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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Tribute

boulder-stream
Tribute

No muse     per se     whispers
infusions into my burning ear
not that it would be in my nature

to entice some demigoddess to swell
with lust     hover about my head
& grace me with facility in the arts

such that I might woo hearts into believing
in my sanctity (as if I’d ever assent
to some covetous little bitch’s attempts

to trademark my own     voluptuous
intellect with her dousings of silvery
moonbeams & purple pixie dust)

which isn’t to say that no one ever garners my tribute
No     of course not     for there’s always been a certain monsieur: 
Arnos     namesake of the Neoliths’ river     to move     to flow

mounting pulse    to culminating flutter
his flux of rapture & cruelty
rising like a god in me

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Italy-Rome-Tiber-River-God-Sculpture

“Tribute” was published in the Fall 2017 edition of Harbinger Asylum. Thank you to editor Dustin Pickering and guest-editor Z. M. Wise for selecting this piece.

 

There is This

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There is This

Portland, OR: May 27, 2017

            
On a trellis erected between
my west suburb neighborhood
& the nearest MAX station
the wisteria vines burgeon
overhead in a dusky-purple
cascade like a dessert wine
but yesterday     while I was
out walking as the early evening
heat broke     I noticed a sallow carpet
of petals    fallen
in their waning since just
the previous day     was now
ensconcing the concrete     & already
bearing the heavy imprints—illumined
by the sun’s oblique indifference—
of commuters’ footfalls
& the tell-tale     parallel furrows
of hipsters on skateboards

I saw black sugar ants scavenging
the secretions of the barely-dead
& felt a sour twist of grief
over that chapter unfolding underfoot
of the inevitability I understand
to be inherent in all that is
as dictated by the rule of reason
which     in turn     instructs
the Hawkmoth’s impassioned
twilit plummets into a streetlamp’s halo—
the Death’s-Head’s testament to the light
by which darkness must be defined

I’ll admit to being fickle—a variable
ally of predators & prey alike—
as I’m no less liable to marvel
at the grit of a barn cat stalking a fat vole
(& then to cheer at the rodent’s brief death-throes squeak!)
than I am to release a breathless prayer into the wind
for a crab scuttling frantically ocean-ward
in the shadow of a whimbrel

Steely prudence requires
our acceptance of tragic ends for some
as they are said to ensure the greater
endurance of the whole     & all of us know—
having learned since earliest childhood
some version of the proverbial
to every thing there is a season    
& a time to every purpose under heaven—
that the sun’s descent into the Pacific
beckons the moon’s rise to its vigil
that the ardent frog’s first chirps at dusk
will ring into a night of river-song
& that the raccoons’ kits will always
endure December’s snowfalls
cloistered in their hollows

But the lesson yesterday scrawled
on a sick-sweet banner of dying
wisteria     unfurled over a city
I no longer recognize
is a new     black codicil
rained down from the heavens
in which teenage girls are menaced
& the throats of their intercessors are slashed
during rush hour on a train

There is no season
no time           
& no poem      to assuage
such unnatural waning

There is only this
futile transit of hours
to successive hours—

this exodus
of blood from its native heart

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

MAX memorial

It’s been one year and one day since Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best were murdered, and Micah Fletcher narrowly escaped with his life, on a MAX train in Portland, Oregon.  Let Memorial Day be a day to revere their heroic stand against the vile inhumanity of racially-motivated hatred; and let us every day be a heart that remembers and strives to be worthy of their precious sacrifice.

“There is This” was first drafted during the May 2017 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge, as I was grappling with my initial shock and grief upon first learning of this tragedy. It was subsequently published in the Fall 2017 edition of Harbinger Asylum, edited by Z. M. Wise.

Prologue to My Birth

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Prologue to My Birth

This is neither a beginning
nor the prophecy of an ending
for beginnings & endings are lies
told to the once-living

it is not the exemplifying
of the aberrations the alchemists made
when they dethroned our Divine Queen
& transmuted her golden honey
into their iron pyrite philosophy
that left us to wither
inside our stunned husks

& so     this is the emptying
of our errant devotion
to the denial of bodily hunger

the sanctified unbelieving
in fairytales of heavenly salvation

& it is the vital refilling
of infants’ gaping mouths
with earthly fortitude

& here     now     is the weeping

for our birth-story     interred
with our long-dead mothers
who delivered us
& secured our velvety     aboriginal flesh
to their warm breasts—

the saline unleashing
to purify our Logos
our will to creation     our innate need
to manifest our god-selves

it is the recovering
of the Life that was severed from our psyches
when it was reduced to a Word
& uttered     bereft of melody—

the unrepressed singing
Artemis awake from her slumber
beneath her ruined Temple in Ephesus

at last     this is the extricating
of shame that made our tongues
untie us from our Mother’s holy earth
& swayed our ears to scorn her winged songs
even as she kept flying back to us
ever thick-limbed & fragrant
with nourishment from lavender blooms
solely that we should swell in our birthing cells
gorged on her royal jelly

This poem is my body
embryonic     translucent
distended with new hope

it is my luminous     black eyes
grown huge with their memory
of who I am

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

I’m thinking a lot today about the Divine Mother’s tireless devotion to her children. Happy Mother’s Day!

“Prologue to My Birth” was published in the collection,  International Poetry Month 2017, curated by Bonnie McClellan, and appears in my chapbook, This Being Done, available now for order from Finishing Line Press, scheduled to ship in June 2018.

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!