My poem “Leavings” was just published by Silver Birch Press. I’ll post the poem here, as well as a link to the Silver Birch site. On the site, I tell a little bit about writing the poem.
Leavings are untidy. Remembering
what you want to say as the car pulls away,
or the cell phone drops into your purse,
restraint in an embrace, the casual
see ya, when you ache for more.
There was that time my mother died—
a stiff, proud woman who did not touch.
She lay in bed, while her brothers and I
hovered. We asked if she needed a blanket,
if she wanted music, if she were hungry,
thirsty. At each offering, she jerked her head
from side to side, tight-lipped, angry.
Then the young, Hispanic hospice aide reached
out and took her hand. She knew what leavings
needed, what my mother couldn’t bring herself
to ask for, what we didn’t understand to give.
My mother sighed and held that gentle,
reassuring hand. The aide leaned in, caressed
a wisp of hair on her forehead. My mother smiled,
and took her last breaths.
My friend and fellow State College Poetry Workshop colleague Steve Deutsch received a 2018 Pushcart nomination for this incredible poem recalling a friend and the Vietnam War. Please visit Steve’s blog Stevieslaw to leave a comment.
I found your first book today
in a second hand store at the Harrisburg Station.
Dingy and age-tanned,
it retained its dustcover,
with a photo of you at 22,
wearing a threadbare corduroy coat
I’m sure is still in your closet,
and what might pass for a smile.
It’s a rare first print from ‘69.
You kept to your poetry
like you kept to the old neighborhood,
both mired in bottonless poverty—
an endless scraping by.
Yet, just last year, The Times called you
the Bashful Bard of Brooklyn.
We will lay you out tomorrow
in a sandy plot
in one of those many cemeteries
that dot the flat, emptiness of the mid-island plains.
Bury you next to Mary
your common-law wife of fifty three years
and your only treasure.
I never told you what I felt
when I first held a copy of your book.
I was outside my tent,
less than a mile from the wreckage of Ben Tre.
The package had been waiting for me
while we took that city down.
Not even the rats and the roaches
could have survived our fury.
”That should be me,” I thought,
and tossed that splendid book
on the residue of war.
First published in Eclectica
“Poetry is . . . emotion recollected in tranquility.”
― William Wordsworth
I found his obit on Google,
hadn’t seen him, barely thought
of him in forty years
since the day he loaded his car
with half of everything – blankets, pillows,
dishes, albums (we fought over
who’d get “The Graduate” poster of Hoffman
and Anne Bancroft’s leg) – and drove off
Once, 20 years later I learned where he was
from his buddy John and called.
He still taught drama and directed
summer stock in a small midwestern town.
We laughed together, comfortable,
finally, in our separate skins.
Now an obit with pictures and two columns
in the paper. A well-loved, prominent citizen,
it read, wife, three kids, grandkids. He wrote
a children’s book and “left the town
with memories of comedy and drama
that enriched our lives.”
Our marriage wasn’t mentioned. No need,
I suppose – a youthful take off
and crash landing best forgotten. But I wish
I had a chance to say goodbye.
– Sarah Russell
First published by Silver Birch
for dVerse Poetics
a dead spider sways in silk threads
with mummied gnats and flies
food for eternity
– Sarah Russell
First published in Three Line Poetry
For the d’Verse prompt “brevity”
dust the ferns with my ashes —
there, among the aspen
trembling gold against the sky.
Let them settle, sighing,
on the still warm earth of autumn
where the next peak calls your name.
Snow will come. The wind will show me
paths the doe and vixen know. The moon
will call me with her crescent mouth
and share stories of the embered stars.
– Sarah Russell
First published in Poppy Road Review
for Poets United Poetry Pantry
“They haven’t dug the grave yet.”
Mom insisted on coming to the cemetery
after her best friend Dorothy’s viewing.
“The funeral’s not ’til 2 tomorrow,” I said.
“They’ll dig it in the morning.”
“They should have it dug,” she fussed.
Mom is a farm woman, used to death.
She turned ninety in the fall,
and Dorothy was her last good friend
in the tiny delta town where children leave
for jobs or school or just to escape the soy
and cotton. Her church has only twenty members
now — old women who show off corsages
on Mother’s Day and sometimes cajole their men
to come in overalls and slicked-back hair.
Dorothy and Mom taught Bible study, went to Eastern Star
and bingo, traded recipes and gossip.
Mom killed a rabid skunk in Dorothy’s yard
with the double barrel she keeps under the bed,
and Dorothy came to quilt on Wednesdays –
just the two of them since the other three passed on.
“Why’s it important to see the empty grave?” I asked.
“I need to know she’ll be comfortable,” Mom said.
“I know she’d do the same for me.”
– Sarah Russell
First published in On the Veranda
For Poetry Pantry on Poets United
Photo courtesy of Paul Marshuk
My friend Ryan Stone has a poem in the August issue of Red River Review. I’ll reprint the poem as well as links both to his blog, Days of Stone, and to the journal. Many fine poems on both venues.
Although science, with clinical wisdom
declared her not yet a person,
a heartbeat argued defiantly
for a night.
We visit the cemetery —
hands entwined, minds
in different hemispheres,
hearts mangled. In a quiet corner
where the sun lingers late in summer,
where gelid moans soften in winter,
we become broken pieces
of something once much stronger.
– Ryan Stone
photo courtesy of Jikoman
“You must let me go, Tomás…”
OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a hopeless romantic, and Will Pennington’s series of poems and fiction about Susanna captures lost love so poignantly that I asked if I could reblog his latest poem. To read more of the Susanna series, please visit Will’s site, and let him know your thoughts.
Is she the one, Susanna?
I do not know, Tomás.
You must know, Susanna.
She makes me think of you.
She is not me.
I want you back, Susanna.
I’m dead, Tomás.
You died too soon.
Why? Why? Tell me.
I do not know why, Tomás. It was my time to die.
It isn’t fair.
Life is not always fair.
Sasi makes me feel the way you did.
Then you must be with her.
What if I forget you?
You must forget me to be happy with Sasi.
I lost half of my heart when you died.
Then Sasi must replace that part of your heart.
No, Susanna. I can’t.
Yes, Tomás. You must.
I don’t want to forget you. You have the piece of my heart that makes me whole.
You must let me go, Tomás, so you can find love and happiness again.
If Sasi is the one, she will hold the piece of your heart that makes you whole.
Yes. Love makes the heart whole, not the person, Tomás.
Do you love Sasi?
I’m falling in love with her, Susanna.
You must be fair to her, Tomás, and let her love you.
You must forget me to love her, Tomás, or you won’t be happy.
Then I won’t be happy, Susanna.
I love you, Susanna.
I love you, Tomás.
– Will Pennington
“. . .an avian funeral cortège.”
The smartest man I know is dying –
cancer, spreading to his bones
and cruelly, to his brain.
“Come look back here,” he says when I visit.
“They knew even before I did.”
Six ravens walk – stately, slow, with purpose –
across his yard, an avian funeral cortège.
“They’ve been here since spring,” he adds.
He points to a corner near the fence.
“That one has a broken wing.
Got it robbing a blue jay’s nest.
Shouldn’t mess with jays, I told her.”
He feeds her raw chicken and steak but says he knows
that soon she’ll ask for death, and he’ll oblige.
“They won’t do the same for me,” he says.
I don’t know what to say.
“When she’s gone, her fellows will have
a feast of her carcass,” he says without malice,
“just as they will with mine.”
I try to protest, but I know it’s true.
Already there’s talk that his research is passé.
At lunch, I see my own reflection in a soup spoon.
– Sarah Russell
First published in Misfit Magazine
Watercolor by Sarah Yeoman, SarahYeoman.com
P.S. New prompts are up on the Prompts page.
“. . . Train fare is cheaper when you’re alive.”
Hilary Hauck’s poem of the River Ganges is a powerful statement of death and of life. You can read more about Hilary’s work here.
Street sleepers line both sides of the avenue
like colorful rows of dolls.
They’re old or sick the guide says. Train fare
is cheaper when you’re alive.
He leads us to where time hasn’t changed,
alleys glowing oil-lamp yellow,
so narrow we meld our backs
to the stone walls to let a sacred cow pass.
A loudspeaker chants
impersonal prayers, bells toll.
The buildings end on a terrace
above the cremation ghat,
where lucky bodies bandaged
in cloths wait their turn.
Smoke of flesh emanates,
we cover our faces with scarves
but he says it’s an insult to
imitate Indian dress
so we breathe in the dead.
Only the wealthy can buy
a thick sandalwood pyre,
the poor make do with scant scraps
whose flames are unable to devour whole bones.
Attendants pick through cooling ashes
and body remnants,
pocketing gold the dead
had meant to keep, sweeping
the bones into a basket to be tipped
into the well-fed drift of the
where by day crowds bathe and
float islands of flowers on leaves
and pray for those able to die here,
because they are the ones that escape
the eternal cycle of life,
spared, by moksha, from reincarnation,
released into heaven
for a final kind of death.
– Hilary Hauck