Uncontained by Peg Duthie

Uncontained

The minks are purses refusing to close
though what they contain will kill us:
the candies, coins, and Kleenex handed
about by mommies, aunties, and grannies
who will not—cannot—conceive or connect
how their presence in the pews
could possibly aid the Angel of Death

and why indeed should they heed that conclusion
having themselves been raised on ever-afters
perforated with heal-all kisses,
not to mention magic slippers
never getting tugged from feet by mud
en route and around inadequate graves.
None of them—nor the deacons or preachers
nor the so-called reality shows—
talk about how dead bodies leak
and fart and darken into hues
not approved by Disney or Dior.
Early on Black Friday I saw
the Angel of Death grinning broadly
at row upon row of shopping carts:
visions of people merrily crowding
one another into plastic bags
danced in that herald’s eyes,
speckled with the gleam of yet more carts
becoming makeshift mobile trunks
for many more about to lose their homes—
more for the Angel to harvest faster
than we can preserve in time.
Tennessee clay may not be as light
as Danish loam, but it won’t matter
how much our latter-day Pharisees
try to cover the corpses or tracks:
there will be no masking the stench
of all they let perish during their watch.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is so beautifully contained within the lines that the shocking emotional impact sneaks up on the reader with every enjambment.

Resort by Peg Duthie

Resort

The camera I might never truly fix
huffs out dust from folds and dials and crease
every time I fiddle with settings not yet figured out.
I point the lens today toward a sky
as blue as a coat I hummingbird-stroked
two springtimes ago in San Francisco
knowing it would forever be
well beyond my means, my reach,
yet even today my fingertips yearn
to retrace its seams, as if some magic
could transfer itself into the skin
I’d put into the game of making things right
if only I could be sure of not wasting time

though here we are with so much broken—
so much to study and to show and tell,
no matter what’s in hand or where we start.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: This poem begins in one place and meanders to another before ultimately ending up back at the beginning, but with the knowledge to appreciate the journey.

Thrice and once, ’tis time, ’tis time by Peg Duthie

Thrice and once, ’tis time, ’tis time

This running out of beds was in the crystal ball
we gazed at in the spring—the numbers spelled it out—
bodies piled in freezer trucks long before the fall

and even then some knew (and said) how things would stall
along the way to safety. People acting out
crowded spring break headlines, but it seemed that fall

was far enough away that we could tame it all—
that science could persuade, that Dr. Fauci’s clout
could outpunch red belligerence, could run the ball

past the fakes and cheating, make the expert call
to zip around the screens and tanks, to carry out
moves planned not on wishfulness but the actual fall

of bodies, how they tilt and spin and bleed. Look, gall
is neither brace nor antiseptic. You can shout
until you—we—are out of air, and still the ball

and prom and coming-home will not be safe at all.
This spike won’t be the last. There’s always room for doubt
but room within the ICUs? No crystal ball
can spin beds out of straw. Will we survive the fall?

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: This haunting villanelle proves once again that poetry is not dead. In fact, it is timely, and always time for the type of art that documents humanity’s truth.

What I’ve Been Trying to Tell You About Dancing by Peg Duthie

What I’ve Been Trying to Tell You About Dancing

This business of bodies too often makes
a woman shrivel up and shrink
instead of claiming all of the space,
all of the stage, all of her life.
I didn’t learn to unclench until I fled
the slippers of glass, invisible but ever
present, pinching, shredding the curves
of my feet into raw, reddened wounds.
I’ve heard of tunnels that aren’t haunted
by trains or wrecks or absent light.
I’ve heard of traipsing toward a happy ending.
Last night you spoke to me of a princess
who not only slept on top of the pea
but skipped it across the moat, and married
not the prince—who’d want such a queen
as one’s mother-in-law—but the fish who’d gobbled
up the tiny globe, which somehow broke the spell
that had him swimming around a castle
instead of standing on its parapets. That happens, I know,
in ballads and ballets: limbs leaning into
whatever the story needs, however unnatural
its shape or color or trails. It’s often unearthly
and sometimes gorgeous and glorious
but what I crave at the end of the night
is a welcoming bed, sans litmus-test-by-legume:
to close my eyes and rest within steady
arms, or fins, or wings—we both spreading out
as safety and stillness slide us into sleep.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this poem is the perfect foil for its fairy tale imagery, at once making it feel mythological and dreamy, yet also grounding the reading in what is real and true.

Vinegar by Peg Duthie

Vinegar

The screen shows me “cù,”
which my Pinyin-resistant eyes
insist on reading as “coo.”
I press a button. “Tsooh!”
the recording declares, the voice
bright as the mirror I scrubbed this morning
with yesterday’s paper, marveling yet again
at how its letters did not melt
from paper to glass. My brain

is as stubborn as a mirror, refusing
to hold the Mandarin words
I’ve tried to imprint on it,
to wear the language of my eyes
as easily as a scarf or a tan.
But sometimes a syllable
swims out from the past—
my mother saying “tsoh”
while cooking supper.

Who knows which accent
coated her rendition—
Tainan Hokkien,
peasant Mandarin,
cradle Japanese
or off-the-plane in-jokes?

It’s all in the hotpot—
this life of letting things simmer
before I speak. Of knowing how truth
is so often sensed as sour or harsh
and yet so utterly necessary.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: This poem’s imagery is lightly applied, but skillfully utilized as it ushers the reader from one thing (learning a language) to another (a realization).

A calm, fixed mind by Peg Duthie

A calm, fixed mind

I know the friends and cousins cannot stand my ways—
my cleaning gears and baseboards no one will inspect.
They call my love of order a crimp upon my days,
seeing my routines as relics of a sect,
of Christian tyranny—cannot fathom how
anyone of passion could willingly submit
to reins and regulations. “There is no time but now”
the motto of new rebels. No Top 40 hit
will celebrate my kind—our plodding path
does not contain the arcs that make hearts beat faster
but martyrs don’t live past The Ends. I’d rather do the math
and live on in the flesh than immortalized in plaster.
My tending of minutiae leads to what I crave—
my saved-up shekels equal license to be brave.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: This sonnet is a delight for those of us addicted to order.

Hot Yoga Chaff by Peg Duthie

Hot Yoga Chaff

Within the heat that some call infernal,
the wishful teachings make me grind my teeth:
“You’ll burn a thousand calories, sweat out toxins”—
I strive to press the blather away
the way a chef distills what’s worth preserving

from what was both the source and in the way
of succulence and essence. Trivia, tocsins—
I press it all to and through the floor, seeking beneath
my soles and palms true knowing: that kernel
of self that weighs not who’s deserving.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium

Editor’s Note: Clever rhymes, meter, and a startlingly apt homophone elevate this poem from floor to enlightenment.

From the archives – Reading the Sky — 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.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, March 7, 2017 — by Peg Duthie

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

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.