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Linda Benninghoff, Asst. Poetry Editor

May 2008

Butterflies and Other Poems


Butterflies

This winter I find a white fish bone
at the edge of a river.
The air of the house
clogs with the sea
and its rasping voice--
wave after wave,
the slow music tells me
this world
will never be mine,

though it has stared at me
from strange eyes
like wildflowers,
beating wings like a bird
who loses its fear
in my hand,
glancing like a child
with my own thoughts in its eyes.

I know I have never owned anything,
not my hands, my thoughts
nor even the butterflies
that jam
in summer
against stones and flowers,
wavering, thick with themselves,
thronging in a light
that does not divide them,
or tell of any order
besides this day’s blind sun.


The Aspen

A drab Christmas—
my friend gave me a book,
“Poetry and Letters of Jane Kenyon.”
After a few pages
I realized Kenyon was dead,
like you and your husband.

How the aspen
up at our lake cottage
seemed to sigh that summer,
leaf after leaf
trembling with light
dropping into
a pool of curls
and twists and ovals
russet and brown,
as if it were
already in mourning
for the length of many summers,
missing the lick of light
and column of wind;
as if dying
were waiting,
crying
and choking
on leaves.

It hoped for still another summer
light crossing the bark,
grass climbing at the base.

St. Paul Street

I.

So many of us who came
to this red row house on St. Paul Street
lay in bed at night
looking out the window at the stars.
We ached with the darkness,
wanting all we could not have.
Leaving home and family,
we came here to recover
from depression, mixed up lives.
One sultry afternoon
I told you how lucky you were.
You whispered to me,
“I have a boyfriend, but I'm not lucky.”

Yet we envied you.
None of us believed
you would throw yourself off the five-story house.

The next day three gulls disappeared
behind the building
returned, curving in the air.
The sentences I squeezed out were hollow
The words weighed on each other.
Every word ached.
I could not grasp my sorrow.
Words fell down
like houses of cards,
one unleashing pain into the  next.

II.

A small, bruised tree in the park
took the birds easily,
as if it were easy to hold someone,
hands gentle as prayers.
Three years have passed
and I know my hands are not as gentle
and my prayers
fall back to me
numb as the leaves on this frosted ground

While the brown leaves slide,
I wonder why each time I have chosen,
the person I left and did not choose
will sing to me from my memory?

I would twist the wrists of this silent air
to find myself
as I was at first
crossing the streets to view the  harbor,
tumbling in the park’s long grass
when your face still glowed,
and the chill air did not curl round me
crisply, incessantly.

III.

Wandering the cemetery late at night,
do the fires of the stars burn harder there?
Does a raccoon slide past,
not noticing you
in your stillness?

I do not know what words
the dead lift to us
or if they can hear our own.

I only know the rhythm
inside you is slow and eternal.
as you  leave the gravesite--
like waves breaking--
hands empty and still.

IV.

You are bending your head
as if you are watching over me.
Your long hands are hanging;
your eyes hold light in them
like stationary sunlight
amidst shadows.

One day in your place
there was a roomful of flowers.

Dozens of crows
settled in my yard.
They called
till their sound swelled to a single voice.

It must have been like that for you
A blackness that grew
till it sang in your ears its own song.



See Linda's Bio here.
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