I find it easier
and less dehumanizing to spend hours training the wisteria leader to curl
around the porch lattice and understand that larch hold up two fingers
when they thirst, oh my grandmother’s roses got better care than immigrants,
dressed them in tar paper against the cold and fed them all summer
they way her grandmother fed hobos during the Depression, but that generous spirit dwindles;

baby crows squawk in the shallows, our reflection in the little lake is really its mucky bottom,
life smothered down there for lack of air, but as long as sun sparkles from little white caps
on summer days, we can forget the other worlds, the woods persist though elms fall
and bees are all but extinct then what will sweeten our smug coffees
and should they be easier to swallow or should we drink bitterly on our patios,
some shrug toward the shriveling world, still so surprising with damsel flies,
toads, lightning bugs and volunteers.

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: Guilt and despair inhabit the voice of the narrator because survival sometimes means looking away (but not forgetting).

[Apologies for the double post: I missed the title in the email. Bad editor!]

From the archives – Bottomless Lake by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Bottomless Lake

It didn’t matter which one, they were a chain of lakes
in crooks of dells and around every sharp curve.
The lake was bottomless so when we swam we knew
it was for keeps but the water held us and let us play
in it and only once did I feel a moment of fear. Big Star
or White Fish or Podunk or Half Moon. The lake was dark
and rolling and it was glass and it was still bottomless
and cold, spring-fed jets of ice we swam through and sought
on the hottest days, bottomless yet we ran aground and
lost the pin on the motor and had to row home. What is
the pin? How could we lose it? There was nothing
the bottomless lake would not accept. I have seen it swallow
a piano, a truck. Condoms, not fresh, washed ashore.
It was the ocean because we had never seen the ocean.
The little sun and closer moon rose over our bottomless lake,
so bottomless we told it everything and there was room for more.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, September 15, 2015 — by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Math Anxiety by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Math Anxiety

I didn’t want anything to do with zero
The hole in the middle could swallow a life
There had to be at least a one in every answer

I counted to a hundred by 11’s until I divorced my hand
which learned to make the circles on the page
but the presence of absence was overwhelming

If two trains left the station at the same time
traveling in opposite directions
I would be abandoned again

Oh why was the math book splitting us up!

Unreal numbers seemed like memories of my mother
slightly beyond my comprehension
just over that line that divides the problem from the solution

Negative numbers were what dead people turned
and would I someday be older than JFK
and did that last forever
if there were to be a heaven and if I went there?

Children lost their oranges beginning in elementary school
and we just watched them

Jane, Jane, you forgot to count yourself, said Dick

Baby birds fell out of nests
How many are left, children?
Write the number in the space.

I put my head down on my desk
mourning the dead sparrows
their little mouths open and crammed with zero

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: The jagged lines and disconnected imagery convey a sense of unbalance that perfectly describes the sensation of anxiety.

From the archives – Bottomless Lake by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

IMG_5144

Bottomless Lake

It didn’t matter which one, they were a chain of lakes
in crooks of dells and around every sharp curve.
The lake was bottomless so when we swam we knew
it was for keeps but the water held us and let us play
in it and only once did I feel a moment of fear. Big Star
or White Fish or Podunk or Half Moon. The lake was dark
and rolling and it was glass and it was still bottomless
and cold, spring-fed jets of ice we swam through and sought
on the hottest days, bottomless yet we ran aground and
lost the pin on the motor and had to row home. What is
the pin? How could we lose it? There was nothing
the bottomless lake would not accept. I have seen it swallow
a piano, a truck. Condoms, not fresh, washed ashore.
It was the ocean because we had never seen the ocean.
The little sun and closer moon rose over our bottomless lake,
so bottomless we told it everything and there was room for more.

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, September 15, 2015 — by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Ode to a Bedside Lamp by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

distressed lamp

Ode to a Bedside Lamp

Oh alabaster lamp from the ritzy side of the road
in a pile of exquisite crap next to an original
Frida Kahlo, your light casts its crazy shadows
at angles spiders catch to read by. Burnt oranges
and dead roses enliven the circumference of your
shade. Although you asked for fishnet stockings,
these orange Clementine bags will have to do.
Do not try to dictate your shade style or I will
dust not your base. Sun and moon to my room,
source of barely heated molecules, snap of your
switch begins and ends my days. Lamp, you watch
over tapping fingers and cats purring on the printer.
And being alabaster, for the right person, you make
a convincing weapon.

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: The second line sold this poem (“exquisite crap” is an entirely unexpected image). The conversation is entirely one-sided, yet if one squints a bit, one can almost hear the lamp’s reply in an acerbic, no nonsense tone of voice.

Photo by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Bottomless Lake by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Bottomless Lake

It didn’t matter which one, they were a chain of lakes
in crooks of dells and around every sharp curve.
The lake was bottomless so when we swam we knew
it was for keeps but the water held us and let us play
in it and only once did I feel a moment of fear. Big Star
or White Fish or Podunk or Half Moon. The lake was dark
and rolling and it was glass and it was still bottomless
and cold, spring-fed jets of ice we swam through and sought
on the hottest days, bottomless yet we ran aground and
lost the pin on the motor and had to row home. What is
the pin? How could we lose it? There was nothing
the bottomless lake would not accept. I have seen it swallow
a piano, a truck. Condoms, not fresh, washed ashore.
It was the ocean because we had never seen the ocean.
The little sun and closer moon rose over our bottomless lake,
so bottomless we told it everything and there was room for more.

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: Surreal narrative drives the movement of this poem. It defies easy explication, but if one suspends the need for understanding, it’s easy to let the lines and imagery carry one from pragmatism to spirituality.