Susquehanna Baptism, 1954

“. . . Tugged coal barges skim its shivering skin.”

Marian Dornell has written a superb chapbook called Unicorn in Captivity exploring the legacy of race in America.  This poem spoke to me when she gave a reading recently.  You can learn more about Marian and her writing here.


Tucked in a troublesome valley a brown-skinned girl
sits on her front steps. Above her the cross from St. Patrick’s blots
out the sun. To the east, the Capitol dome frustrates
her vision. She walks a few streets over to the river,
which flows toward a larger thing, resigned.
It surrenders to the demands of business as usual. Tugged
coal barges skim its shivering skin.
On river’s bank, this brown-skinned girl
faces the western shore that bars
her kind, where men with anthracite hearts
guard their women and children
from the dark. The brown-skinned girl
scribbles wishes she tosses
into the water, scraps of dreams
drowned like unwanted puppies.
At dusk debutantes drift
by on a flotilla of party boats, skipping jeweled
stones of light to taunt
the brown-skinned girl.
And river flows to a larger thing, resigned.
The girl dives into the water and swims
to an island for a closer look at life
on the far shore. Bridges span
the river, portals that could carry her over,
but she sees even then
a better life than those prisons
of industry with grinning jockeys on their lawns.
So she weaves herself a raft
of new dreams and floats
to her own distant shore
moving toward a larger thing.

– Marian Dornell
From Unicorn in Captivity
  published by Finishing Line Press

First Cigarette

Teddy strikes a Bogart pose…

My friend John Ziegler doesn’t publish much poetry, but he should.  Maybe this will give him a shove.  His ability to capture a moment in time is so fine.  Some atta boys from readers might help.

Skinny bare legs over
the edge of the garage roof,
Measle takes a drag
on the unfiltered Pall Mall,
coughs like a clogged lawnmower.
Teddy strikes a Bogart pose,
heavy eyelids,
cig between thumb and forefinger.
Chippy lets a smoke feather
trail from her delicious lips,
Detective Magazine,
the guy looming, fedora
the woman dreamy.
Reverend Cartwright hollers from the window,
shakes a dust mop.  “Calling the cops!”
We walk Chippy under the linden trees,
sit on her porch,
no one ready to go home
to Dad parking the Plymouth,
the dog shivering with joy,
ham and boiled cabbage,
Grandma calling in the dark
for a half a glass of water.

– John Ziegler