Nominated for a Pushcart Prize: Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation

prometheus1994-elsierussell

Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation

“Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres
Unter der Sonn’, als euch Götter!
~ J. W. von Goethe

when i sacrifice myself
as a gift to my fellow humans
i promise it will be for nothing
so hackneyed as to protest
some hypoxic septuagenarian
hunched on a mountaintop
mistaking every garish tendril
to wisp from his head
for a well-honed lightning bolt

not that i imagine
there’s any portion of my no-longer-
combustible flesh i might set
upon the balance    that could be
tendered for passage to Elysium

but you can believe i’d pluck my own eyes
from their conceding sockets    send
the fabrics from my padded scaffold back
to China    & traipse forever    a blind
naked-as-a-mole-rat gnome in the garden of
unscented flowers    if the stygian prophecies
were to divine any semblance of purpose
in chaining my corpse to the cliff face

& though these desiccating seasons
have yet to assemble
me into fuel for Helios’ pyre
if ever my splitting spurs should cease
to cry out dragon’s blood

i will crescendo
my twilight’s fury on the horizon—

my flames will soar
like an eagle on a Titan’s breath

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Crescendo

“Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation” was published by editor Robert L. Penick in the 2019 edition of the print journal Ristau: A Journal of Being, and now enjoys the terrific honor of being nominated for a Pushcart Prize, for which I am ecstatically grateful!

Briefing from the Sunday Review Board

Illustration by Cameren Harper
@CamHarpArt

Briefing from the Sunday Review Board

_____“Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world,
_____but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” – Romans 12:2 (NIV)
 
my dear friends     i give thanks whenever i remember you
performing the Sunday liturgy in your private domiciles
as you fritter the late-winter daylight     heads bowed
to the gardens you cultivate in solitude     in which the holy grapes
of indolence germinate & swell into such harvests as only a protracted
back surgery recovery may ferment into sacred     existential wine

imbibe     i pray     & rejoice in your propitious
proximity to those who are sanctified:

Blessed be the Teenagers

__________greasified & bespectacled
though they be     for lolling with you on the couch
to watch an “old” movie from two thousand & three
for getting most of the cheesy references to last century
& even laughing aloud (albeit dubiously)     as you’ve
been all the while vaunting the previous night’s travesty
of red flannel covered in Mickey Mouse heads
purple soccer shorts     & magenta knee-high socks
_____& for not only seeming not to mind your ensemble
but also refraining from being put out by the three-inch-
long grey whisker sticking bolt straight out of your temple
from whence it had migrated     undiscovered     until crossing
the evidentiary vista’s periphery

Blessed be the Husband
 
__________for disarming your gesticulating
dismay with his velvety quip     “It’s actually white”
which he punctuates with an ironic kiss     before slipping
out the door like the Count of Monte Cristo to grab
a late     take-out lunch called “linner”    thusly
exercising his seasoned prowess as a nuclear engineer
who (having remained at all times cognizant of the breeder
reactor’s categorical purpose) has managed the containment
area around these billions of atoms your half-life needed
to split in provisioning wholeness for your progeny—

_____namely     your exquisite boy     who took off
at birth on a trajectory through the complex system
of boons & hazards some call autism     which you try to follow
corkscrewing like a solid-fuel rocket that’s lost a fin mid-flight
_____& your willful-sweet girl     whose arrival
from the spacetime continuum came sooner than expected
replete with congenital array of warp-drive clairvoyance
an uncanny talent for art     & a heart anomaly requiring
multiple interventions that have left
__________distortions
rip-roaring in her vector field—

by stabilizing within his perimeter both your incendiary
preoccupation with fissile potential     & its eventual fallout
(a. k. a. forty-something)     an advanced state of spiritual
decay known to impel the trade of a semi-functional uterus
for a pair of robust guinea pig siblings     who     in all likelihood
will outlive god

Blessed     surely     be the Son 
 
__________for being but seventeen
yet somehow finding his way     unprompted
to the shower no later than three pee em
_____& for his gorgeous baritone honed by years
of lessons now forsaken for countertenor arias
redolent of a derailed train

O     Blessed     indeed     be the Daughter

__________for the whiling away
of so many precious hours closed up in her bedroom
to conduct her assays of fan tributes on YouTube
_____& for the eternities of wringing crusades waged
on your universe trussed in her small     perfect hands

Amen!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Briefing from the Sunday Review Board” appears in my chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament (<< click link for poem samples, commentary, and ordering information).  I’ve decided once and for all to retire it from the cyberspace slush pile, and to give it the loving home it deserves, here, in the arms of the WordPress poetry community.
❤ -SLH

Dilated

Dilated

To think that we see them so often    yet so rarely
consider how those piebald songbirds     so at home
on a snow-scape in their portable parkas     are made of
the exact same stuff we use to fill up our electric sky & neon
watermelon nylon winter coats     which must be designed
expressly for us to go out there looking ridiculous
not to mention callous (clothed     as it were     in outright exploitation)—
is the thing I’m pondering as I observe through the window
a little house finch     all feathery & poofed with his flushed cheeks
flitting over the snowy patio     pecking among the abandoned
bench-feet for invisible     if not entirely non-existent morsels
& hawking an air of self-possession that is obvious even to me
in my current     incapacitated state 

As for whether the red-crowned retina specialist
who conducted my examination was young &/or fetching
the prospect was murky (his brisk entrance at the climax
of my dilation     coupled with his expertly-executed clasp
of my hand     inspired my fleeting impression he’d been both)
& all bets were off the very moment the white-cloaked     smeary
hulk of him ambushed my defenseless retinas with an impossibly
aggressive radiant device     thus affording me the pivotal elucidation: 

that a). the anomaly on my fundus autofluourescence images
is simply an unremarkable patch of variegated pigmentation 

b). it was only natural to expect that the definition
of such a lexical wonder as variegated would elude the layperson 

& c). I am indeed obliged by gratuitous pigeonholing
to take categorical offense 

Not that I’m usually so bold as to co-opt medical jargon
but I’m pretty certain variegated is the only word that could
aptly account for what’s right now comprising the better part
of my visual experience     as embodied by this polka-dotty
aberration     also known as a scone     I resorted to purchasing
in the hospital café     thus affording myself the pivotal illusion:

that a). I’m quite absorbed in an earnest task
while waiting here in the lobby for my ride 

& b). I wouldn’t otherwise be averting
my freakish     black gaze from passersby

because c). I’m the kind of person
who always smiles at everyone     as if to say
I accept you for who you are no matter what…    

I’ve gathered that the dark splotches must be
cranberries—however vainly their vague sweet-tang
serves to redeem their crumbly substrate’s alleged
alimentary function

Still     the finch remains staunchly committed
to my functional blindness     as if by sheer force of his
impending command     its concomitant scone-silage
would transcend the glass     & sift to the frozen ground

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Dilated” was published by CatheXis Northwest Press in November 2018 (they seem to be having difficulties with their website). Thank you to editor C.M. Tollefson for accepting this piece!

Rhapsody in Bone

Rhapsody in Bone

Beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea,
a maiden’s body swells in rhapsody;
her father made her sustenance for fish
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes,
who feed until the carrion is spent.

The maiden’s bones roll over with the tide,
entwined with deep-sea coral colonies,
and where her eyes were, now are dwellings kept
by denizens who have no need of light
beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea.

Though water’s currents quell the dolphins’ calls,
the doleful cries her fecund corpse intones
uncoil the sodden hearts of others’ souls,
while hers, forsaken, flounders in the dark.
A maiden’s body belts a rhapsody,

because her father threw her from a cliff:
butt-hurt that she’d flat-out refused to stroke
his ego (teeny-peeny sack, he was,
of whims that changed as often as the winds),
her father made her sustenance for fish,

yet could not stop his daughter’s sunken bones
from breathing sirens’ cantos on the waves
and luring hunters to her icy grave—
that home to lonely spirits of the depths
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes!

A hunter plunks his line into the sea,
where deep below, a bony treasury
still bears the stench of murder’s milky dregs,
a tangy lunch for urchins clinging fast,
who feed until the carrion is spent.

Upon the swaying surf the hunter waits
with hero’s grit,’til suddenly, a lurch—
he’s hooked the skeleton woman’s rib! This catch
has heft suggesting banquets fit for kings,
who feed until the carrion is spent!

Oy veh! He hoists her bones onto his skiff
and shits his britches fearing he’s been cursed
by Death, herself, arisen from the depths—
her salt-worn bones a host for writhing eels,
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes!

Try as he may to toss her back, he finds
her long front teeth affixed—and can’t deny
this woman he’s revived deserves to live:
those naked, tangled limbs, her smooth, bald head…
Her father made her sustenance for fish,

yet could not stop his daughter’s sunken bones
from going viral with their exposés—
though water tries to quash the dolphins’ calls—
for songs of fuckhead fathers make us sick,
when maidens’ bodies swell in rhapsody!

Though many hunters know the songs of bones,
scarce few boast true cajones, fewer still
behold the face of Death with steadfast gaze,
and grow to love and keep all she became
beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Rhapsody in Bone” was first published in May 2017, in editor Nate Ragolia’s awesome journal, Boned: A Collection of Skeletal Writings, and was subsequently included in my chapbook, This Being Done.

Hypochondria Blues

Hypochondria Blues  

What you’ve got is only a touch of neurosis,
so don’t get your knickers all bunched in a twist—
such worries can give you a deep vein thrombosis!
 
Do you think there’s a prize for a self-diagnosis?
Stop looking for lesions; don’t palpate that cyst!
What you’re dealing with here’s just a bit of neurosis…
 
That smartphone is gonna cause spinal stenosis!
The search engine’s warning that if you persist,
you’ll likely wind up with a deep vein thrombosis!
 
You’d have known it by now if you had halitosis—
like a boil, it’s not something easily missed.
Better face it, you’ve got a small case of neurosis…
 
Now, what would possess you to google psychosis?
Let me guess… The voices submitted a list?
Are they helping you summon a deep vein thrombosis?
 
It’s not a news flash you’ve got some type of –osis—
but the poking of badgers is what gets them pissed…
So give it a rest!  Embrace your neurosis!
Who needs all the fuss of a deep vein thrombosis?
 
(Just to be on the safe side, look up pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis…) 

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Hypochondria Blues” was published in the anthology, The Larger Geometry, by peaceCENTERbooks. Thank you to editor d ellis phelps for including my work in this beautiful and inspired collection!

The peaceCENTER, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in San Antonio, Texas, supports the learning of peace through prayer and education; and supports the demonstration of peace through nonviolent actions and community.  All proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to benefit the peaceCENTER. 

Cephalopod

 

Cephalopod

I know how you tried to befuddle me
with that ten-legged head of yours—
 
how you thought you’d streak by
& ink me blind, but I see
 
how it is: I mean, once your penetrating-
obsidian eyes shone the ocean alive,
 
that cute little stunt of tucking back
your longest tentacles, as if you could

pass for being one of the girls, almost
like innocuous, trifling, bipedal me,
 
was glaringly obvious. I know your beak
was really poised from the start to strike—
 
to take my breath into your breath,
& crack open my sternum, & feast
 
on the still-thudding muscle inside me—
because motoring between my mere
 
two legs, primed to be torpedoed
with your mantle, until I tauten
 
like a caecum gorged on tiger prawns,
is the same jet-propulsion as yours
 
worked in reverse…

“Cephalopod” recently languished on a short list for an inordinate amount of time — poor guy — before ultimately being rejected, so I’ve just decided to share him! 

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local

I can’t begin to express how deeply soul-nurturing it is for me to collaborate with such an extraordinarily generous and brilliant man and poet as Robert Okaji!

O at the Edges

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local
(A collaborative poem written with Stephanie L. Harper)

Having plucked the disheveled
petals from the core,
she waits
for the dead to speak
of last week’s sweetness—

of damp upholstery
and worn-out shoes,
of locked chests
and the faint honey
of unrealized hope.

Magnetized,
I twist the stem;
I quarter the seeds and
blemish the plate.
Which north rings true?

Which faded-red
bridge reveals the lost
inner compass?
Our ice cubes clink
no answers, as the essences

of hibiscus, lavender,
and mint slip over my tongue,
concealing the cool
tang of her demurring
ghosts…

But when she says whisper,
touching her lips
with an index finger,
I hear distant trains
baying like wolves,

and smell the char of nights
trailing the undiminished
river, its waters flowing
in every possible
direction, away.

* * *

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local” first appeared in

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Pressing into the Depths

Old-growth Oak

Pressing into the Depths

of an old-growth oak grove on your search for virgin peat     having     naturally     preemptively considered the human calcaneus poised on its subcutaneous fat pad (the sturdy lovechild     as it were     of evolution & bipedal ambulation); you go     whole-soled     knowing nature engenders no freaks     & that the point of weight-bearing     actually     is to sink-spring to life your very own     rooted     upward mobility—to elapse your mossy quiet’s once upon a time into cantilevered boom     to mushroom & split your bark like a seething     green superhero     (who leaves you in tatters)      harden yourself new gnarls to gather lichens      & ever after phosphoresce the midnight fog like a moonbeam striking your cast-off glass slipper

“Pressing into the Depths” was published in the November 2018 peaceCenterbooks anthology, The Larger Geometry: poems for peace, edited by d ellis phelps.

What a Patriot Dreams

Starlight 03
What a Patriot Dreams

I saw the flags come down—
their masts falling like the trees
flattened by shockwaves
in those clips of old footage
from military nuclear bomb tests,
spliced into high school history documentaries.

They weren’t projected celluloid etchings
that teenagers confined to plastic chairs
could summarily cancel
with one hand motioning No
in the universal vernacular…

Caught in a wash of floodlights
on the indigo summer dusk,
the red-white-blue swaths crushed
in on themselves like torn parachutes,
& all vanished at once—deposed

by morning’s first, grainy insinuations
that breached the blinds’ periphery,
& accreted into a single, silent force
creeping along my bedroom walls,
as if to thwart illumination:

In this country of my own
birth & citizenship, I’ve, in turn,
given birth to two, precious children—

my riven heart’s two halves now trussed
in a spectacular fiasco of feathers & wax.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“What a Patriot Dreams” was first published (in slightly different form) in the November 2018 issue of CatheXis Northwest — thank you to editor C. M. Tollefson for selecting this piece for inclusion in your beautiful journal — and appears in my newest chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, available NOW for pre-sale purchase for the fantastic price of $6.50 per copy (currently slated for release in April 2019)!

CLICK THIS LINK to my author page at Main Street Rag, which includes commentary on and sample poems from The Death’s-Head’s-Testament, to order your copy today, that the poetry gods shall smile on you for all the rest of your days!! 

Painted Chickens

 

Painted Chickens

Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—

yes, painted chickens—

three plump specimens posed around the outside,
& one that looks like an index finger
with an eye, a comb, a beak, & a wattle,
slapped onto the bottom.

How, I can’t fathom,
but my friend knew that those chickens
with their orange-red, expressionistic bodies
would be a boat-floater for me—

the one time I had slept with him
had been an epic shipwreck,
with a silent drive to the airport in its wake;

on the way, we choked down pancakes,
& I stifled sobs in my coffee,
averting my eyes
from the helpless horror in his.
I then flew off into the wild, wide sky,
bewildered, drowning.

Somehow, for years to come,
his southern gentlemanly charms
still served to allure:
he kept his promise to write
& took pains to catalogue for me
the details of his worldly escapades
& various, accompanying sexual conquests,
always making sure to emphasize
the ways in which they were hot for him,
so as to prove those trysts’ relative rightness.

Then, years later, for my birthday,
came the unexplainably gratifying
chicken cup.

Still burning hot
& feathered in their chili-pepper red,
royal purple & verdant green cloaks,
my static & impossibly happy
aphrodisiac chickens
blush like lovers on a Grecian urn;
clucking, urgent.

My southern gent,
now so long ago flown from this callous coop,
wooed another & had his own brood,
as, in due course, did I,
but the mug, no worse for wear, remains
a spectacular feature—
like a bright birthday piñata
(with its promise of sweet reward)—
of my sacred morning ritual.

These chickens,
still ecstatically surprised,
letting out unabashed, open-beaked caterwauls,
adorn my most aged & prized coffee mug;

a vessel, perfectly-sized,
it cups its contents so adoringly,
fiercely,
like an egg enveloping its cache of gold,
as I take privileged sips.

The big chicken on the left
might actually be a rooster,

& that one on the bottom,
a middle finger.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Painted Chickens” appears in my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019. If you like what you’ve seen so far, please take advantage of Main Street Rag Publishing Company’s fantastic pre-order sales offer of $6.50 per copy while it lasts, and feel great about your generous support of this enormously grateful poet! 

Place your order HERE today!