Understory

Understory

Understory

Within these riparian depths, you press
through the ditch weed & grasses that shadow
the river in greens, trying to listen
for rustles of life where dead branches lie
gathered in bands along the banks like smoke
from summer’s fire that stripped the hills to stone.

This windless spring day voices strange like stone
breathes; its bufflehead-queer, top-heavy press
across the stream’s glassy gape damps the smoke
trees’ plea for breezy reprieve in shadow—
red buds purpling with their own blooms’ weight lie
flattened to their boughs, assuaged to listen

for a far-off storm’s faint peals. You listen
for a reason to turn from your cold, stone
descent—do the unearthed cedar roots lie
about the travails of erosion? Press
them for answers, you’ll get back the shadow
of your own doubts cleaved in moss thick as smoke.

Is silence its own story, or a smoke
screen for more forbidding fables? Listen
to the garter snake slip into shadow—
when its shift through the weeds turns up a stone
that no one sees, does it make a sound? Press
your palm against a garbled trunk & lie

about the story your closed eyes see; lie
supine like tinder on a pyre until smoke
wafts from the ashes you become; or press
past the bank’s last thorny thicket & listen
for bitterns to make their water-gulped-stone
intentions known, as if your looming shadow

could spur their ardor. What is that shadow,
if not the sun’s scorn for your darkest lie?
No river embodies hope for the stone
waiting on Sisyphus to outrun smoke.
Hope is a myth the robins tell their hatchlings: Listen
at your own peril—for when the flames press

in, bearing tidings of shadow & smoke,
the first lie you listen to will make you
their stone shrine to the robins’ skyward press…

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Robin's Nest

“Understory” was published in Issue 13 (Fall 2019) of Panoply. Thank you to editors Jeff Santosuosso, Ryn Holmes, and Andrea Walker for selecting this piece.

Instead

Stephanie L Harper 1
Instead

if i decided to stop being a poet
what would i do instead?     i asked
(my husband) the other night

the other night when it was late
it was too late to start cooking dinner
& the cattle dog     who lives for order

requires order      & feels its lack
like her hackles feel static    she was pacing
between us     resorting to vocal admonishments

to higher-than-usual-pitched chortling     cajoling
someone to get with the program     the other night
after gymnastics     & martial arts     & driving

driving in gridlock on multiple highways
after the shopping wasn’t done
after—& we were too hungry to cook dinner—

after hunger became the side dish of the night
after my husband had worked all day
& beer number three hadn’t staved off his hunger

& hunger was a side dish      the kids snacked
on chips     & played redundant games on their phones
& the floor was unswept     the dog was anxious

her nails clicked on the unkempt floor
the cat meowed to be fed     the shopping wasn’t done
& so a can of tuna was cracked

the cat’s bowl was filled     & we gave the dog the juice
the dog lapped     then she went back to clicking
& minutes ticked another hour

while my fingers ticking on the keyboard
whooped up a frenzy of words on the screen
with hurricane intensity they swirled

they dispelled into wisps against cold fronts
& re-galvanized in isolated updrafts     but rained nothing
because meaning always slips drily away from the words

& escapes like sly prey into the woods     because
the words bravely give chase     but they were never cut out for this hunt
& they get lost     & hungry

they go hungry like an injured wolf separated from its pack
like a cattle dog lacking order     & teenagers not-talking on phones
like groceries that can’t shop for themselves

like the cat settling for tuna
well     not like that
like clacking keyboards churning up dry storms

like computer screens adrift
at the mercy of tidal waves of hunters
& peckers     & especially delete-ers

_____like a poet who can’t do anything instead

like the shift key     & the alt key
like the fourth beer needs to be the ctrl + alt + delete keys
like delete is a kind of key

they go hungry

like a husband

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Instead” was first published by the brilliant editor and poet and fabulous human being d. ellis phelps in Formidable Woman, and appears in my debut chapbook, This Being Done.

On a more solemn note, my Cattle Dog, Sydney, crossed the rainbow bridge this week at the ripe old age of 15 years 1 month. Being a part of this loyal, quirky, intelligent, beautiful, fascinating canine’s chosen family has been the honor of a lifetime. I wouldn’t be the poet or person I am without her influence.

Sydney Beggar

 

Hypochondria Blues (with recording)

badger

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 will 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 smart phone 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 something not 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
Instrumental: Disquiet by Kevin MacLeod

 

“Hypochondria Blues” was published in peaceCENTERbooks’ 2018 anthology THE LARGER GEOMETRY. Thank you to editor d. ellis phelps for including this piece in such an inspiring collection!
Author note:
This is one of those rare poems that was in no way whatsoever informed by my real-life experience… 😉

Trace

Trace
For Bob

In your morning pouring of coffee,
eggs whisked, peppers diced,
& pancetta browning; in the unsolidified
splatters you cleanse from the countertop;

in Pandora’s box of Edgar Meyer phenotypes
unseating the disquietude of our former lives;
in afternoon cappuccinos you pronounce in Italian
& in your full belly’s tranquil cogitations;

in your evening removal of socks & your feet’s relief;
in your crescent smile’s light sheltering me,
& with my kisses pressing away the decades of iniquities

to trace their thoroughfare to my universe of courage
secured within the dimple of your left cheek—
is everywhere my home will be.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Bye bye EU—Brexshit Day

Your eloquence offers a modicum of comfort, dearest Daniel, in the face of disaster on both sides of the pond…

“But then, what is the point of speaking out when protest isn’t ubiquitous, when outrage is confined to pockets of passive resistance, too tempered by the precariousness that is being middle class, with our terror of being poor, destitute. The precarity of subsistence urges us to genuflect at the foot of capital.”

I’m heartened to hear you speak, nonetheless…

Daniel Paul Marshall

England has exited, mic drop & all that drama. Smirky Boris looked very pleased with himself in his speech, saying nothing of any value other than…well, fucking hot air & a wagging paw, like a weak handshake. Big Ben got a cheap digital ring, a gesture, cheaper at least. We had it holographically printed on Downing Street, yip jump. O dear.

The clientele I serve beers, in the magnanimous taproom down by the quay in Exeter, despondently purchased shots of whiskey or rum to down on the stroke of 11 & who can blame them. A few tables were really drinking heavily to compensate their disgruntlement, from the time they got off work, to last orders. The taproom had no quarreling which side are you on, in our taproom, we have a safe haven from Brexiteers, boasting their triumphs against the ill pairing of their jingoistic effluvia with the economic…

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Poem up at Electica!

My poem “Turkey Vulture” is live in Eclectica Magazine’s January/February 2020 issue as part of the journal’s recurring Word Poem Challenge feature. I’d like to thank poetry editor Evan Martin Richards for selecting this piece, and express my appreciation for Eclectica Magazine, in general, for being one of the longest-running online journals out there, and doing such great work to promote literature and literary kind!

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!

Poem up at Eclectica

Mt St Helena_Sleeping Elephant

My “sleeping elephant,” Mt. Saint Helena (Sonoma County, CA), in whose mesmerizing shadow I grew up…

My poem, “Elephantine,” has been included with a fine array of poems in Eclectica magazine’s October/November 2019 issue’s Word Poem Challenge feature. The task was to compose a poem containing the words paper, indigo, brew, and cruise. Thank you editor Evan Richards for selecting this piece.