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! 

To the Dead White-Throated Sparrow

“To the Dead White-Throated Sparrow” appears in my new chapbook forthcoming in March from Main Street Rag: The Death’s-Head’s Testament<<Available here for pre-order purchase for the fantastic price of $6.50/copy! 

White-throated_Sparrow_Audubon
To the Dead White-Throated Sparrow

_____in my driveway:
Would you at least do me the courtesy
of an explanation?

What’s with your belly-mound-
cenotaph-arisen-from-the-stony-gloom
spiel?  And why

this exquisite bundle of yours,
with its still-tender russets
folded in the unbounded repose

of a napping cherub,
as if you didn’t believe
you were still reaching for the clouds?

_____I mean,
was your plump little belly’s
sky tribute supposed to un-stone the gloom

underfoot (as if
your heavenward-splayed
finger-knobs, all ruddy-bottomed

like a napping cherub,
never knew their very purpose
was reaching for the clouds)?

The spectacle of your tiny black
lids pressed shut in sudden,
brutal resignation to croaking

_____underfoot (even
consecrated by such skyward-clasping,
ruddy-bottomed branchlessness)

hardly passes for
transubstantiation…  Why package
a fully-intact cadaver’s senselessness in

the spectacle of black-faced
brutality’s sudden,
penitent resignation to permanent blindness

for stealing a glimpse
of the sun?  Besides, adaptive
hydrophobia á la iridescent feather-sheath

_____hardly passes for
transubstantiation…  Why package
a fully-intact cadaver’s senselessness in

this exquisite bundle of yours,
with its still-tender russets
folded in the unbounded repose

of a dead sun-god, as if iridescence
were designed expressly for
stealing a glimpse of the afterlife

in my driveway?
All right, buddy, just do me this one favor:
Spare me, would you?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Napping Cherub

“To the Dead White-Throated Sparrow” was first published in slightly different form in  Underfoot Poetry. Thank you to editors Daniel Paul Marshall and Time Miller — both fabulous poets in their own right! — for selecting this piece. 

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’s “Prometheus”

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

“Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation” made its debut appearance in Robert Penick’s fabulous literary journal, Ristau: A Journal of Being, in January 2019. It also appears in my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019! Please check out sample poems and early praise for this collection on my Author Page at Main Street Rag, and consider purchasing a copy at the terrific limited-time discount of $6.50! 

I wish I had words to express how much your support of my work means to me. Please just enjoy the poems, and know that I’m immensely grateful!

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam
For E9, Born December 31, 2016

1.

Everything
must first have been

a nameless billowing
in the silent house

of before     until its voice
yolk-forged     could wrest

a pyroclastic mouth
sufficient to speak birth’s

dialect of brokenness

2.

I watched the possibility of you
cradled sixty feet high in a Slash Pine

become a five-day-old
white fluff-bundle of spunk

& open-beaked ferocity     You
command the ripping impulse

that strips off the fish’s silver skin
midriff to tail     with one     swift

grip & flexion     exposing
the host’s fleshy glisten

of lipid-pink life to be flaked
& held to your tiny maw’s tip

3.

Before this feeding     I think
nothing had yet been born

whose name was Tenderness

no one to bring this warmth
of tastes & swallows growing ever

heavier in your belly & on your lids
to bear you to your imperative sleep:

Dream     Little One     in the haven
of your father’s stalwart breast!

Dream of wings outstretched
on the azure’s salt-breath!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam” was first published in the Winter 2017 issue of The Ibis Head Review, and appears in my first chapbook, THIS BEING DONE. If you enjoy my poetry on this blog, you might also consider checking out my newest chapbook, THE DEATH’S-HEAD’S TESTAMENT, scheduled for release by Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available for pre-order sales NOW for a huge discount at $6.50 per copy!

I’M SO VERY GRATEFUL TO OUR COMMUNITY ON WORDPRESS FOR ALL YOUR AMAZING FEEDBACK, SUPPORT, AND FRIENDSHIP! MY LIFE AND MY POETRY WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU!

*I’ve been following parents extraordinaire, Harriet and M-15, and their gorgeous eaglets for three seasons now. Check out the stupendous progress being made minute to minute by this year’s little dinosaur siblings, E12 and E13 on the SW Florida Eagle Cam!

Legacy

Legacy

i’m no kind of Ishmael to expound
some great protagonist’s wayward saga,

& haven’t the slightest inkling of other

women’s misfortunes, nor do i know
if i’m even justified in such grief over a life
squandered on an endless vigil’s cries of
who sees me now?  & now?  & now?

who, besides this mirror i face,
knows my bulging litany of failures,
my spurious assumption of a character i detest?

i was born lacking the power
to reason my way out of this gravitational
force i’ve abhorred since youth, & which
now condemns me to lug about my globed
satellites—

to bear these adjuncts’ fleshy heft, as if I were
still umbilically moored to the gangway by my own
murdered albatross—

each a whale of white with its vacant eye
downcast like a faded damask rose.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

 

“Legacy” made its debut appearance in Underfoot Poetry, and is the opening poem of my forthcoming chapbook collection, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release from Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available for advance orders NOW at a substantial discount ($6.50 per copy!). Please consider purchasing a copy of my book (click link above), and/or sharing my author page with your online communities to help get the word out! I am forever grateful for all of your support of my work!

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__________cover photo by Matthew Harper

Chimera

chimera
Chimera 

Had you been capable of opening
your eyes     you’d have seen

that the obvious upside
to my unique coalescence

of scaly-headed tail     caprid skull
leonine belly     & three belching maws

was my reliable prescience
to forewarn of cataclysm     but

you never ceased to make monstrosity
your sticking point

Even your Lycean forbears’ stories
of the diaspora—        of how my children’s

fetal cells drifted from my womb     endured
the eons amidst the vessel & sinew landscapes

of aliens     & were ultimately delivered
to their new     craggy homeland beyond

the blood-brain cordon    to spawn a nation
of discrete selves as rare & fierce as their maker—

have failed    it seems     to inspire
your affection…

Was the transgression of my seething
once upon a time beneath your collective

hunkering in the basalt’s depths
so heinous as to name me     Anathema

so aberrant as to exonerate
your assassin’s sullying of Pegasus?

Though murder carapaces your shuddering
heads from my ash cloud’s descent

yet know this:     your lost-wax fairytales
have no more tempered the face of who I am

than cast the specter from the dark
hell-fire you dream:     that yet I am

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Vessel

“Chimera” was first published in Isacoustic* in May 2018. Thank you to editor and poet Barton Smock for selecting this piece for inclusion in Isacoustic* vol. the fourth.

Things I Cannot Say

funny-dalai-lama-cartoon-birthday
Things I Cannot Say

Even when you are a one-year-old jumping out of your crib
(you have no particular reason for jumping, but you do it,
& the thud you make that’s loud but doesn’t hurt,
wakes your father, the menacing resonance of whose
footsteps approaching your room overwhelms you with terror—
your own heartbeat surging in your head—which you catalogue
into your infant consciousness as a sense of mortal danger
you will run from for the rest of your life, though you have no
language to account for it yet), you already implicitly understand
that your fear is a thing you must never talk about out loud, for
the only way its malaise living in your veins could feel worse,
would be if the words you formulated & ascribed to its being
resulted in its summary negation.

___________________________________For the same, essential reason,
you still hardly believe the amazing thing that happened to you
one day, back when you were a burned-out Graduate Assistant
(who couldn’t have distinguished a metaphysical marvel from
her left elbow)—when, because your arms were overfull with books,
an orangutan puppet named Andreas, & his overripe, over-handled
banana, which you’d recruited to teach German reflexive verbs
to Undergrads, you decided to take the elevator back up from your
third floor classroom to your eighth floor office in Van Hise,
& discovered yourself being flanked for five flights by two
Tibetan Buddhist Monks in their maroon & saffron-yellow robes:
Geshe Sopa, whom you recognized from the Asian Studies Department
on the twelfth floor, & his brightly-smiling companion, none other than
His Holiness the Dalai Lama—even though you’ll never forget how
Andreas clasped his banana, while you summarily exited your body
on a silent wave of preternatural warmth, the mouth of the thing
you would never again inhabit fixing itself into a ridiculous grin.

For my part, I think it’s entirely possible that I’ve been a bodiless soul
since infancy, & also that I never did actually receive a new life from
the Dalai Lama in an elevator in Wisconsin, but I cannot say for certain.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Things I Cannot Say” was published in the Fall 2017 edition of Harbinger Asylum (thank you to editors Z.M. Wise and Dustin Pickering for selecting this piece), and appears in my forthcoming chapbook, The Death’s-Heads Testament, available NOW for preorder purchase (for only $6.50 per copy!) from Main Street Rag (scheduled for release in March 2019).

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Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Vision Board_GISH 2016
Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Dear Bob: In one of my former incarnations
as a starving, family-less, twenty-something Grad
Student, well before the advent of emails & texting,
when handwritten sentiments on stationery were still
in vogue, I certainly sent my share of “Dear Bob Letters.”
The recipients thereof, on the whole a far cry from being
remotely “Bob-like,” included a number of real posers,
some of whom now strut & crow on Facebook like
the ancient, hoary roosters (read: cocks) they clearly are.
As for the others (more of them than you might imagine),
they’re all dead, several by their own hands, even—a stone-
cold statistic (the seeming synchronicity of which is tough
to ignore) I frequently grapple with, sorting through conjured,
a posteriori details & associated, surreal imagery by day, &
chasing after egotistical ghosts in my über-symbolic dreams
by night, always with the conviction that some message for me
yet lurks in the dry lakebeds & sunless recesses of the Nether,
a realm to which the tips of my toes & then some are no strangers.

The only window-treatment manning the threshold between
me & my secrets is a translucent-pink swath of chiffon,
which I’m afraid doesn’t leave much to the imagination—
so consider yourself warned, amico mio! Against the current
backdrop of imbecilic plutocrats, political sycophants,
& psychopaths bearing assault rifles, hardly to be tempered
by the incidental, decent soul, it would not take a discerning
eye long to know me better than I know myself, which is just
about the only thing I know anymore…

In my attempts to locate myself, I often look to nature—
these days, it’s among the imposing Sequoias we boast here
in the Northwest, along with the showy cottonwoods, as fertile
as they are indiscriminate, stripping off their seed-fluff every
chance they get, a prospect that doesn’t seem to bother
the scrub jays deigning to my level for a squawk now & then
before ascending to a higher branch. Whatever folks might say
about birds of a feather, well, after a number of earnest stints
shadowing the local hens—the way they kept those vibrant
petticoats tucked under their brown slickers, & their biting
commentary having seemed uniquely suited to the cold & rain—
I’ve yet to locate my flock, & the search has turned southeastward:
Taking a tip from the meadowlark, I veer for the high desert,
my flight path crossing the sagebrush-dotted, volcanic earth,
hoping I’ll soon look down & see you floating
in a sea of ten gallon hats, just beyond the convection
columns braced against the electric blue sky.

I don’t suppose your self-claimed exile looks anything
like I’ve imagined? It’s not with a small twinge of jealousy
that I seek consolation in your brand of solitude on the other
side of that horizon line; as exile, it would seem to me,
involves the condition of having at some point belonged
somewhere. Now, after a lifetime spent standing out in my field,
I’m not very handy at extrapolating any other kind of belonging,
& feel I ought to find out what I’ve been missing.

So, I’m heading out past the Cascades & the swaggering
sage grouses of the eastern uplands, reaching for that horizon—
green seeping to red, clouds feathering out, & no further from us
than one step beyond our any given station—where you can be
sure I’ll always be no more than a step away from you, & ever
your honest friend, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Western Meadowlark

“Letter from the Other Side of Halfway,” my response to Robert Okaji’s gorgeously soul-fortifying poem, “Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon,” was first penned during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in May 2017, and subsequently published in Underfoot Poetry (thank you to editors/authors Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for generously hosting my work!) in July 2018. This piece also appears in my newest chapbook, The Death-Head’s Testament, NOW available for presale order (@ $6.50 per copy, a significant discount off the cover price!), scheduled for release in March 2019.

Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

For E9, Born December 31, 2016

1.
Everything
must first have been

a nameless billowing
in the silent house

of before    until its voice
yolk-forged     could wrest

a pyroclastic mouth
sufficient to speak birth’s

dialect of brokenness

2.
I watched the possibility of you
cradled sixty feet high in a Slash Pine

become a five-day-old
white fluff-bundle of spunk

& open-beaked ferocity     You
command the ripping impulse

that strips off the fish’s silver skin
midriff to tail     with one     swift

grip & flexion     exposing
the host’s fleshy glisten

of lipid-pink life to be flaked
& held to your tiny maw’s tip

3.
Before this feeding     I think
nothing had yet been born

whose name was Tenderness

no one to bring this warmth
of tastes & swallows growing ever

heavier in your belly & on your lids
to bear you to your imperative sleep:

Dream    Little One     in the haven
of your father’s stalwart breast!

Dream of wings outstretched
on the azure’s salt-breath!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam” was published in The Ibis Head Review in December 2017, and appears in my chapbook, This Being Done, also available on Amazon.com.

Imprisoned

lock-and-key
Imprisoned

Now is not the time
for my fettered    titanium lines—

no time for me to claim
I know a thing or two about life
as if I were anyone’s keeper…

A “suicidally depressed” convict doing life for murder
petitioned my psychotherapist friend to treat him:

& so it was that with all the detached generosity
a wife & mother of three could muster     she rendered
a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder
even as his icy eyes ignited in her a germ of lust
that razed every trace of her in a sudden flush

Now is really not the time for idle moralizing
about prisoners     or locks & keys     as if
there were any kind of justice in poetry

It’s not the time for tying up loose ends
saving pennies for rainy days     or chrysalizing
our wrinkly little walnut meats to pupate belief
in the virtue of counting the hours

Now     the dragon is awake
blinking in the daylight of withering dreams
wagging her head in a gnashing rage

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Imprisoned” was first published in issue IV of  Claudius Speaks in October 2017, and is included in my chapbook, This Being Done, released on July 6, 2018, and now available on Amazon.

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