Pike's Peak: 1957

          Pike's Peak: 1957

There was the week my mother drove from Texas
to Colorado with her parents, her sister
on the jump seat in the back of the station wagon
the trunk itself bountied full of sunflowers
my child mother picked roadside wrought with ants that crept
from the petals but how could she know?
She never saw them.

When they got to Pike's Peak her mother swam the lake
in a swimsuit pink and faded, hair slicked back
against her head, face washed free and eyelashes
invisible blonde and newborn.

Small waves splashed stones as she climbed
from the water, towels quickly in her hands
on her children, and sometimes my mother remembers
how later she wanted to see her, the woman
from the water again just dripped
just bright, just blurred in the sun
so fresh and vibrantly rendered.

Andrea Spofford
The Pine Effect

Pike's Peak: 1957
Andrea Spofford

what it means

A daughter is telling a story her mother told her about a trip her mother took. 

We have moments where we see the world in a completely new light.  Seeing her mother emerge from the lake is such a moment:

from the water again just dripped
just bright, just blurred in the sun
so fresh and vibrantly rendered.

why I like it

I know this moment of suddenly seeing someone you love and who is so familiar in a new light.  It's magic.  I also like the secrets in the poem.   We know the ants are a problem, but we don't know what happened.  I like how this moment is in such liminal space--between states, between one view of the mother and another, between the water and the land.

I feel like there's a second story this poem hints at: what does it mean that the mother told her daughter this story about her childhood? what does that tell us about the current relationship?  I appreciate the layers in this poem.


Spofford is good at turning nouns into adjectives or verbs.  In this poem, "bountied," is her made up word that works so well.  I definitely need to try out this technique.

It's hard to pick the right details and depth with which to tell a story.  In this poem, each stanza is its own close-up of a small moment that add up to the larger whole.  It makes me wonder whether the author started with a much larger story and narrowed down or invented from a bare outline. 

The Five Stage of Grief

The Five Stage of Grief

The night I lost you
someone pointed me towards
the Five Stages of Grief
Go that way, they said,
  it's easy, like learning to climb
stairs after the amputation.
And so I climbed.
  Denial was first.
I sat down at breakfast
  carefully setting the table
  for two. I passed you the toast---
you sat there. I passed
you the paper---you hid
behind it.

Anger seemed more familiar.
I burned the toast, snatched
the paper and read the headlines myself.
But they mentioned your departure,
  and so I moved on to
  Bargaining. What could I exchange
for you? The silence
after storms? My typing fingers?
  Before I could decide, Depression
came puffing up, a poor relation
  its suitcase tied together
with string. In the suitcase
were bandages for the eyes
and bottles of sleep. I slid
all the way down the stairs
feeling nothing.
And all the time Hope
  flashed on and off
in defective neon.
Hope was a signpost pointing
straight in the air.
  Hope was my uncle's middle name,
he died of it.
After a year I am still climbing, though my feet slip
on your stone face.
The treeline
has long since disappeared;
  green is a color
I have forgotten.
  But now I see what I am climbing
  towards: Acceptance
written in capital letters,
a special headline:
  its name is in lights.
I struggle on,
  waving and shouting.
Below, my whole life spreads its surf,
  all the landscapes I've ever known
  or dreamed of. Below
  a fish jumps: the pulse
in your neck.
Acceptance. I finally
  reach it.
But something is wrong.
Grief is a circular staircase.
I have lost you.

Linda Pastan
The Five Stages of Grief

Linda Pastan, "The Five Stages of Grief" from The Five Stages of Grief, published by W.W. Norton & Company. Copyright ©1978 by Linda Pastan. Used by permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. (permissions@jvnla.com) and not to be used elsewhere for any other purpose.

The Five Stages of Grief
Linda Pastan


what it means

Pastan is elucidating Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief.  She gives little vignettes to show the experience of each one.

Grief is never ending.  Grief will surprise you with its powerful return.

why I like it

I have been a Pastan fan all my adult life.  I love her straightforward tone and language and how she takes on painful topics.  I got to hear her read last month, and this is one of the poems she read, so when I was looking through her collected works, which I bought of course, this one jumped out at me because I could see and hear her reading it.

As the Poetry Foundation says, "Since the early 1970s, Pastan has produced quiet lyrics that focus on themes like marriage, parenting, and grief. She is interested in the anxieties that exist under the surface of everyday life." http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/linda-pastan Me too.


I love how she takes the same small scene--breakfast-- and resets it for the first few stages of grief.  And the last and first line pretty much the same, that circling back.  The last line surprised the heck out of me. 


This is Your Body Speaking (ii)

           This is Your Body Speaking (ii)


It is impossible, you think, to identify
anything in this nearly all-black
celluloid of your guts. You think back
to tenth-grade biology, but can recall
only the stench of formaldehyde,
the serene look upon the piglet's face.
You think you recognize the white tines
of ribcage, the twin kidneys, the long
crinkled streamer of small intestine.
but on a large slab of gray, you see
the white mass -- which you do not
recognize from any diagram --
round and obvious as the moon,
and somehow, whatever it is,
know it can shift the tide inside of you,
send everything swaying in its pull.

Lisa Mangini
Bird Watching at the End of the World

This is Your Body Speaking (ii) 
Lisa Mangini


what it means

A person is looking at an x-ray or some other picture of her internal organs.  At first she recognizes nothing.  Then the shapes start to match up with organs she learned about in 10th grade biology, and eventually she sees a mass which should not be there.

The moment you realize you have an invader in your body, that disease is in control.

Is it better to know or not know the secrets of our bodies?  This speaker comes to a slow revelation and knows her life will never be the same both from the disease and from knowing about it.


why I like it

I like that I did not know where the poem was headed.  When the speaker says the celluloid was nearly all black, I believed her.  I thought, maybe it's going to be a poem about our disconnect with the medical establishment.  Then when she sees the shapes, I thought, oh now we are about the power and limits of memory, and I'm going to stop and admire the parallel between her on the slab and the serene look on the piglet's face.  Then the poem surprises me again with the last turn.



I went to a talk recently about the importance of turns in a poem.  I often do it by switching worlds--suddenly there's a fish, a tangerine!  She does it by staying in the same world and seeing more.

I've also been thinking a lot about how to books together, and I am intrigued by repeated titles to keep a theme flowing through the book.  You don't have the book in front of you (and perhaps you should), but Mangini also gives us "This is Your Body Speaking" i and iii.

Pelicans Appear

 Pelicans Appear

The three of us walk
the secluded beach in Manzanilla,
breaking our U.S. routines
of coffee and work and dinner and email and TV
for this trusting blue sky
that just last night held millions of stars
whose constellations
we guessed at from the rooftop;
clinking margaritas,
the smell of lime in the air,
this crashing ocean is so loud
we have to shout to hear one another,
and then mid-sentence we grow quiet
as a group of pelicans appear,
riding the top of the long waves,
wings beating a slow rhythm,
the air their highway, their trail,
as they rise slightly, then dip, their bellies
barely above the crest. They pass without
acknowledging us, as they should,
in their business of flying, and yet for us,
they are all we know in this moment.

Yvonne Higgins Leach
Another Autumn

Pelicans AppearYvonne
Higgins Leach


what it means

A group of Americans on vacation in Mexico stop talking to notice a flock of pelicans.

We can be arrested by beauty.  We should let ourselves be arrested by beauty.

The natural world does not need us, but we need it.

why I like it

This poem reminds me of Mary Oliver, a poet who acknowledges the sanctity of the natural world, but with a light touch.  I feel like I am in this moment with the speaker and am given the opportunity to also put aside business, margueritas and loud conversations where we try to out talk the natural world and instead let myself be silenced by it.


Did you notice it's just one sentence?  I felt the push of it first, how the images kept coming and then I went back figured out how she did it.

I also like the parallel between their business talk at the beginning and the pelican's business at the end.

 I really like the line "barely above the crest. They pass without" how it creates a meaning different then the sentences the phrases came from.  "To pass without," it is a transcendent moment.


The Robot Scientist's Daughter [ villainess]

The Robot Scientist's Daughter [ villainess]


makes the perfect villainess. The impling can already
assemble solar coils and silicon chips, so make way.
In her hands a piece of paper becomes a bird,
a stack of metal a monster.

She grew up playing chess against the computer,
making aliens stick out their tongues.
She knows the click of the Geiger counter
better than her own heart, which moans
and swings unlike any machine.

She grew up with a string of undifferentiated dogs,
each slighter smarter than the last, each with its tongue
lolling to the side. They all looked exactly
like TV's Lassie, and they were all named Lassie.
We suspected them to be prototypes,
becomes of the spontaneous combustion.
There were always men in black,
always the clicking on the phone line,
and the badges we knew weren't to be trusted.

Like a game of chess, the making of bombs is delicate,
requires planning to assemble and disassemble.
What they sowed in the ground isn't gone;
it's in the mouths of their children when chew
the weeds. Their children grow reedy
and anemic, their needy fists clenching,
skipping grades and affronting the public.
Any day now. We're watching.

Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Robot Scientist's Daughter

The Robot Scientist's Daughter [ villainess]
Jeannine Hall Gailey


what it means

The Robot Scientist's Daughter is a book about the nuclear waste clean-up at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee.  I know (because Gailey tells us in the introduction to the book and the other poems create a bit of a narrative) that Gailey's father was robot scientist working on the clean-up.  The family was a different class than their Appalachian neighbors but just as likely to be poisoned by the nuclear waste.

This poems holds these tensions.  The robot scientist's daughter is strange to the people of the community, has dangerous powers, and perhaps their fears of the men in badges gets displaced onto her.  On other hand, she's eating the poisoned grass too, and she might get what's coming to her for being so dangerous as to skip a grade.  The town is waiting for its revenge.

It's dangerous to be different.

Nuclear waste crosses class lines.

In this myth the villainess is also a victim.

why I like it

I probably picked this poem, of all the poems in the book, for that crazy word "villainess." Galley actually has a book called Becoming the Villianess, so she must like the word too. I'm also tickled by the word "undifferentiated."  Poetry rule #26, the fewer syllables per word the better.  I love it when poets break the rules, and it works.

I like the surreal dropping into the middle of the poem.  Oh those dogs?  They spontaneously combusted.  That line made me laugh out loud, and the subject matter--people dying of nuclear waste poisoning--not so funny.

But mostly I like this poem for how it addresses really hard political topics like the class differences in the United States and the fall out from nuclear waste and I still want to read it for the imagery and tone.


I am fascinated by the change of person in the poem.  It's all third person--she did this, she did that--until the comment about the dogs:

We suspected them to be prototypes,
becomes of the spontaneous combustion.

I don’t know if it's the angry townspeople who are now speaking, the mob assembling, or the daughter speaking out, trying to understand her own life.  I'm leaning toward the former because of the last line: Any day now. We're watching.

I like how the "we" suddenly draws the reader in closer, ratcheting up the tension.

  Buy her book at May Apple Press



"When There's Just One of You Left"

"When There's Just One of You Left"

she says, "I'll call every day," a daughter
you wouldn't want to do without. Lately,

I'm worried by all sorts of questions, but
she says, "One at a time, daddio, breathe

in, breathe out," which I do so there's no
need for the little brown sack to breathe

into, CO2 to the rescue. My father would
rush me to the shower, steam up the whole

house till my lungs relaxed and the house
could return to its normal tensions. He who

had saved me lay dying in a modern spital
whose doctors refused him more morphine.

Along came the daughter you wouldn't want
to do without, by then a doctor herself: "At 93

gentlemen, my grandpa's not likely to become
addicted, now is he?" I'd wanted to slap them silly,

might have if she hadn't just entered, a serious look
in her eyes. For the most part she does everything

in silence, before she sets to work to right another
wrong. It is now very late, and it's better to cut this

short. If you come this way, you'd do well to let her
have a look at you. Meanwhile, the best of health!

Stuart Friebert
On the Bottom

"When There's Just One of You Left"
Stuart Friebert


what it means

An aging father is talking to his daughter about his worries.  She comforts him.  He then remembers how his father took care of him when he had an asthma attack and how his daughter took care of his father when he was in the hospital.  He suggests that the reader let her take care of them as well.

A father is proud of his daughter.

It's ok to let yourself be dependent on and trust your children.

Your children will be there for you.

Your children have skills you do not.

why I like it

This poem ripples like bamboo in the wind.  The speaker is old and almost dependent on his daughter, then he's a child dependent on his father, then he's middle-aged and so proud and grateful to the daughter who can help with his dying father.

I love how this poem tells such a complete and complex story.  I love the cheerful voice of the poem.  And to be fair, dear reader, I love this poem because my friend and mentor Stuart wrote it and I can just hear him twinkling away all through it.


I appreciate how the couplets match the father/daughter relationship and also hold a steady beat as this poems slips around time.

Ooowee, this poem is a lesson in line breaks.  Look at this one: 

you wouldn't want to do without. Lately,

So, of course, these are parts of two different sentences, but given a meaning as a line they imply that there were times the speaker could do without the daughter, but things have changed. 

Or this one:

in her eyes. For the most part she does everything

I'm getting this incredible image of a very internal daughter who does everything with her eyes.  I love how the line breaks push against some of the meanings of the sentences.

All the Sharp Things

All the Sharp Things

First the obvious, the paring knives, the set of steak knives in their burnished box, the long serrated knife for slicing bread, the stubby one not good for anything but butter. And after that, he finds her sun-nosed pliers, her Phillips-head. Even the sewing scissors left open hear a spool of thread. Even the porcupine of a pincushion. And other things that never seemed as shrill before--he lays them out, each one a gift she cannot couch, so close the colored pencils, keys, tweezers from the lighted vanity. Wait long enough and anything takes on a sheen of sharpness. Mustn't leave her hands untied. She could stare the whorl from fingertips. Cut him with her eyes.

Jehanne Dubrow
The Arranged Marriage

All the Sharp Things
Jehanne Dubrow

 what it means

All the sharp objects have to be taken away because this woman might attack her husband.

Actually, the meaning of this poem depends a lot on context. In the poems leading up to this one, the woman has been attacked, though it's not clear whether it's by a husband or not.  I feel like this is a moment in a longer story where we are seeing the woman's power emerging and the man overreacting.  But, if the poem were standing alone, you could easily think this woman was crazy and a danger to the world. 

why I like it

Dubrow is my new favorite poet.  I love what she does with story telling.  I like that this poem is part of longer narrative.  This poem's dual sense of menace, that we don't know whom to believe, gives the poem a terrifying energy.


That long list of sharp objects at the beginning before you have any idea why they matter and then the slow turn when "he" finds the next set of objects.  I am fascinated by how this story slowly is revealed.  Of course, the small concrete objects.  There are no metaphors in this poem, no line breaks; its power comes from what is not said.



She spends days rummaging
in that big black purse,
as if she's poking into dark
water, and coming up
with Kleenex, a wallet, I.D.s
she doesn't recognize.
She keeps finding and finding
the silver key marked
with red nail polish
so that she knows it goes
to the front door. Each time
she says, I'll have to mark
the front door key. All day,
she fingers the few small,
shiny things she's dredged:
freshman year, when the boys
elected her most popular
Radcliffe girl; her wedding day
and the rabbi's fishy eyes.
She worries odds and ends
to luster: a single earring;
a broken hearing aid; Anna,
Alex, Elad and those other two
great grandchildren whose names
she sometimes knows. She drags
the bag everywhere, even
as it empties of all but a few
glimmers, slippery to catch.

Susan Cohen
Throat Singing


Susan Cohen


what it means

 An old woman who has lost a lot of memory rummages through her purse.

The purse is a metaphor for her memory and she has trouble finding anything in it.

Memory can glimmer, and it can be slippery to catch.

why I like it

I think this poem treats a difficult and painful subject--aging and memory loss--gracefully.  The woman's experience both in what she can find, and can't, comes to life for me.  I believe this character and care about her.


I like how finding and finding really means losing her ability to hold on to objects and memories.  Nice tension between what is spoken and what is understood.

I love the turn in this poem.  It's all in one small setting--a woman going through her purse and then suddenly the shiny things are her past and we are time shifting fast through young adulthood back into old age.





Getting Kicked by a Fetus

Getting Kicked by a Fetus

Like right before you reach your floor, just
before the door of an elevator opens.
Like the almost imperceptible
springs you waded through in Iroquois Lake.

Sometimes high and jabby near the ribs;
sometimes low and fizzy like a pie
releasing steam, like beans
on the stovetop — slow

like the shimmer of incoming tide — hot, soft sand
meeting waves, slosh bringing sand crabs
that wriggle invisibly in.

And sometimes a school of herring
pushing through surf,
or a single herring

caught from a pier like a sliver of moon rising in the west;
sometimes a tadpole stuck in a pond growing smaller
and smaller, a puddle of mud, squirmy like worms —
now your left, now your right. Sometimes

neon flickering, like that Texaco sign near Riddle, Oregon — from a distance
it read TACO, but up close
the faintest glow, an occasional E or X,
like an ember re-igniting.

Like seeing your heartbeat through the thinnest part
of your foot, sunken well between ankle and heel,
reminder of a world beneath your skin, world
of which you know little,

and the pond growing smaller and smaller, soon the rolling waves
like the ones you dove into at Bradley Beach, at Barneget,
growing less frequent, your giant ocean
drying up, your little swimmer

sinking, giving way
to the waves
of his birth.

Martha Silano

Getting Kicked by a Fetus
Martha Silano

what it means

This is what it feels like to be pregnant.

why I like it

When I was pregnant, I went on a search for good poems about pregnancy and birth.  I found almost nothing.  Or at least nothing that spoke to me.  Most were sickly sweet.  This one feels exactly right, both that sense of anticipation and something bubbling inside you and the shock of realizing a world is happening inside you.


One of my challenges as a poet is to keep going.  I find my way to one good metaphor and I think oh thank goodness I can quit now. This poem takes one thing—being kicked by a fetus—and gives a dozen takes on it.  In my imagination, she actually had a hundred and brought it down to these that fit together and brought together so many different worlds.    

You can order Martha's books at her website

There is No Substance That Does Not Carry One Inside Of It

There is No Substance
That Does Not Carry One Inside Of It

The real story is that she is a piece of light.
The real story is that light turns to flame
Turns to ember, then ash of burned
Sagebrush and city. The real story is
Sebastian remains behind to save the black
Mare with a bucket, a spiraling circle
Of stones.  No one believes the real story
When the strangers politely repeat fire, state evacuate,
Stress please.  Instead the hotelier at the front desk spits
Foreigners. Demands credit cards, passports, car keys.
Curses the tourists who create work after midnight;
Curses Isabella and the ships she sent out to sea
Which leads the man to look up past the courtyard,
The mountains ringed with fire beads, the little
Flames clearly flirtatious, clearly, beyond belief.

Susan Rich
Cloud Pharmacy
White Pine Press

There is No Substance
That Does Not Carry One Inside Of It

Susan Rich

what it means

Some American tourists in Spain  (Isabella is your clue for that) quickly leave an area where wild fires have started.  They try to check in at a hotel past midnight and explain the danger.  The man at the front desk is annoyed, refuses to believe them, and then is shocked when he sees the fires with his own eyes.

The real story of anything flickers and changes, but it burns bright and real.  The real story of who we are and how we live is something magical and pure.  It is about selflessness and caring for others.  It is big and often rejected.  The real story exists even when it is rejected.  It is as big as the mountains and not menacing but flirtatious even though it is extremely powerful.

why I like it

This poem had me with "The real story is that she is a piece of light."  I love the secret telling of it, the authority with which it is stated, and that the image was both surprising and immediately rang true.  Of course, she is a piece of light, as are we all.

I also really like how it tells a story in such small gestures.  

My favorite word in the poem is "flirtatious."  The poem could have gotten so heavy handed in the end with a big I told you so, but instead it lets the hotelier save face and circles back to the first line.  What is beyond belief and flirtatious is not just the fires that the hotelier sees but that a person is a piece of light.  


The repetition is great.  I'm very intrigued with how she sets up a pattern in the first two lines "the real story is" and then breaks it while still including the phrase in a different place later in the poem.  Even without the actual words, I felt that litany thrumming through the rest of the poem.  

I am intrigued how the poem uses two types of communicating.  There are the big ungrounded pronouncements in the first few lines.  And then it switches to a narrative where there are people and things and dialogue.  

I love how the word Isabella tells you where they are and brings an entire history.  I try to pick words for those layers of meaning.

"Suicide Bomber Kills 8, Wounds 50"

"Suicide Bomber Kills 8, Wounds 50"

Dust covers the rims of picture frames,
coats the leaves of philodendron.

This dust mocks me,
armed with a wash cloth and can of Pledge.

The computer keyboard,
an alphabet of dust.

Dust inside my grandmother's teacups—

Invisible, dust keeps falling
from collapsed stars;

travels the globe, mingles with desert sand,
rises up from floorboards.

It penetrates my pores.
Soft and gray,

silent as the ash from cigarette
someone forgot was burning.

Jennifer Markell
Turning Point imprint, Wordtech Communications

"Suicide Bomber Kills 8, Wounds 50"
Jennifer Markell


what it means

Dust is covering everything, including me, and I cannot get rid of it.  That's the meaning if you don't read the title. But with the ripped from the headlines title added. . .war, fear, terrorism pervade every facet of our lives no matter how small and far away and domestically we think we are living.  We cannot escape the implications of what is happening half a world away.  Not just our surroundings but our very body is being invaded by the horrors of this war, and it burns us.

why I like it

Political poems are really hard.  I often want to say something deep and angry about current politics and end up sounding strident and shrill: down with the bad guys!  I like that this poem is so quiet.  It makes a point that I consider very important but does so through imagery not polemic.


The couplets and that one single line create a lot of white space.  I like how that helps create the sense of quiet and something unseen permeating the poem. 

There are a lot of "s" sounds in the poem.  From the repetition of the word "dust" obviously, but look at this line:

Dust inside my grandmother's teacups—

That lingering quiet sound mimics the lingering quiet dust, and like the hiss of a snake brings the threat of death. 

You can buy the book  directly from her website and have her sign it. Or you can order it from Amazon or Barnes and Nobel.

This Moss

This Moss

I grow damp in the corner.
I remind you of that last time—
sun slanting through the barn, 
smell of hay, dusty orange
marigolds. Swallows flew
through the light beams, remember
how you sucked in your breath
balanced there.

Here, sun breaks into bars.
Your mind beats hot
darting in such a small cage.
You hold your breath so long
you are afraid of falling.
But some nights, if the clouds
roll a certain way, you remember
buttercups and dreams rising
like bread, buttered and warm,
the yeasty taste
of a woman’s hold.

Susan Landgraf
Other Voices
Finishing Line Press

This Moss
Susan Landgraf


what it means

I’m not really sure what it means.  The moss is talking reminding you of an earlier time, a happy time.  Good memories can save us.  Good memories are wholesome and nurturing.

why I like it

It makes me happy.  Even if there is something a bit scary about holding your breath so long you are afraid of falling, the rest of the poem is about what can help.  I feel at peace after I read this poem.


I love all the sensory details, especially the smells—hay, bread.  I love that I don’t completely understand this poem.  I pretend she wrote this poem by writing out the whole story and then pulling back to this.  Part of the folklore of poetry is when you do that, the story stays.  I feel that in this poem, an underlying story that deepens the poignancy of the images in front of us.

Buy her book at Finishing Line Press

Reparations: My Mother and Heart Mountain

Reparations: My Mother and Heart Mountain

Unrelenting, the sun breaks down the white paint,
and the slight incline of the barracks’ tin roofs

buckles or cracks with the four years
they have weathered. Dust and sweat shine like a cap

of heat on the top of my mother’s black head. Grit
chafes her toes; her shoes scratch the rough floor.

So I imagine her at thirteen. Her memory blurs
the exact picture with the few facts she can recall,

and I ask her, What do you remember?
She tells: Your grandmother made us think

it was an adventure to hang blankets at night
and make our own rooms, to fall asleep listening

to the wind and each other’s coughing
as floodlights filled the slits in the walls.

Sharon Hashimoto
The Crane Wife
Story Line Press

Reparations: My Mother and Heart Mountain
Sharon Hashimoto


what it means

An adult imagines what it was like for her mother in the Japanese internment camps, and then the mother adds her own images.

The internment camps were not fun as much as the adults tried to help the children pretend.  The people there were under guard.  Life their chafed and scratched.

We must be truthful about our history.  We must hear the stories.

why I like it

I like how Sharon takes a topic where she could be so justifiably strident and ranting and covers it so quietly.  This is a very quiet moment between a mother and daughter.


I love she uses the images about specific objects—the sun, the roofs, the grit—to 

build a metaphor about being in the camps. 

I like how there is only family in this poem.  The objects of threat are there, especially the floodlights, but no one has action in this poem but mothers and daughters.

You can order this book from your local independent bookstore. . .or Amazon.

Only Serious Applicants Need Apply

Only Serious Applicants Need Apply

In the club you never wanted to join
is a job you didn’t apply for, your qualifications, dubious.
Requirements include multiple personality transformations:
nurse, masseuse, psychotherapist, physical and occupational
therapist, pharmacist, nutritionist, medical researcher,
vice-president in charge of all paperwork, insurance nag,
professional wish-you-knew-it-all-and-hate-that-you-don’t.

Benefits include seeing:
the neighbor coming home late, coyotes prowling
your urban streets, the moon in all phases,
hearing: the house creak-shift,
the newspaper slam against your unlocked door,
alley cats mating, a sound not unlike your child crying,
which makes the hair on your arm rise,
and for the fourth or fifth time you must check
her room, her breathing, inhale
the delicate sleep-smell of her
because when you signed up
for motherhood, fatherhood, you didn’t think
it included a future with a child
who may not have one.

Suzanne Edison
The Moth Eaten World
Finishing Line Press

Only Serious Applicants Need Apply
Suzanne Edison


what it means

No one chooses to be the parent of a chronically ill child.  Here's what it is like to be the parent of a chronically ill child.  When you are the parent of a chronically ill child, you focus on the small moments.

why I like it

This poem lets me into a world I want to know and understand but cannot ask about.  She's telling me a secret that I want to hear and perhaps need to hear.  I often wonder how I will handle it when I am faced with such a challenge.  I don't have a chronically ill child, but something equally devastating could happen to me tomorrow.  This poem helps me to think about it.

It's funny and heartbreaking at the same time.  


This poem is a craft lesson in show don't tell.  I love the sounds of the house at night, especially as they build to the cry.  It gives me shivers every time I read it.

I love how the second stanza is all one sentence.

The ending shocks me every time even though I knew what was coming (because I had chatted with Suzanne about her chronically ill child) the first time I read it.  I think all the funny details from the first stanza and the concrete external details from the second stanza distracted me, and then the turn in the last line hit me hard.

You can find out more about Suzanne at www.seedison.com



your mother. or father.
that cigarette
in your mouth. bad genes.
a poor upbringing.
bad spelling or bad breath.
Catholics or science or that
second pitcher of Bud Light.
your inability to keep your
legs closed. your inability
to keep your eyes open.
your crooked teeth or pale
skin. your hair or his fist.
your ex's 98 Honda Civic.
your best friend
from middle school. that night
(you know the one) or maybe
that other night. any night.
any Monday. any stray
black cat. any bad fortune
cookie. that bad kung pao
chicken. your family's Italian
cooking. your soft round thighs.
yes, your thighs.

Laura E. Davis
Braiding the Storm
Finishing Line Press

Laura E. Davis


what it means

The speaker has had some problems in her life, probably of a sexual nature, probably of a sexually violent nature, but the hunt for finding someone to blame is not the right direction to feel better and ends up being ridiculous. 

There is no one to blame.  Or there is so much to blame that it is ridiculous to start.  

why I like it

I like the tone.  There's sort of a tongue in cheek but not thing going on.  The speaker is mocking the person who tries to blame anyone and everything and yet has empathy for that person.  I like the kindness in this poem, especially if it is a gentle mocking and kindness to the self.


I like list poems.  I like that we don't actually know what all these things are being blamed for.  In my imagination, the writer had something in mind to generate the specifics, but the poem doesn't need it mentioned.

My favorite line is "(you know the one)."  I love that the speaker says it as an aside to herself like this whole poem she's been in conversation with herself and now she chides herself a little for pretending not to know the answers.  It carries such a big story with it. 

You can buy her book at Finishing Line Press

Saturday Night Overtime

Saturday Night Overtime

Rodney yells Rat, shoots nails
with a clamping gun
at a five-inch rat jumping
onto our rails. I drop my door,
bash after the rat with my mallet.
Five hundred rails cascade,
crush redwood panels. Rodney shoots
my feet and I’m dancing until the foreman
chews us out, his left eye flinching
like a turn signal. Between my earplugs
I hum Love it here, Love it here, don’t hear
a word the foreman says, his head
shaking like a souped-up Dodge.
I want to rob his pen, caricature
his chin on a panel. The tape
wound around his glasses is brown
as the chew in his teeth. He X’s
black ink across a work form,
points to it with fingernails
cracked like dried earth. Our foreman’s
so backlogged he can’t fire us.
Twenty minutes and the rails are stacked.
Rodney clamps, shoots me into dancing.
I’m gluing doors, watching the rat
jump on the glue bucket,
dance his Saturday dance.

John Davis
Skywater Publishing Company

Saturday Night Overtime
John Davis


what it means

A couple of guys working overtime on a Saturday night at a door factory goof around and find joy with each other even though they hate the job.

Blue collar work is about your buddies not what you are doing.  Blue collar work is like being a dancing rat under the threat of a nail gun.

Don’t just let things happen.  Notice and care about what’s going on.

why I like it

This book has three sections—rock and roll as a kid, working in the factory, rock and roll as an adult.  I love them all.  I love being taken into worlds I don’t know.

I believe the voice.  He knows his world so well and can share it without excuses.


In medias res. This poem drops you right into the middle of the story, at a high action moment, without any preamble.  Cool.

The similes and metaphors are just so perfect for this speaker.  Like a souped up Dodge, brown as the chew on his teeth.  They both open the poem and stay within its purview.

Find out more about John Davis at johndavispoet.wordpress.com

Gate C22

Gate C22

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the still stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young.  His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching—
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in the mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after—if she beat you our left you or
you’re lonely now—you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.

The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

Ellen Bass
The Human Line
Copper Canyon Press

Gate C22
Ellen Bass

what it means

Love can eclipse us.  Overwhelming love like this can happen at any age.  We have all been loved once.  Love is real.  It is important to stop and pay attention to sacred

why I like it

I'm a big fan of sacred moments.  I love that everyone in the airport stops to witness this one and by the act of reading the poem, we join them.

I like that the poem takes a turn.  I would have liked the poem fine if it just stayed with the kiss, but the fact that it turns to a different topic—how even the most abused of us had a moment like this—makes it much bigger.


This poem combines small concrete observable details and accessible similes. I want to learn how to do that more.  More images, more comparisons, more small sounds like the click of the handles.

You can find out more about her, and, of course, buy her book at www.ellenbass.com

A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful

A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful

It’s been a long time since I couldn’t open a jar of mayo, you said.

In your world this meant the universe collapsed
and the stars had become crumbcake.

Satellites shattered, flour sacks spilled,
and we were a pastry mess in the kitchen.

In the past we were small heroes.

Now we search the web for online assistants,
new tools for things we could once do.

We shouldn’t judge our lives.

We shouldn’t judge our loves
by what we can’t
twist or hold onto.  I heard the sky

that morning was the color of bruises, a blossoming
meteor, a crumpled tail of a comet sprayed
against the crosswalk.

But we missed it all. Inside,

we were considering a life of unopened jars.
So many things we kept shut.

If I think back, I’d believe we went hungry
that day, hungry while the planet slingshot itself
into another galaxy and heaven moved a little

closer. Dark matter angels mingled over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
of challenges.

You said, Sometimes I still want to be needed,

so I let our kitchen become a flood
of time and you, the only thing keeping me
from going under.


Kelli Russel Agodon

A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful
Kelli Russel Agodon

what it means

An aging mother and her daughter (I'm making some leaps for the actual gender and relationship here, but this is what it means to me after all),  are having a conversation in the kitchen. 

How do we age gracefully?  How do we get the help we need while still maintaining our autonomy?  Losing the ability to open a jar is a universe collapsing.

why I like it

Well, you know, I'm middle-aged, my parents and in-laws are aging.  This poem speaks to my life stage.  It says things that are very hard to say out loud like "You said, Sometimes I still want to be needed," but that need to be said.  And it exhorts us to look up from the unopened jars and notice the universe.  This is a necessary poem.


I love the meshing of the kitchen and universe language often on the same line "Satellites shattered, flour sacks spilled."

I was just reading a post from an editor about how the first line has to be fantastic.  That first line is.  It takes the big pronouncement of the title and turns it into something concrete, mundane, and heartbreaking.  It immediately sets who, what, where.  I know we have two intimates--because who else would you admit that to--sharing a confessional moment.  I'm assuming mother and daughter, but I had a similar relationship with my next door neighbor, Ingie, as she aged.  I felt very privileged to be let in to her physical and emotional struggles with aging, and I feel the same way by the first line of this poem: set up for an almost painful intimacy.

You can buy her books at www.agodon.com