Sample Poems

From our Full-Length Collections, Chapbooks, Anthologies, and Limited Edition Collectible Book Art

Sample poems from our authors:

from  What Matters

Perpetua Holdings Inc.

I wanted to stop writing about the South,
but then the mother possum and her babies skittered
out of the casket lined with shredded satin, its glass lid heavy

and still unbroken—Emmett’s first casket left rotting
in a shed by some gravediggers and their office manager
who’d pocketed the funds donated for its preservation.

(Mamie Till in her final days planned a grand mausoleum
for Emmett’s body, exhumed in 1995 for further study,
maybe a DNA lead, then reburied in a fresh pine casket.)

When will they let his body rest, his cousin asked
as the detective’s crane lifted the heavy evidence
onto a flat bed truck. And it all comes back—

the black and white photograph of his face
seen against the pleated waves of satin, 1963.
His mother wanted the world to see

what had been done to her son—beaten,
the body drowned. There was no way I could describe
what was in that box, she said.

During this investigation, it was also discovered
that the employees of Burr Oak Cemetery
in suburban Chicago were reselling caskets,

recycling burial plots, two groundskeepers digging up
and discarding lots of unhistoric grief, too—
stacks of skulls and tiny skeletons

from the Babyland section hidden
in the tall summer weeds. Authorities talked
to “countless women who could not find

their children.” In the news it was unclear who even
owned the cemetery now—its absentee trustees—
Perpetua Holdings Inc. owned by Pacesetter Capital,

P.O. Box listed in Richardson, Texas.
The office manager and her lackeys caught
burning the oldest burial records.

Only after this second desecration
did Till’s casket rate acceptance into the collection
of the Smithsonian. And then I realized

I was sick of trying to write about the South—
its tired pathos, how easily everything planted
in the ground would grow.

I almost admired the way the crooks
ditched his coffin, that worthless wooden artifact,
out of what we might call greed, or in any case

the higher needs of the living. If you ever made
a donation to the Emmett Till Mausoleum Fund
call this 800 number the sheriff set up

but there will be no recompense. I followed the story
about the Chicago cemetery in California;
the South found its way into every cranny

of the country. As in a horror film
I keep climbing in and out of a casket
of pine or mahogany or western madrone,

its strips of bark peeling off like skin.
I wanted a shovel to paddle myself anywhere
upriver, but the current of the story capsized me.

The South did and didn’t matter anymore.
Either way it would never end.
The mother possum and her babies

simply moved on after the Till casket
was removed from the shed;
they weren’t poetic. They would live

like animals in any rotten wood.
Like them, I could claw my way in,
claw my way out just as dim-eyed.

                             – Rebecca Black

 

from  The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths

Fairy Tale for Girls who Seek to Meet the Horizon

Once there was a girl born quiet on these rolling hills,
her throat dry, her lips and tongue gone tangled.

She listened well enough and learned to keep a house
as trim and neat as her mother, was introduced to boys

from town in hopes she’d find a match. It was then
she took to wandering. At first it was the blooms

that tempted her to rush from home. Late spring
a dangerous season. Then, one day, she reached

a crest and stopped to catch her breath, her eyes
snagged by the horizon. A clear, severe line.

She began her march, then, toward the point miles off
that would surely prove a place where she could sing

the songs that made her throat ache with wanting,
her lips and tongue loosened and undone.

                                – Sandy Longhorn

 

from  The Garden of Persuasions

The Garden of Persuasions

Here’s sorrell and chickweed
moss, bluets, onion grass

yellow-flowered cinquefoil
a rhetoric of petals and leaves

their arguments as manifold as ours
as stemmed and rooted

Shall I concede to them
They seem harmless, a gift

from some time before Eden
and need no tending

are welcome after winter, a surprise
in neglected corners of the garden

though these are not their purposes
Their speech is quieter than ours

and slow: it can take years
for one to make its point

to seed or spread by root
or spore or runner, to crowd

or shade out competitors
a garden cultivating itself

                              –  Maura High

 

from Reckoning

Reckoning II
1
The law of small numbers
implies her entry will be lost
in the long ledger of the dead,
an outlier beyond reason’s pale,
her paltry sum of days reckoned every night,
subtracted from the ledger of the living,
so small and unaccountable.
2
The law of large numbers
insists time’s oceanic breadth
eventually reduces tidal waves
to ripples lipping pristine beaches,
but unlike Henry’s loves, reckoned every morning
and no one’s ever missing,
she always is.

                                 – Edison Jennings

 

from  7

so many women killed so many crime shows to prove it        

                                – Marlene Mountain

simmering tofu—
father asks where I intend
to be buried

                                – Fay Ayogi

 

 

from Southern Fictions

I don’t know. I still can’t get it right,
the way those dirt roads cut across the flats
and led to shacks where hounds and muddy shoats
skulked roundabouts. Describing it sounds trite
as hell, the good old South I love to hate.
the truth? What’s that? how should i know?
I stayed inside too much. I learned to boast
of stupid things. I kept my ears shut tight,
as we kept doors locked, windows locked,
the curtains drawn. Now I know why.
the dark could hide things from us. Dark could see
what we could not. Sometimes those dirt roads shocked
me, where they ended up: I watched a dog die
in the ditch. the man who shot him winked at me.

-Kathryn Stripling Byer

 

from …and love…

Let’s Say We Haven’t Seen Each Other Since Ninth Grade and We Meet
As Adults in a Welcome Center in Southside Virginia

And we begin to kiss
the way we used to kiss
before you moved
with your parents
to Michigan: after school,
out by the chain link fence
near the basketball court
on the seawall
by the bay
in the church parking lot
after choir practice
flat on our backs
on the grass
at slumber parties
before the boys had to leave
or on the beach at Matheson Hammock
when your sister
would drive us there
then go somewhere else
to work on her tan.

It takes a few seconds
to adjust our arms
because you are taller now
but it all comes back
how we used to take turns
catching our breath,
where your right earlobe
is fleshy, how your collar smells
of heather, which tooth protrudes,
the scar on your chin
that used to be higher.

I can smell the cream
of gardenias in the purple bowl
on our homeroom teacher’s desk,
I can even remember her name—
Mrs. Bleier—and I can see the dance
of mimosas in the patio after lunch,
the hair on my arms standing up
when the sun slid behind clouds
and how you kept them up
until the sun eased out again,
the choir singing deep
and wide, deep and wide,
there is a fountain flowing
deep and wide
and how I always thought of you
instead of Jesus when we sang
I’ve got joy joy joy joy joy
down in my heart, down in my heart,
the way I do now, kissing you
at a Welcome Center
just over the state line
in Southside Virginia.

-Dannye Romine Powell

 

Lunar: A History
love song for Don 1925-2011

In Palomas the moon was Mexican silver awash
on the dirt street where we danced to mariachi
music that rang and shimmered like hammered tin.

Months later on a Dallas sidewalk, August’s moon burned:
93 degrees at midnight – imagine – you had come
all that way for this fire.

Outside Abilene, we said the September moon
was neon, an Orange Crush sign stopped mid-flash,
that much too sweet, that awful bright.

That next June, East Texas and our wedding sky
bore an opal cresset sure to carry us
out of one darkness into what else there was—

straight to Manhattan’s summer moons, lost and lovely
among the towers. We made our daughter under shadows
broken blue as a jazz flute’s riff across the marvelous city.

Through years we found the Roman moon a weathered coin,
the Florentine, gold leaf – and Dublins’s nightshining
was held in the Liffey’s Argentine.

Once we stood at night among the headstones
of a swept cemetery, where antique custom shaped a stark
scar in the forest: raked sand, piled seashells – one rising crescent.

Pete’s Creek Canyon in Montana held a day-moon
ghosting the sunlit noon – thumb print of smoke –
and just then sudden hail pocked the clearing with white pebbles.

Remember how Greek moonlight jeweled the island’s
paths with donkey song, poppies, whitewashed Easter
churches? It wrought some change in us we carried…

   just here the words fall, fail, can’t stay
as you couldn’t stay for this poem’s still
unfinished end.
                                 You died instead.
Still something has to take the place of white space
   so like the blank my life’s impossibly become, all fifty-four
of our years together gone – for who now can remember
   them with me? Your last hour was almost midnight,
your last breath shallow on the hand I held to you
   as I breathed out “I’ve loved you my whole life,”
a thing so true and strange I wasn’t sure
   I’d heard my own voice say it.

That night the moon on the backyard was a brightness
close to daylight.
                                   And not that cool white brilliance
a full circle casts. No. This was golden clarity
dropped by a half-moon, some new kind
of broken wafer overhead.
                                                      Later I would read
that the planets were aligned, on just that date,
like obedient marchers changing the whole complexion
of lit dark.
                      I saw then, coming home from your death,
how the moon touches the world like memory
enfolding in reflected radiance each smallest thing
to give back its only meaning – that light the net
that captures time and the many changing names
we gave to love.

-Betty Adcock

 

from Notes for a Praise Book

In the Fullness of Time

I have a way of walking out of comfort into crosshairs—
don’t know, can’t say, just let it be and carry on—yet
whoever pulls the trigger
     must contend with my contentment.

Not that I don’t rail against my nothingness, but I do it
in the deep of night where none can hear.  In daylight,
I can’t keep a straight face
        being that presumptuous.

A boy, my job was scooping corn to feed the chickens.
Let’s say I say a few wise things in fifty years—behind
it all,
I’ll hear a whirring sound and taste the dusty air.

On this battlefield, my allies are Basho and David, Enoch
and Thoreau, Stafford, Szymborska, Issa and more.  Even Gimpel
the Fool shows up,
       who I knew all along was more than a fiction.

Soon enough, the fullness of time will speak my deeds.  I hope
I’ll be remembered for my hands along corn stalks, for how I
pulled a sheet to cover nakedness
      for one whose mind had lost its way.

-Jeff Hardin

 

from The Next Moment

Lunch with Leonard Cohen

He shambles out of winter air
into the dim oyster café, looks
for the one who invited him here.
I wave. He recognizes me
from his dream. We dip
our spoons into milky stew.
I know of a place, he says.

Down we go, down,
through a maze of shining stones.
I won’t find my way back, I say.
Still I follow him into a temple.
Light pours through
high stained windows.
I want to stop here and pray,

but we ride an elevator to a penthouse
of cumulous clouds. Azure
furniture floats, haloed in gold.
The saints in their chemises
should be here any minute.
A secret chord is hidden in each of us,
he says, electric with desire.

The Sisters of Mercy sing Hallelujah.
We kiss, and I see what is—
this moment, right now.

-Debra Kaufman

 

from Smoke of Her Body

Braced

Spooning in bed, her chin on my shoulder,
I watch her hand hang over the mattress’s dull edge.

This is the room where
she writes me love notes: Just remember,

you’re the child I planned. Your brother
and sister were accidents. This is the wall

that hangs the calendar
that marks ahead of time the nights

she and my father have agreed to make love.
So good to be chosen by her.

I could’ve had any man I wanted, she tells me,
and I believe her, picturing her miniskirt

around her thighs at a party full of men
who are not my father, her fingertips

holding the wall as she inches through
the apartment in cork-heeled sandals.

I would’ve wanted her myself.
I move my earlobe closer to her lips.

She slips her words in
like canaries sent into the dark.

-Stephanie Levin

 

from The Sound of Poets Cooking

Cezanne’s Apples

This fruit, these glasses, these plates–
they talk to each other.

When your tongue slides over mine
I think I know everything about you–
scent and shape,

desire tilting toward us,
its color rounding out flesh,
flesh with its own
shimmering nuances

…fruits that set the mouth watering…

Touch soft-talks us into strokes
so subtle we hardly notice
how they run into shadows,
arrangements tumbling

…a paring knife in the corner…

Each time we set ourselves up
is a search for perfection,
the illusion of something tangible–

a hand caressing a hip,
a moon-washed quilt
slipping to the floor,
a voice calling out.

They come to us laden,
telling of the fields they have left behind,
the rain that nourished them, the dawns.

There are changes with every light.

-Julie Suk

 

Risotto

I’m tipsy in the steam and wine fumes
rising from the pot, misting my glasses
and the kitchen window as I push the spoon around,
the rice softening, the cheese melting,
the commandment “keep stirring”
a comfort and shield against the demands
of a child at the knee and a husband’s appetites.

I am mindless as a clam fanning its gills
in the bracing wash of a new tide,
my eyes closed, my body bending
and swaying, a readiness for contention
long gone as my spine weakens to gelatin
in the broth of stove captivity. Tonight,
a greasy-fingered aproned slave toils
under the sweet lash of the household’s need.

When it’s done, I’m steeping like a tea bag
in placidity, tinctures of thyme and bay
knocking me silly. With downcast eyes,
I bring it to the table in a blue clay dish.

After dinner, when the evening comes
to a close, my hair and hands murmur “risotto,”
and he leans my way the better to listen.
The candle burns down and we drain
our glasses to the lees. He thinks
it’s his idea as he leads me away
in a cloud of herbs and oil.

-Coyla Barry

 

i know the grandmother one had hands

i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always in bowls
folding, pinching, rolling the dough
making the bread
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always under water
sifting rice
blueing clothes
starching lives
I know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always in the earth
planting seeds
removing weeds
growing knives
burying sons
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always under
the cloth
pushing it along
helping it birth into
skirt
dress
curtains to lock out
night
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside
the hair
parting
plaiting
twisting it into rainbows
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside
pockets
holding the knots
counting the twisted veins
holding onto herself
lest her hands disappear
into sky
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside the clouds
poking holes for the
rain to fall

-Jaki Shelton Green

 

from Amaranthine Hour

Not that the candle is burning, but that there is fire

Not that the candle is burning, but that there is fire
that tells orange stories flickering, just as they lived.
The wind accidentally drowns things—

it blurs the sound of the litany, pushes under the limbs of trees,
sighs arched smoke with quiet lips, last breath surface-bursting,

tangles December with lights that still hang
and swing against the eaves—

so many murmurs sound like fear.

Those who say there will be time turn to see beneath dust that
constant hands have buried them, and hidden, lucid like

the oppressive pitch of crows searching for solidity
in their shadows on the asphalt, or
the streets of mortar connecting bricks and holding them apart.

That the wick was lit when the match flared and
that charcoal stepped back to look,
hollow with that balloon no longer between its ribs, holding in air
that felt to all its clinging bounds like heart:

-Chera Hammons

 

from Bitter Acoustic

Blue Silo

Easy to get stuck in the riptide dream, the crush and drag
of it, pulled through the long sea of it, then you’re on the highway
only this time the ruined geometry of barns (red as mashed crab apples)

is not your only scenery. No. It’s blue silo blue silo blue silo and
there’s no braking for the sheer height of them, no stopping for their
cylindrical emptiness opened to a harvest moon ready to give birth
to a million Jupiters.

Silly planet, you still spin in the past, because today is only a foot
on the accelerator up the Garden State Parkway, stink of gasoline in the air,
dog’s fur flying around the back seat. You gave up everything for a question

and one glimpse of a Ferris wheel red-spoked against the night sky.
If you could be anything right now, you’d be that fish on its way
to the other side of the wave, a breathable gill.

If you could be anywhere right now, you’d bunk in the belly of that silo,
echoes rinsing its hollows like incense. Grains slick in your palms,
your hair, there’d be no need for dreams, just the steady upward, out.

-Sharon F. McDermott