An Elegy for Birds & Bees

Lavender Kiss_Matthew Harper

“Lavender Kiss,” by Matthew Harper

An Elegy for Birds & Bees

“When a woman pretends to press her life down into a nice, tidy little package, all she accomplishes is spring-loading all her vital energy down into shadow. ‘Fine. I’m fine,’ such a woman says… Then one day, we hear she has taken up with a piccolo player and has run off to Tippicanoe (sic) to be a pool hall queen…”                               Clarissa Pinkola Estés

over & over in habitual drone
i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say
because i have not told
i am saying i’m done
but this being done
is how i know i will never be done
though my climbing son
a speck eighty feet high in a skyline of swaying cedars
can heft the storm clouds away
from his own silvery horizon
& my seeking daughter
has tenacity enough     without me
to prize out four leaf clovers
from speciously green reaches
_____but i will never release
this breath of finality that i keep
choked in my throat behind earnest songs for my children
no     & i will swallow the rising bile
when the Northern Flicker perches
on our aluminum chimney top     puffed-up
so proud in those marrow-less bones
of his impervious skull’s clever     territorial ricocheting

being done happened
within my own sinew-lined pelvis
the cracked bowl
filled     drained     & refilled
with meticulously rich essences
long after anything living had been fed
the relentlessly heavy     gnawing
red slough of losing myself
to nothing     for nothing
frightened me
_____& so     i had the offending flesh cut out
the fossilized rind that was left is now locked
with its un-told stories
beneath eons of hardened sediments

this being done happens in spring
while i am driving alone
it happens quickly
in instants of lapsed attention
in overzealous moments of stony apathy
when windshield wipers stick unexpectedly
or when sudden     pink shafts of evening sun
transmute newborn lambs bucking
for tender grass & mother’s milk
into silhouettes haunting the roadside
_____the being done
is all these countless     fleeting deaths
i tear into strips     soak in chewed glue
& fashion together to house myself
in a prodigal    crinkled    purgatorial prune

these tiny     stinging      imprudent suicides
should all be spirited away from their haughty blooms
& borne into the ancient hive
clutched industriously
to the undersides of fuzzy exoskeletons
_____there     my secret     greedy orchestrations
would become coded in sacred routines
my life programmed in dance
& propagated by ecstatic waggles & fastidious figure eights
to a crescendo of communal comprehension
of the one     seminal purpose
of the being done that shall be

done at all costs
the Queen’s Royal Jelly must be
sealed with wax in her hexagonal vaults

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“An Elegy for Birds & Bees” first appeared in the 2015 edition of Slippery Elm Literary Journal — thank you editor Dave Essinger for your gracious and validating support of my work! — and is the title poem of my new chapbook, This Being Done, available NOW for order at Finishing Line Press, and scheduled for release in June 2018.  For more insight into this piece’s inception and the role it played in informing the collection as a whole, check out my recent Q&A with Robert Okaji.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to everyone for your investment in (as well as your abiding engagement with and enthusiasm for) my work. It truly means the world to me.

Recording of “Anatomy of a Fustercluck”

Starling_Fustercluck

“Anatomy of a Fustercluck” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done, and was the “editor’s choice” winner of Rattle magazine’s January 2016 Ekphrastic Challenge. Thank you, Timothy Green, for seeing something of what I hoped would be seeable, and for your validating comment on this piece:

“From the start, this painting gave me an unsettling feeling, as if I’d sat down to watch Seinfeld and didn’t realize this was actually Twin Peaks. I couldn’t quite explain why, but this cast of characters just seemed so annoying. When I read this poem, I realized, ‘That’s it! They’re flustering in clumps like maimed birds!’ Harper makes sense of it for me, and with both humor and craft. Even the last line, which seems at first a cliché, fits perfectly—this kind of day is long, isn’t it?”

THIS IS THE FINAL WEEK OF PREORDER SALES FOR:

This Being Done, available for preorder NOW until April 27, 2018 at Finishing Line Press. The number of copies sold during the preorder sale will determine my print-run, so every single order makes a huge difference for my book’s release (scheduled to ship on June 22, 2018)! To order, click: HERE! I’m grateful for your support!

Recording of “Matthew in the Fountain”

In the Fountain 1999
Matthew, age 14 months
Matthew in the Fountain

(Recorded by Matthew Harper, April 17, 2018)

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Inspired by my beautiful son (who’ll be turning 20 years old in June!), “Matthew in the Fountain” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done — a culmination of years of work, and featuring Matthew’s gorgeous photo (below) on the cover — available for preorder purchase NOW and for the next 10 days from Finishing Line Press:

This Being Done, by Stephanie L. Harper 

This Being Done is scheduled for June 2018 release, but please consider ordering your copy before the April 27, 2018 preorder deadline, as my print-run will depend on the number of copies ordered during the preorder sales period. Your timely support will be crucial to my book’s successful release, and means more to me than I could ever hope to express!

Harper_Stephanie_COV

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Starlight 01

Cameren at age 4, taken Mother’s Day 2005

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Apologize? For regretting your birth?

That the white dove of sarcasm
has officially fledged from your belly
alit on the canopy     & uncaged its crystal trill
comes to me as no surprise

But neither of us could have foreseen the power
your brooding would conceive of pencil & ire
before the moment you spat out   crumpled     & hand delivered
my saltwater baptism

Your own tears     now dried for hours     blaze for me
from the gold heart in your gray-green eyes
willing my belief that you truly didn’t realize
I’ve been there your whole life

At sundown     I’m the one always stumbling through the wood
like some sort of village idiot     brandishing my dim lantern
at the giant pines     as if I might catch them in the act
of uprooting themselves     & slinking away

Though you flit by & vanish into the trees
in a flash I can barely make out as a memory
your trace among the cedars & silvertips remains as innate in me
as the wolf’s way to her newborn cub’s whimper

Two months early
yet already ripe for the triumph
& pain only the fiercest have dared to carry in one body
you were born to fly from me—

& so     how could I ever be sorry
to know of finding you over & over again?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Thank you to editor Eli T. Mond for giving this piece a home in the December 2017 edition of The Ibis Head Review.

“In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter” is included in my debut poetry chapbook, This Being Done, which is available for order NOW from Finishing Line Press!

If you would like to order a copy, I ask that you please do so as soon as possible before the deadline for pre-publication orders on April 27, 2018. Although my book is scheduled for release in June, the print-run is based on a minimum quota of copies ordered during the two-month presale period ending on April 27, 2018.

Order online: This Being Done, by Stephanie L. Harper 

I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to any of you who have already preordered This Being Done. Your investment in and appreciation for who I am and what I do means more to me than I could ever adequately express. This journey wouldn’t be the same without your support!

Q&A with Poet Stephanie L. Harper (Part 2)

Thank you, Sir Robert, for your generosity and insightfulness in this interview, and for everything you do in general to promote a sense of authentic connectedness that’s so vital to poetry and Poetkind!

O at the Edges

I’m pleased to present part 2 of the Q&A with poet Stephanie L. Harper:

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?

I would be a poetic form that could seep down into darkness, molecule by molecule, through miles of porous rock, to return to the wellspring, then rise again to the surface, and wash over the grief-stricken with the all immensity of love and joy in my depths. I’m pretty sure that would make me an elegy.

What themes or traits will readers find in your work? What will they not find?

My work is chock full of mythological creatures, archetypal symbolism, and nature imagery (i.e., birds, seascapes, wolves, forests, volcanoes). It touches often on spirituality (and/or religiosity), sometimes alludes to current events (and associated dismay), and has an overall feminist and philosophical bent. My love for and awe of my children shows up a lot, too…

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Because I Said So

Because I Said So

Because I Said So

It’s been the same     old thing     year after year:
You mope around     all gloomy & convective
grow turbulent with variable shear
& bluster in that helical     invective
tone     All I want to do this spring     is spread
some bliss     inspire the bees to pollinate
warm up the sea     ensure the fish get fed
& coax some pinnipeds beach-ward to mate
but you just keep going all vertical-
like     sprouting vortices to spew about
debris!     Enough!     Go be a spectacle
in Tornado Alley!     Air that funnel out—
then find a nice     dark cloud     & settle down
to spawn some little terrors of your own…

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

This ditty was initially drafted during Tupelo Press’s May 2017 30/30 challenge. Thank you to friend and fellow poet, Clyde Long, for sponsoring this poem by ordering up a sonnet with the title, “Because I Said So,” which included the words, Tornado, beach, and bliss. The uniqueness of these requirements engendered a “pastoral” infused with the life-giving mayhem of spring, reminiscent of the air of triumph that the holy day of Easter embodies for so many.

May the miracles of this season, in all their incarnations, bless you and bolster you the whole year through!

Q&A with Poet Stephanie L. Harper (Part 1)

Thanks for this terrific honor, Bob!

O at the Edges

I’m pleased to offer this Q&A with poet Stephanie L. Harper:

You have a chapbook, This Being Done, coming out soon. Can you tell us something about it? From where did the title come?

 Yes, I’m thrilled that this debut of my work in book form is making its way into the world. The title, This Being Done, is an excerpt from my poem, “An Elegy for Birds & Bees,” which, the more I think about it, the more I believe is the crux of the collection. The poem came to me when I was profoundly depressed and drifting—feeling as if my childbearing days being behind me was somehow synonymous with not having (and not deserving to have) an identity or purpose for my own sake. The poem’s opening lines, “over & over in habitual drone /i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say…

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Brave

towering pine

Brave

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding,
like your climbs to the tops of towering pines,
and your belief that you can never cry.

At age five, you dream of a woman
with wings like a bat dressed all in black.
She swoops down, grabs you, pins you in her lap,
and while hitting you over and over, she’s whispering
that it will end when you stop struggling;
so you pretend to relax until her grip loosens
and then you fight to escape, but each time
her strength overwhelms you. It takes
several beatings before you realize
she is trying to help you, she is teaching you
how to be brave—
how to be so still
that you can let yourself have no feeling
when the scratchy hands are pressing into you,
like the night lets itself be swallowed by darkness.

An eight-year-old now, you’re standing
outside their locked bedroom door, waiting
for your mother to call to you
as he yells his nonsense, rips out drawers,
and slams the walls with his fists.
When something made of glass shatters
against the vanity, her cry of surprise
convinces you to call the police.
They come and go in a flash—
barely pausing to ruffle your hair
and chuckle
that it was all “just a misunderstanding”—
and they leave you there,
to keep being unseen.

For most of the schoolyear,
at age eleven, you are chronically ill:
the oozing, itching, gray-swollen chickenpox lesions
that make you potently untouchable,
lead to an infiltration of fevers, flooded lungs,
and inflamed tonsils and ears
that hold you prisoner from the inside,
but soon you come to know your captors
as the oddly loyal, untiring allies
who keep you warded at night, for months.
Your classmates are jealous, though,
that you still make passing grades
in your constant absence from school—
on the phone, they accuse you of faking,
and you can’t help the feeling, either,
that being sick really is a kind of cheating,
like getting something you want
without doing anything to earn it.

Mom is taking you to open a bank account
with your own passbook, though you’re just twelve
(her eyes are still swollen from crying yesterday),
so you can sign for the money you’ll need to get
yourself and your little brother to the airport
to fly to an uncle you barely know in New York,
if she either goes missing, or you find her dead,
because, as she’s confided to you—
and you have no reason not to believe it—
your father vowed to kill her.
For the next three years, then (she doesn’t know),
you skip lunch at school and save the money
to deposit into the “plane ticket” account.
No, she never gets murdered,
maybe even because you always keep watch,
like the kind of parent you’d want to be would,
even after your father finally moves out
during the same summer you get your tonsils
(and the disease they harbored) removed.

You’re now proving to be a picture of health
(though you bear the hunger of indignity, standing
in lines in the school gym for government hand-outs
of peanut butter, processed cheese and expired bread),
because you can run like no one else.
You are your soccer coach’s favorite, you believe,
because you are tough, and you work the hardest.
He makes a fuss over you like you are special,
takes you out for ice cream, has you come along
on fishing trips with his sons, and invites
you over for dinner, or to stay the night,
and you never consider he’ll expect you to repay him
for these casual, kind gestures, until
he’s suddenly always touching and hugging you
as if it is his right, and even though you make sure
only to be in public places with him,
in plain sight of your teammates’ parents,
you can’t discourage his lewd hovering,
or his propositions (which he thinks are charming)
for you to fuck him in the back of his van.
Somebody should be watching!
Somebody should be watching!
People are watching, but they only see
the things that have no need
for invisibility, like the crude posturing
of a man just being a man—

just someone who reserves
the Scouts’ clubhouse through Parks and Rec
for a “team meeting” that you feel obligated to attend;
someone who waits on a weekday evening
in a prefab aluminum building
with the lights dimmed
for a fifteen-year-old girl to enter alone,
while, at home, his own kids watch T.V.,
and his wife keeps his dinner warm.

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding—

like the lust throbbing in a man’s neck,
the presumption gleaming in his eyes,
and the fact that wrongs always pile upon wrongs
in the same way he now heaps this assault from behind,
with his thick hands fumbling for your breasts,
on top of his preposterous lie;

and so when he leans in with his belly
and his cock stiffens against the small of your back,
a scream gets trapped in your throat,
and you find yourself struggling wildly—
you elbow him hard in the ribs,
then rear up and ram your head into his chin,
and somehow stun him long enough
to get away—

you get away,
but leaving yourself there
unseen in the dark
doesn’t ever feel brave.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Brave” was first published in the TulipTree Publications, LLC 2016 anthology, Stories That Need to Be Told, which was a Colorado Book Award nominee. This poem also appears in my chapbook, This Being Done, NOW AVAILABLE for advance copy purchase at Finishing Line Press: RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE! – OR – use the form below as a guide for placing orders via post:

I’m deeply grateful for your orders! Thank you! Thank you! If you haven’t done so already, but are considering purchasing a copy, I ask that you please do so as soon as possible, as my print-run will be contingent upon the number of copies sold (for which there is a minimum quota) during the pre-publication period, which ends on April 27, 2018.

This Being Done_promo flyer

Alabaster

alabaster
Alabaster

I am a pink rose petal’s pale glow

black ash tamped in furrows
between the breaths of the living
& the droning of the dead

the dawn’s blush unfurling over sand dunes

& seagulls soaring on thermal spirits
of iodine     salt     & shellfish

& sometimes     scattering in the wind
I can’t find where everything else ends     & I begin

Now rising from the morning hush     this cloud of me
speaks to the red tail hawk perched on a streetlamp
& tells her I’m fine     because I’m still not sure
how to talk about not being fine

I am an instar     trying to be
the clearest version of myself     to sculpt
a final skin of lucent crystal

so that when you come to see my cinder eyes
glinting diamond dust     I will be
the embered dusk bleeding into the sea

& you will know the truth of me

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Alabaster,” having first appeared in print in Sixfold magazine, winter 2014, is included in my new chapbook, This Being Done,

Harper_Stephanie_COV

available now at Finishing Line Press until April 27, 2018, for pre-publication order. The number of orders received during this period will determine the print-run scheduled for release on June 22, 2018. I’m grateful for your timely orders to help my work take flight! RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE TODAY!

Avium Morbum MMXVII

Chickadee

Photo by Cameren Harper, May 2017

This spring, it seemingly isn’t enough
that we’ve once again converted our porch
into a brood-rearing safe haven:
The once-adorable, amiable models
of avian parental prowess that have been
gracing us with their proximity
for years, are now a couple of flighty,
black & white fluff-balls of aggression. 

It’s like their little bird brains just
suddenly lost all sense of perspective—
their former bearing of healthy respect
toward us & our home has morphed
into a hostile face-off of assaults
on the front door window, dive-bombing
campaigns on the car in the driveway,
replete with poo, & kamikaze-style strikes
on their equally-fraught reflections
in the side-view mirror.

Why, my teen-aged son has been asking,
are the Chickadees being so stupid?

Of course, he already understands
that the answer to his question lies
in another question—which, come to think
of it, is THE question that everyone I know
has been asking for months, since nobody
is really surprised anymore when something
extreme, irrational, or just plain opposite-of-
intelligent happens—it’s as if the Bizarro World
episode of Seinfeld just started up again on its own,
& in its antithetical-T.V.-show fashion, decided
never to end—because, apparently, Nature, itself,
is being required to stretch its fabric all out of proportion
in effort to accommodate the unprecedentedly-dense
troposphere’s lambasting winds; but I find myself

ask-answering him, anyway, if only half-hopeful
that this serum synthesized of not-reasons might yet
suffice to inoculate him against such rife contagion:

Do they remind you of anyone?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Avium Morbum MMXVII” was first drafted during the May 2017 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge.

My new poetry chapbook, This Being Done, is available for advance copy purchase at Finishing Line Press from now until April 27, 2018. The number of orders received during this two-month pre-publication sales period will determine the size of the print run, which is currently scheduled for release on June 22, 2018. For more info CLICK HERE!