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A PRAIRIE TWISTER OF A POET...Other Rooms cover

NEW EDITION FOR 2009. SHIRLEY POWELL'S OTHER ROOMS.

Shirley Powell is one of a small circle of poets who astonished New York and other poetry centers in the 1970s and 1980s with a new romanticism that shed modernism with all its cynical baggage. Lyrical, supernatural, narrative, and deft in portrayal of characters, Powell's poems startled many with their freshness, and their sense of being narrated by a timeless voice.

She is a prairie twister of a poet. Her people and animals occupy a remembered world of small town and rural America, but they are real--they breathe, dream, bleed and die. Her ghosts and demons spring not from myth, but from your grandmother's rocking chair. This book selects 80 poems from the very best of Powell's passionate, spooky, romantic, and haunting poems. Other Rooms, first published as a hand-bound book in 1997, has been unavailable for some time, and we are deligjhted to bring it back into print. A Poet's Press Grim Reaper Book, $13.95. 6 x 9 paperback, 112 pp. ISBN 978-0-922558-36-0. Click HERE to order from AMAZON.

From Reviews of Earlier Books by Shirley Powell:

"She offers original visions of country living, strange tales unadorned with sentimentality... she merges with nature like a Native American, sensually and wholly, chewing bark of sycamore, wearing necklaces of shark's eggs, drinking rain pools."

--Dakota Lane, The Woodstock Times

"A book to receive without prejudiced expectations, letting in its wildness and innocence and rediscovering your own images of trees, earth, water, 'the moon's clothed brightness' and snow..."

--Jeanne Fitzgerald, Oxalis

"Who is this superb poet? ... she is capable of an intense poignancy in reflection, and she is mightily concerned with what it means to be a human among humans and with what it means to be a creature among creatures. She hides herself behind each page...because she is capable of hiding herself... such ability is power manifest.

--David Castleman, Dusty Dog Reviews

"This is the poetry of softly padded feet...of coolly driven power, fried dough and shelter that is based in the sun... their proletarian dignity had me spinning in my stool...They cancel our obligation to 'night of the living victim' and weaving a Wordsworthian quilt they open our souls to little and familiar things. Shirley Powell deftly mists us in nature to break our bondage to the laundry list of life."

--Bob Tramonte, Home Planet News


 

 

Copyright 1975, 1984, 1986, 1997, 2009 by The Poet's Press

All Rights Reserved

Some of the poems in this book have appeared in Rooms in 1984, reprinted in 1986, and in May Eve: A Festival of
Supernatural Poems
(1975), Parachutes (1975),
Alternate Lives (1990), and
Villages and Towns (1993)

 

Some poems in this volume first appeared in Alphabeat Soup, Echoes, Home Planet News, Light, Stone Soup Poetry (Boston), Oxalis, Concepts, Indigo, Mysterious Barricades, Third Thing, Poets Fortnightly, The Woodstock Times and Ball State University Forum.

This is the 146th and 178th publication of

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PROVIDENCE, RI 02906


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Legions of Bats

In the Beginning

Steel in the Fingers Writes This Line

The User

Just Before the Migration

Seventy Years Ago

Rat Hunt

Puma

Mad Woman

At the Bar

Getting Thicker

Gypsy

Earth Song

When Will It Happen

There Is a Box

There Is a Sphinx

Grammarian's Poem

Clock Shock

Alley Oop

Under the Lighthouse

The Daughter Speaks

Boy in a Bubble

Woods, Ruth Woods

First Magic

The Quarrel

Margot

Country Visit

About Barbara

Real Poet

Going After Cows

The Fish Continues

Owl's Hunt

The Worm's Turn

For Snow

A Druid's Tale

Speech by an Old Deity

Freaks

The Chair

PLUS MANY MORE POEMS IN THE PRINTED VERSION OF THE BOOK!

ABOUT THE POET


LEGIONS OF BATS

Legions of bats
    stiff draperies of wings
         hung on the walls
         their shadows behind them
    under them
         stone corridors
         in the grip of the river
         a fortress of night,
         around couches of air
         damp with mammalian sleep
then the host
         the fluttering army
         spreading worn crusted wings
into sky
    netting the moon
         in webbed fingers
         their branches
crying their cryless cries
         echoing over the cliffs
         and the canyons
into pastures, and plummeting     like
              splashes of night
         falling on drowsing cattle
         cutting, lapping
                                  from necks of the beasts
         dumb under moon
         trickles of blood
                                 dark on their wrink-
                                 ling hides
the winged ones rising
         doing slow dances in air
         sending their silent trills
         over stone still river
flying away from the moon
         to their stations
         their shadows
keeping their hours, their days
         blood bubbles cleansing
         their hard little teeth.

 

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IN THE BEGINNING

First lullaby?
Hunter crying for meat?
Widow's lament?
What was the first poem, where?

Can't find it in
artifacts mastodon bones
spread out on a dry creek bed

But I know it
in throat and fingers
hear it when the leaves fall
down to sleep

I write that
first poem to you over and over
as it comes to me

Time doesn't vanish

Once and once more
we raise our animal heads
stand on two legs
rename the stars

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STEEL IN THE FINGERS WRITES THIS LINE

Steel in the fingers writes this line.
What can be done, must be done
with steel.

Somewhere someone is pressing a bell
but is it    where another
waits for the sound?

The line is written,
flung across these spaces.

The buzzer urges,
sightless...
at a twisted gate

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THE USER

Fog arms reach
and fall away
while the steady car
tracks the road.  

Farmhouses waver back long lanes
country bridges
catch at me hurrying
animals     dash at my wheels

Those others beyond the clouded windows
rush by me unhappily;
I am too transitory
to be real.

I know there is no destination
I know I am the traveler

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JUST BEFORE THE MIGRATION

Something hard killed your feet
Your thin unfeathered legs splayed
from the solid rest of you
propped on your fanned and banded tail.

Alert you watched us
twitching our nervous towels

You couldn't uncurl your
blade-tipped toes
couldn't stand
                       but
your beak was ready as your stern
questionless eyes
You fluttered still-strong wings
when we brought a box
that could hold you

No cats came.

Your thud at the window had brought
us          but no other
predators

Then one foot straightened
                                           as if
you'd been dissembling
    the other tingled alive

You shifted the sharp shins
of your name
golden and firm under you.

A finch at our feeder
didn't distract
 
Your mottled breast bunched     you
lifted    taking your weapons
intact
No mercy in your coming or
your going

Mercy belongs to the nest
and you know
the nest is far away

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SEVENTY YEARS AGO

Seventy years ago my grandmother
         rode a spring wind to church
         and was married
    looking around the still room
    to see     if the man she loved
         was a witness.

ample black hair puffed on her head
         eyes lively
         mouth just missing a pout
         gown to the chin
              to   the wrists
                  to the floor
         delicate fingers on the young farmer's arm ...

Her lover stayed away,
    was shot in a barroom brawl the next
                                                  year.

She went to Montana and lived in a tarpaper shack
         snakes crawled under it
         wolves visited
         children were born and no
                                              doctor
    women met in tunnels of snow
            to exchange remedies
    and when spring came
         she sometimes took the horse
              after cattle
         riding away and away
         while her young ones watched
              from the door.

She has lived to be old
         buried her husband
         two grandchildren,
         seen her children grow lean
                   and grayheaded . . .


    she sleeps in the long afternoons
    dreaming of prairies
    of wildcats that lived in the coulees,
    of a lover
                   who didn't come back-
    she stands at a window
    watching a country road.

He is walking toward her
         tall and bareheaded
         whistling and laughing
         ready at last
         to turn her life
              another way


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RAT HUNT

From the roof
         where sky hangs black
         over gray gold city
the man moves down

         hearing his heels hollow on stairs
         as he passes windows blank as walls.

The cat
    crouches underneath
    black
    gray gold eyes in the dark
the cat
    sees dawn on the roof
    sleeps noon on the landing
    hunts night    below the house

arched on splintered step
claws caught in the wood
waiting for rats
                        hard squeals    warm fur
                        red blood in corners.

The cat
    feeds in a pool of black
    as the man's heels ring hollow
    all the way
              down the stairs.


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PUMA

      (After Walter Van Tilberg Clark's Track of the Cat)

Began uneasy night
         the lips of the dogs quivered in song under trees
         where the great cat had wandered.
Snow hung on the horses' hooves and their breathings
                   piled in layers
                   on air.
We hunted the cat
         with wind on the lake, crying its name
         to the dark for the dark's reply

Dogs and horses and men
         staggering and slipping
         into a cold ravine            saw
         the silhouette                 heard
         the feline's snarl             felt
         its muscles gather          smelled
         the blood flash
when the brood mare fell, rolling and wild
         cat clamped to her neck
         claws clutching her ribs
         then leaping away

dogs thick on the hill, men cursing and turning
                   their jumping mounts
shouts that the sky swallowed up
                     cat    was    gone
                     air     was    empty
then they shot the mare.

Drink from the cold flask, men
         into the saddles and home
the cat walks its way in the forest

dogs rest for another day, horses browse in the fields,
men fall into their beds
               while
                        the wild thing follows
                        wind and snow

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MAD WOMAN

I, Mabel, hear the years buzz
         Someone said what happened to Mabel
         whose mother burned houses
         and someone answered they took her away
         one afternoon. She said her room was fur
         and would kill her with its great wings

I hear the years buzz
         In the hall there were owls
         and cranes with necks like esses
         webbed feet of frogs     that were men
         that suddenly were men
         I locked my door
         there were rabbits     many     weaving
               long circles
               round my room
         I ran to the window
         nuns walked near the convent
         I called and called
         after awhile men who were tall
         broke open the door
         that the dark green snails
         had sealed firm
         I was carried   bandaged in blankets
         unable to do more than wink
         down a long stair
         heads sat on the banisters
              watching

Now, I sit in a chair
         painting white pictures
         nobody sees them but me
         safer so
I have gilded my arms with a pigeon's blood
and my captors are animal lovers

Sometimes I think of the nuns
         they never come here


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AT THE BAR

It was one of those nights
    when I was standing at the bar
    I saw a man bring his     hallucination     in

It sat beside him (next to me)

He didn't buy it a drink
    but patted it from time to time
    when it seemed restless
Just one more drink and we'll go home
                                              he said

    A shadow seemed to grow there
    I saw a tear fall on the bar
Wait here, he told it and went back
                             to the men's room

I     watched it     for him
After awhile     I     touched its hand
And that was the beginning   
                                         the edge
         of all the rooms
    that I keep going through.


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GETTING THICKER

I think the walls are getting thicker
    I don't hear people making love of mornings any more

I thought if the telephone rang more often
    the electromagnet might revitalize the air in here

Maybe I'll begin drinking and then I won't remember
    there were thinner walls once     even windows

I dream of doors     but have forgotten how they look
    I almost (in my dream) remember
         I wake up almost remembering

Today I will walk through a wall
         breathing may not be possible
                    I practice
                                  not breathing

It seems to me the walls are breathing now
    I am lost in the walls     like a rat scratching
         Maybe you will hear me after midnight
              maybe you will make a window
                    or a door


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GYPSY

You know everything.
    I turn and find the room
         is full of smoke

At night in a forest
              owls sit on your shoulders

You draw crimson wings
         on windows
I am under your bed like a nail in a box.

You trace a spider's web against the blaze
    When the fire is over
           you
will pass through     like a finger
         of smoke

               I
will stay under your bed     in a box.


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EARTH SONG

Sun sings to earth in a silvering
                          the turn of a wing
                              in a sunpoint
brings wholeness     brings music     a clearing
that moves as I move
                  that grows in the rocks
        the rocks never die

in them are the bones
                                 the deep places
                                    of evening

I have gone by and gone by
                                on this road
          till the going is in me
          the wander of water on rocks
     the rocks never die

Sun sings to earth
         the turn of a wing

I have gone by
           I am the sinew of shadow
           that heralds deep places
                        in evening

I have gone by.
         the rocks never die


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WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN

    Dog's body at the side of the road
    man with twisted legs lying in a ditch
    truck carrying thunder down the hill
    floating, faces cold in water, those two girls

But those were dreams

    Inside my ribs or somewhere
    locked in my blood grains
    the killer feeds and grows

    he'll have me sometime, that vengeful one
    it may be night     I'll be an animal
    dazed by rushing lights

These are not the thoughts I want to think
I didn't ask you to come here looking:
since you did I'll tell you this, that
we will all cry murder sometime.


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THERE IS A BOX

There is a box of salt
                               with a girl on it
    she has an umbrella
                                    and a box of salt
                                    under her arm
                               with a girl on it
    she has an umbrella
                                    and a box of salt
                                    under her arm
                               with a girl on it
    she

and poems are like that
         they keep being themselves
              forever
         they keep wrapping
                    and unwrapping
         and there are poems
              inside them
          that look like them
    until the last shred of skin
          is peeled away

by that time the poet
            should be dead
    but even then
    she will give
               one     more     twitch


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THERE IS A SPHINX

There is a sphinx sitting on my desk
    paws folded     lemon eyes filtering light
the sphinx has not smiled or spoken
sometimes in the night it will
sing without moving its mouth

It is telling me something
inside the hard rind of my dreams
Its stone will grow fur here

When its sides begin wrinkling
    in and then out
I will catch its breaths
    in quartzite
build it a moon pool
under my bed where
it can study its face


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GRAMMARIAN'S POEM

Buckminster Fuller said,
" I seem to be a verb."

That made me think.
My granddad was a genuine article,
my cousin Jill an adjective
modifying every
person, place or thing.
Some men I've known are
mostly ejaculations.

The Jones we keep up with
must be prepositions:
They have so many objects.

And politicians?
They'd be pronouns,
saying they stand for
something of substance
till after the election.

As for me, I'd like to be
a conjunction,
joining all the lost parts
until my life's sentence
has more meaning.


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CLOCK SHOCK

and they said that on top of
             this building uptown
        there was a clock
                   they said
it never rang the hours
            but they kept it there
sometimes the hands would fly around
    the face
sometimes the face would spin around
    the hands
        and
    when the moon was in eclipse
    something would happen
          underneath the clock
    at least
         some angel hair would fall
    or a poem would be born


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ALLEY OOP

My pup and I were in the big kitchen
    with a wood stove
    Grandma's kitchen

I climbed on her stool
    to open a cabinet door
    where she kept
               banana candy
               marshmallows
               spearmint gum

Reaching I leaned too much
    stool wavered underneath
          fell
I slid off
    onto a black and white floor

My knee was bleeding
Mama came running from the living room
Grandma followed
         "Oh, what's she done now?"

They lifted me
    righted the stool
Alley Oop my little dog
    black and white like the floor
    lay where the stool had fallen
    not moving


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UNDER THE LIGHTHOUSE

(for my grandmother)

there were certain dreams you told me
                       a litany
I on my cot beneath the lighthouse picture
            in its oval frame
you massaging my thin leg
         then bracing it against a pillow

You told me of girls with handsome legs
                 figure skating
                tales of athletes
                   being crowned
               whipped cream wishes
            perfections like a mountain
               of strawberries
                        or an island
                      of iced melons
                                 You fed me
                      favorite dreams
                    your fingers probing my dead
                         muscles

That's why the painting of the lighthouse
                        shining in the moon
                        still makes me sleepy
            makes me smile
                          gives me
         vague and lovely dreams


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THE DAUGHTER SPEAKS

I begin to say
it is the noon sun that I have to
meet
questions you've never asked
are falling to the floor
evaporating
light in the room wavers

When you lay down that autumn
did you think of rivers shining?
Coupling on the new sheets
did you prophesy?

The mirrors glisten.
I begin to say I have to
go now
like a severed arm I
move off toward the East.


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BOY IN A BUBBLE

1
I know a boy who lives in a bubble.
It keeps him alive
    he smiles at me
    I wave to him every day

My parents say he can't come out yet.
I wave to him through a window

I think his bubble grows smaller
    at night     stays on the ceiling over my bed
          in the morning it's gone.
I wish I could visit him in there.

2
I am a woman     whose son     lives in a bubble.
    he plays   bouncing and running    inside it
         sleeps on a plastic floor

I am a woman    whose touch    will kill her son

 

3
I am a boy who lives in a bubble.
I have always been here.

Air outside is different
    there are birds in it
I can get out if I want to
          or
I can wait till the others let me.
Then no one will look at me
    but it will not be safe

The others think if they ask me to come out
I will come out.
They think if they tell me to stay in
I will stay in.

This is what they think.  They have plans
They decide     When
I laugh     I laugh at them

I am getting stronger    taller    preparing
   for a certain day like the day
        that came once
         when I wasn't ready
Black birds flew by the window    crying for me
                       on the right day
                    my magic bubble knows
                it will have to    break


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WOODS, RUTH WOODS

Every day Rafe left Ruth
in the woods that was his name
Woods and he called her by it
Ruth Ruth Woods

In the wind they moaned those
frigging pine trees and
oaks scraped each other

A house down the lane had
children in it
little white girls came
to call Ruth made them cookies
taught them songs

brushed that long blonde hair
no wonder Indians lifted scalps
that hair was nice

Rafe wouldn't take her into town he
left her there till
after dark and hoot owls
made her light up
all the rooms

He was making money hauling trash
Get me a new truck he would say
Look how we live here
Ruth complained it ain't no life

What's wrong with it, Ruth, Ruth Woods?
You lucky you got a man
She'd shut up
before Rafe got ugly

Kept her house pure clean
so they couldn't talk about
no shiftless darkies

and then the peddler came
sold her a knife she didn't want
then told her she could
keep it for nothing and
taught her some new tunes
a dance step too

bought her a gold ring
she had to hide
kept coming back and saying
she should
meet him in town

When Rafe found out
he took the knife to her
and she ran out into
the so black woods

Ruth! Ruth Woods! he
called to her but
she was gone

Come Saturday the neighbors
went a-hunting for her among
the pines and oaks
the sleepy owls

But she was gone
for good like
somebody scooped her up
and took her down to Tupelo

The white girls missed those cookies
and those songs
At night they thought
they heard the pine trees singing
Ruth Ruth Woods


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FIRST MAGIC

Long room full of six year olds
I am teacher with a little edge of mercy left
You are student
    blank and listening
    leaning elbows on
    an old desk

            I
catch a corner of your nine o'clock dream
         you
think of spaces around words on paper

You will remember dull walls
    Catholic saints
    homilies
    your old desk
    scarred and bearing your thumb prints

Leaning over the new words you have written
         you
stare at me     In one fist you carry them
smudged    running together     to me
"Teacher, what do they say?"

Do you know better than I
that we are all mysteries?
Out of us
    come stars which line the cool East
    with firefaced Messiahs
Out of us
    comes abracadabra
Out of us and our old desks
    comes the beginning of sorrows
         the beginning twists
              in our memories
         plays back
    the anthems of Mars


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THE QUARREL

When you rang the doorbell
    none of the closets would open.

Did you notice the chair
    folded into a corner
    when you came in?

The wastebasket flattened
   along the rug
       the fireplace shrank
   the window fan churned glass
       wiping stripes of moonlight
   on the walls

The room was stiff for storm
    sliding in and out of our breaths
    scratching when we spoke


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MARGOT

Margot    in her last years   wore
         quiet makeup
       black slippers
       long skirts   and
       long sleeves over thin arms.

She had two gods she named Love and Art

Her aura was mystery    edited often,
         quick-quilted fictions to
         decorate all her hours.

One day a shadow fractured
        her word dazzle

She leaves us in silence, her eyes
    finally hard and terrible.
She lies on a strange bed,
    grown away from her body
that aged in spite of    all her will.

Her new lover woos her now from a
         distant place:
    a god who will lie with her
         always
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COUNTRY VISIT

for Emilie Glen

You saw a snowy owl
that was really an arm
of a white birch tree.

You saw fire-eyed phantom deer
in smeared dark
beyond car windows;

you saw chimney smoke as a woman
sifting your hair in
her aromatic fingers.

You ran from our thick spring mud
that sucked at everything,
insatiable baby.

Fallen trees made a bruise
on some dream you were having-
you screamed your way from rock to rock
and nourished your feet at a waterfall.

You felt the close bald stars
making fear shadows
which our moon pulls by ...

You went home
and wrote a poem.


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ABOUT BARBARA

No copy I,
as she once thought;
nor copy she, it's true.

She was like me,
and I, like her;
but we were different, too.

She stared the moon
full in its face
and never could withdraw,

while I,
more tender of my needs,
lived ravenous and raw.

We both saw monsters
clearly, fondling them
like snakes.

She, bitten first, subsided
while I invent
escapes


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REAL POET

On the death of Barbara Holland

My eyes hurt.
I think of hers,
so blurred she learned
to speak the lines
without seeing them

She burned all messages,
leaving only the poems
alive.

Even she, the marvel-maker,
drifts now
and her words go out,
sparkles beyond my fingers
to touch, my mouth
to try.


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GOING AFTER COWS

Granddad led the way
to gray boulder
(duck landing) to cross the branch
and then uphill

The bellwether
came even before
he slipped the halter
on her neck

She followed
down through daisies
and wild carrot
to pig sties and
to barns

Animals always did
what Granddad wanted.

Even the sick hen lay still
while he reached inside her
with a spoon to take her egg
"I thought it mighta
broke in there," he told me.

He cut off the heads of cockerels
every week at an old tree stump
He'd turn them free to flop
The other chickens watched but
didn't run away

When he went after cows
the cows came as if
he had holy wafers
in his dusty pockets

as if he knew the real
names of those cows
their long-ago desires
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THE FISH CONTINUES

    The fish has died before this
            
             if it is a fish

    it moves though water
         
             as a thought
     
      given flesh
      
               might swim

    Each panel it makes

         and pushes aside

    to get to the place

     it is going again

The fish has lived before this

 if it is a fish     it is not

              puzzled

    at the sameness

               of its dream

    it hunts out the identical water

         the exact molecules

    that caressed its length

          before this

              after this

    The fish continues

           if it is a fish


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OWL'S HUNT

Owl in halflight
    trailing cobwebs of old stars
    over meadows
blood of small things
                whirs
in your long feathered ears

In the first stops of light
    sounds sink to earth
    and are frozen

    as your wings seem in mid-flight

White roads wrench underneath you
lean trees rise
    and the mercy of daylight
    draws back
        as you fly
        as you call


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THE WORM'S TURN

All around us is a sound continuous like rain
    but not rain.
Bits of leaves lace the ground
thick caterpillars fall and crawl and eat

We have killed them all day.
Juices of green growing things spurt
    from them their black coverings erupt they
    die
    on our fingers
    under foot

Their twins remount the buildings
climb trees
drop from roofs
munch every leaf.
             They come    we kill    they come

There is a sound everywhere around us
   a sound of soft devouring
                            steady uncontrollable
                    like rain


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FOR SNOW

I lived in snow, a snow house
while the white sky peeled
and slipped down
gathered by trees and the glad ground.

and I lived in snow
wore it for hats heaped it over the hours
ate it as it turned to nothing
under my tongue

It was no misfortune living in snow
sodden and chill
watching it fall and grow
fall and grow

I chewed bark of an old sycamore
tough leftover fern
dried blueberries
hard on their canes
from the summer
the few hickory nuts squirrels missed

Living in snow sledding
the hills building ethereal castles
I animated snowwoman
carrying my dead white burden
everywhere

Of course I was frozen alive
to be found in somebody's April
lying in a flooded field crying
for snow.


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A DRUID'S TALE

I will tell you
       your next dream

There is a hemlock with a gaping thick lipped
          mouth in its side
You walk down a long hill
                     in the country
fallen leaves hide spiders
                       doodle bugs
                           snakes

spring peepers
      bounce their voices
           through the wet woods

You watch this tree
                 trading places among
                 other trees
sometimes it dozes on the hillside
                mouth agape for breathing
other times you've found it
               by a stream
        screaming a frozen warning
           you think you can almost hear

The other day you sit home
    at your dining room table
    pausing between spoonfuls
    of yogurt

The tree with its staring wound
    rattled your window
    you jump and fling down
        the blind.
 
It's this tree or you
                 odds favor the tree
        which refuses to honor
      the ancient customs of trees
   while you are a traditional person who
      thinks that when in the country
           you must walk in the woods.

Now there are many trees, mostly the beeches
    that tremble as you pass
            under their burgeoning leaves
                 spirit holes widen
    their voices come to you as you move
down the hill
          you had thought
          the spring peepers
       were making this clatter
   but it is really the forest itself

Someday soon you'll decipher the language
    they quaver, the hickories, the maples
           for it is easy
                the maimed sentinel tree
    tries to show you

"You are one of us," is the message.
        "Come join us."
        Sap congeals on your skin,
        bark grows
                a dainty oak leaf
                lifts itself out of your finger
What if you don't wake up?


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SPEECH BY AN OLD DEITY

I am the trees,
              and the trees are breaking.
Cold fog presses my eyes
              with its negligent thumbs ...
I am your enemy
              weakening walls which
                 the currents
                    caress.
Why do you call to me over and over,
           standing a long time in the road,
      creek water tasting your lavender
feet?
The maelstrom is silent.
Every cloud falls without sound--
All around you branches are broken
              and floating-

I am the trees: the hickories, oaks, the pines,
              and the water-soaked birches.
I have always been
             only the trees
                     and the trees are
                              breaking.


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FREAKS

Freaks with their crazyquilt faces
    lumped backs    mismatched arms and legs
freaks have their eyes on you

Freaks remember.
They follow you through doorways
sidling under your arms
they are thinking an old conversation
that doesn't begin or end
they show their stumps    roll their tongues
         but do not speak

You will have to guess their screams
         pick the pits of their thoughts
                 out of your breakfast

On a fast elevator    they are leaning
              toward you
    trying as always to capture
    your stare
         they smile; perhaps they will
entertain
    they preen and fawn at your knees
  into the wells of their eyes your face
  disappears
They are strengthened     You jerk to an exit
              drag a club foot


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THE CHAIR

It was a rocker
             old and armless
        sitting by an upstairs window
        where the seven sisters slept ...
It belonged to the grandmother
            it came with her from Ireland
            when she was sixteen
It rocked with its own squeak
       a sort of cracking sigh
   and no one used it but the grandmother
                who sometimes sat there
         piecing quilts ...

The girls who slept in that room
             often woke at night
      to the familiar squeaking sound
      and watched the rocker
      rocking slowly
           and then faster
           and then faster
         no one sitting in it
They'd cover up their heads and try to sleep
The smallest girl    occasionally would sleepwalk
    she rode the rocker on those nights
   faster faster fast asleep
Her sisters woke her gently as they could
         and she would scream with fright
     at waking in the rocker
                           that could rock
alone

One night when there was moonlight all around
        the sisters heard a rattling at
                 the window
  they shivered though the air was warm
                the rocker
          began rocking
                      wider and wider
                  fasterfaster
                  turning and turning

It fell on one side and almost like a live thing
                  came to rest. One of the
                            rungs had broken
      The grandmother died that night
                  full of years
               and almost blind
The sisters were so frightened of the chair
       their father tore the rocker
       into parts and burned it all for firewood
           in the wintertime
And as the last of it was burning black
           the door to the upstairs began
        to open and to close
              there was a coldness
        on the stairs that seldom went away
They lay at night and dreamed the rocker had
returned
       they thought they heard it rocking
   the youngest girl would sleepwalk nights
       and ride the invisible rocker
            until she fell exhausted
               to the floor
Her sisters were too terrified to wake her

One morning when they lifted her
    they found her dead
 and after that the rocking stopped
         except for stormy nights
    when there were tiny screams
  within the walls   and the squeak
        of a rocking chair

The house is gone now
           three old women still live on
     the others dead   are sleeping in the woods
  around the house  or where the house had been
Their faces all are blurred
  their voices are forgotten ...

The living and the dead
        slip in and out of dreams
     and there are times when worlds
        so intertwined bleed into
            one another
        a chill lies on the spine
     the eyes jerk upward
            like foxes gone to earth
     the things that were
            have disappeared
        into the things that are.


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ABOUT THE POET

Shirley Powell began her lifelong poet's journey in third grade in an Ohio hamlet called Reilly, and her first poems appeared in newspapers and in a collection of school children's poems published by the state's department of education. As an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she won two prizes for poems written in college. From then on, she was hooked on poetry. A major part of her writing life emerged when she moved to New York City in 1971. She became an active Greenwich Village poet as the surrealistic and subterranean found their way alongside her lyrics. Narrative poems flowed from these as well, and around age 40, she began to publish poems in magazines. Since then, she has been involved with poetry workshops, public readings, a literary quarterly (Oxalis), and with managing various poetry reading series, festivals and contests in her Upstate New York years. Four books of poetry preceded this volume.

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