Thursday, December 3, 2009

Heading for the River

On these walls ancestors gather—
wasp-waisted women,
one dark-hatted man—
staring down the years,
suspicious eyes, cat-slitted.
The young girl in white moves
in sepia pantomime—
now with bonnet and beau, next
with babe in arms, on and on
to the final funereal waltz.
A formal dance of daguerreotypes
whose names
even our parents
have forgotten.

      They whisper
in my dreams—
incessant crickets
cracking the quiet:
We wait for you.

You can chase down morning,
wave the thin red light of reason,
secure as anyone can be
in an Einsteinian now
but who do we really fool
with these bits of paper
and the ink poured out as black
as the corruption of oil
on doomed water?

        In the end we
will still be eaten by the dark,
left to sleep with stones and shadows
that lick slender fingers,
pull at the treacle moon high
above that Stygian flow where passage
is only two pennies for the asking.

this poem was originally published in The Coachella Review Fall 2009

The House is Always White

I still think of those houses, with their white
sideboards, thin wooden tables, the glass in the windows
beveled, reflecting clouds. But there was water

in the basement. It came up over wire shelves loaded
with canned goods, bottles of bleach, and discarded
board games of our childhood. We could no longer see

the workbench, only wrenches swaying like silver seaweed
on their pegboards, clinking underwater like the bells
of a drowned city. There were rows and rows

of hooks as well; but no matter where we hung keys,
they turned to rust. Even our carpets were
made of moss. Men came, took apart the stairs

and drained it all. When it was gone—we, too, moved.
The new house was also white: big rooms, more furniture,
quite luxurious, except for plates and cups that had

cracked, not much, a little chippage at the edges. I was
embarrassed and could not offer the salad around.
Never mind, the aunts said, while men carried in new lumber,

several yards of pipe: In case this one floods, too. No one
would stay. Some of the family had reserved hotels, though I
wouldn’t hear it. We have many beds, I told them.

And we did. Nice, if a bit worn. All with coverlets
of watered silk, sea green, storm cloud dark. Still,
even the children left without saying goodbye.

this poem was originally published in The Coachella Review Fall 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Penelope Gives Instructions on Weaving and Men

First you shear the sheep.
You’ll need lots of wool, so that men
can’t follow what you are doing.
Always spin your own thread,
go slow. Even the Fatae,
Night’s own weird daughters,
work for years
to get to the shroud.
Set your dyes to match
the living room, not
the bedroom. Take time off
on Thursdays or Saturdays,
make your suitors move
furniture: shift a sofa,
hang a picture, haul away a bed.
When you warp the loom, be
certain of the tension. Keep them
at each other’s throats
for as long as you can.
In the weaving, strive
for perfection. Unravel and redo
as much as you can.
And when your errant husband returns,
chases the others away, asks you
to come to bed, go ahead and tell him:
Yes, dear, as soon as
I finish this bit of weaving.

This poem originally appeared in Heavy Bear, Issue 3.

When Persephone Ate the Pomegranate

No doubt she washed the dish.
It’s what women do when lost—
find something to clean,
to put in order, something
to hold and rock,
as we were rocked by our mothers
in their own sorrows.
He wouldn’t notice a clean dish,
only that she’d eaten—
a contract signed by ignorance.
It’s a thing men know:
that food, a roof, a bed,
the semblance of love,
is the price of a wife.
Who would have thought
that six ruby seeds could taste
so bitter? Sit so heavy?
The wintery accusation—
the stain of stale lust
on cold sheets—
just cold enough to freeze
an entire world.

This poem originally appeared in Heavy Bear, Issue 3.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The White Horse of Uffington

Forever broken, this curve of turf,
by lines deep carved
in centuries of chalk—
white as if some crazed garden path
circling to nowhere
ran amuck among the eternal sheep. 

Sheep farmers with pick and spade,
from below in the valley, come
as they have always come—
through lavender and mustard seasons,
past the iron hill fort they
come up from their fields.

Fields once oxen plowed, now
stitched together by railways,
pinned in the corners by roundabouts.
Here Roman legions once camped,
gawked at Epona’s steed, at her people
come to clear the chalk.

Chalk horse steady on the hill
as it has always been, seven year
to seven year. Wide now, the body,
then narrow necked—
one tender hoof stretched out—
running full tilt, forever.

Originally published in  Full of Crow, June 2009

Those Dream Houses

When you dream of houses—of thick-walled
stucco bungalows skulking across Sonoma,
the gingerbread and bric-a-brac fantasies
of New England, or cold French villas
beside greying seas—you should

dream, too, of bleached linoleum, unpolished
spoons, of dry tangerines in wire baskets,
the velvet dust of shelves and thumb-licked
books, the strange machinery
of basements.

When you walk in dreamt hallways,
between undiscovered rooms where
the etched light of dim lamps picks rust
off iron bedsteads and lingers
over the many-fingered clocks,

you should dream as well of the closets—
filled, as they are, with feathers
and peeling sequins, hatboxes,
failed prom dresses, the detritus
of mousey sweaters, cedar shavings.

And when the dreaming takes you
to hopeless chests never meant
for a bride—where soft-edged cards
of sewing needles and a grandmotherly
jar of mixed buttons horde their

dreams of usefulness—then,
and only then, will you understand
the sharp wit of broken windows,
and the clean-swept floors

of an unfurnished mind.

This poem first appeared in  Full of Crow, June 2009.

Living in the hour of the wolf

I am tumbling in that awkward moment
between the owls and larks, when sleep
is held at bay by shadows of things
undone and all the could-have-beens,
tensed toward morning, still on guard
against the nightmare and all her ponies.

I have been washed in salt-watered
worry, crumpled by the daily
uncertainties, a dandelion wanting
the morning, hoping for
coffee-sweet gossip and soft
scandals not my own.

I will whisper into darkness,
pull my tattered icons around me,
facing the silver wrinkles in the river
of my life and move on,
always thirsty to name that well

from which I dare not drink.

Originally published in Full of Crow, June 2009.


          You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives. . . . Louise Gl├╝ck

You can argue the finer points
of hoe or hand trowel, thrust
reluctant fingers into
our prickly intentions
and pull,
but this means nothing to us.

You seek solace in the docile flowers,
the whispers of the wood violet,
the reverie of roses,
the sunflowers hanging guilty heads
by future generations;

but we will not be silenced. We are blue
voices repeated, rising: from
the last white taproot, from
each silky seed thumbing
a ride
on the wind.

Blind weeders of tame gardens,
you are all the same to us.  
We are savage daughters of the
mother: we crowd the columbine,
bite bare ankles, tangle your thyme.
We wear purple. 
You are never safe
from our sharp critique.

This poem first appeared in  Full of Crow, June 2009.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A nice note from an editor

Commentary by Full of Crow editor, Aleathia Drehmer, when asked "Who is your favorite small press poet?" from "eight questions with aleathia drehmer" in Nibble Poems:

Man, this is a hard question. I know so many flipping great writers. I do really enjoy the work of Jacob Johanson and Barton Smock. I think I read them pretty regularly and maintain an interest in their work as they progress. Recently, I began reading the work of a woman named Jana Russ. This woman knocks my socks off. I had not heard of her until she submitted to Full of Crow and her writing makes my heart beat faster and my skin tingle. But like I said, I know so many great writers it is hard not to mention them. I’m like that overly optimistic best friend. I see something wonderful in most people, even if it is something small, and hope it grows into something great.

Thanks, Aleathia!