Ruins by Peg Duthie


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.
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.