Reading the Sky by Peg Duthie

Reading the Sky

for Mary Alexandra Agner

To seek eclipses–to prize things in the way,
the partial views and full-bore speculation
about what transits mean, what they mean to say

and whether to put stock in such a day
thick with pseudo-expert conversation–
is that what we yearn for, when we weigh

sunshine vs. frost, leaven stubborn clay
with compost and peat? Will germination
greet us before we’re ready? Who can say

they haven’t taken shortcuts, tried to stay
time’s ruthless march toward annihilation,
and learned that even when there’s will, the way

is sometimes not to be? But one can sway
and strut through shadows too. The rotation
of the earth can be measured, scholars say,

by notes on BCE eclipses. May
there be more data, more observation,
stamina past slurs, high roads past “My Way”-

riddled swamps. When I lay me down to pray,
“Deliver us, Lord, from obfuscation,”
it’s shorthand for a list as long as day.

I long for happy endings–that to pay
one’s dues pans out, that skilled navigation
will steer us out of darkness, lead the way
to answers true as stars, that save the day.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: This is a quasinelle (fortunately, the poet tells me these things, because I had not heard of this form). This poem’s repetition is skillfully handled, leading the reader through the poem instead of into dead ends.

Epiphany: Rudolph Doing the Camel by Peg Duthie

Epiphany: Rudolph Doing the Camel

On the pocked and blistered lawn
at 17th and Garland,
the hearty inflatable Santa
has softened into corpse pose,
and Rudolph too is in an asana,
front hooves to the back,
parachute-silk-seamed reindeer hips
open to the sky.

It’s been the kind of winter
where everyone’s been trying
to catch their too-short
tail-tangled breath:
even Rudolph’s nose-so-bright
is oh-so-dull in the dishwater daze
of after-Christmas eons-til-Easter blues.

The wind nudges Santa into “fixed firm.”
That’s when we spot the kid in a hoodie
curled beneath the nylon knees

as if he’d fallen
right through Santa’s lap.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: Holidays’ end signals the deflation of merriment, and this poem pokes fun at our arbitrary calendar with great imagery, but also an undercurrent of sadness.

From the archives – O Clouds Unfold by Peg Duthie

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O Clouds Unfold

for Marissa Lingen and Elise Matthesen

The month has started under water —
too much to shove at, too much to swallow:
sprawling projects, tax returns …
To wield a spear like an Amazon,
to hammer fears into a gleaming bow —
these aren’t skills I list on my present

résumé, but what the present
needs is something like. From the water,
hauling my soggy rear back into the bow,
gasping out what I couldn’t help but swallow —
it isn’t pretty, training to be an Amazon.
I’m told such pangs will yield happy returns

but some days I think of all the sad returns
during my warehouse days — this unwanted present,
that unhelped self. My wishlist at Amazon
changes by the week, like flavors of water
nestled in a sales rep’s cooler. Swallow
this magic pill; now make your bow

in the Wonderland court. Tied up with a bow,
neatly wrapped — low risk, low returns.
I know that, but the truth’s still tough to swallow
when long-steeped weariness outweighs the present.
I have to remember how petrels pierce the water,
scaring off sharks with the skill of an Amazon.

I’ve never longed to sail down the Amazon
but then I never expected each night to bow
my head with such thanks for running water,
schooled by floods and droughts. The returns
of every field, I now regard as a present.
I’ve watched dying people, how they can’t even swallow

the thinnest dribble of water. Oh, when the swallow
nests again by the bell, will we see the Amazon
gliding into harbor as well? Will it present
a dazzlement of gems — the gold-bright bow,
a garnet-studded scabbard? What returns
isn’t always what was cast upon the water —

when I dream, men in swallow-tails
bow to Amazons as their equals. But waking
returns me back to the present — to the water.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, February 23, 2015 — by Peg Duthie

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Turning, Turning, We Come Out by Peg Duthie

Turning, Turning, We Come Out

During the anthem
my mind incessantly
knots itself over
the pose I failed
to hold during yoga

and through the next class
my mind keeps revisiting
how I ran out of breath
while singing
the anthem

but on the way home
I chant and croon
to frost-singed mums:
it’s not yet late
it’s not too late

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: I am amused by how clearly this poem captures the frustration of the task at hand. It seems that whatever one is supposed to do is not the thing the brain will focus on at the proper time.

Ruins by Peg Duthie

Ruins

It was not the rain
that crushed each car
against the others
like petals.

It was not the rain
that peeled the paper
off the walls
of my living room

though yes, the rain sped up
the bloombursts and showers
of shattering glass

and yes, it hastened
the vine-trails of cracks
across my graying ceilings.

A teacher tells me
about a clumsy scribe.
Everything—
bedsheets,
dishes,
sandals—
nothing escaped
the slap of accidents.

To calm myself
in front of blank pages,
I count the wrinkles
that must have clouded
the brow of a silent wife.

It is not the rain
that scrambles the script
between your ambition
and where it has driven you.
It’s not the rain
that has smeared my lines
into half-erased games
haunting a sidewalk.

The rain is at once
both needle and eraser—

everything an accident
waiting to be watered.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: This poem uses allegory to describe the ruins of a relationship. Storms happen. So do accidents. The imagery and narrative explain how these things can be personal.

O Clouds Unfold by Peg Duthie

O Clouds Unfold

for Marissa Lingen and Elise Matthesen

The month has started under water —
too much to shove at, too much to swallow:
sprawling projects, tax returns …
To wield a spear like an Amazon,
to hammer fears into a gleaming bow —
these aren’t skills I list on my present

résumé, but what the present
needs is something like. From the water,
hauling my soggy rear back into the bow,
gasping out what I couldn’t help but swallow —
it isn’t pretty, training to be an Amazon.
I’m told such pangs will yield happy returns

but some days I think of all the sad returns
during my warehouse days — this unwanted present,
that unhelped self. My wishlist at Amazon
changes by the week, like flavors of water
nestled in a sales rep’s cooler. Swallow
this magic pill; now make your bow

in the Wonderland court. Tied up with a bow,
neatly wrapped — low risk, low returns.
I know that, but the truth’s still tough to swallow
when long-steeped weariness outweighs the present.
I have to remember how petrels pierce the water,
scaring off sharks with the skill of an Amazon.

I’ve never longed to sail down the Amazon
but then I never expected each night to bow
my head with such thanks for running water,
schooled by floods and droughts. The returns
of every field, I now regard as a present.
I’ve watched dying people, how they can’t even swallow

the thinnest dribble of water. Oh, when the swallow
nests again by the bell, will we see the Amazon
gliding into harbor as well? Will it present
a dazzlement of gems — the gold-bright bow,
a garnet-studded scabbard? What returns
isn’t always what was cast upon the water —

when I dream, men in swallow-tails
bow to Amazons as their equals. But waking
returns me back to the present — to the water.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: The first line of this poem convinced me to read it, and then the sestina form drew me into the narrative. The poem skillfully presents multiple possibilities with one voice and only six words: Amazon, water, bow, present, swallow, returns.