3 Poems Up At CatheXis Northwest

house finch

Thank you to editor C. M. Tollefson and the poetry editing team at CatheXis Northwest for publishing my 3 poems, “Aubade with Smoke,” “Dilated,” and “What a Patriot Dreams.”

The latter two poems also appear in my newest chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release by Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available now for advance order @ $6.50 per copy.

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Poem Live at Rootstalk!

My poem, “Travel by Starlight,” which just so happens to be the inspiration behind my original illustration serving as the banner on this blog (above), is live at Rootstalk Magazine, an online publication published in conjunction with the Center for Prairie Studies at my alma mater, Grinnell College in Grinnell, IA. Thank you so much to editor Mark Baechtel for accepting this piece!

Painted Chickens

chicken mug

Photo of actual coffee mug in question, circa 1994.

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, came the birthday gift—
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
Chicken with attitude

“Painted Chickens” was first published in the winter 2014 edition of Sixfold magazine.  I was inspired to post it on the blog today by a dream I had the other night involving a brood of chickens who were all trying to ingratiate themselves to me with their eggs, all of which were severely malformed and/or proportionally impossible to have been laid by the given, proud clucker presenting it. One of the eggs gifted to me was shaped like a tiny, raw roast that fit in the palm of my hand. Trying not to snub this sweet avian’s generosity, I remarked, with all the casualness I could muster, “Oh, it looks like this one isn’t quite done yet,” and I gently set it back in the nest. From the slapped expression on my friend’s feathered little face, however, I’m pretty sure she knew the score… A viable analysis of this one as yet eludes me, so I’m definitely open to suggestions!    

Unvoiced

Unvoiced

Illustration by S. L. Harper

The words from the dream are
wisps in the air like broken
spider webs wrapping invisibly
about my face and forearms

The fake sunrise tarp draped before me
ripples like a summer mirage
half-soaked into the rural street

and then          as if I were not supposed to
I step through and place my foot
solidly into an evening of dark specters
waiting outside of their existence
to become what I am

there

I am the cool turpentine
wash of grays seeping over
a dusting of brown sand in the road

I am the night falling upon
neglected pastures of weeds
sputtering up about the silhouettes
of tree stumps and old swing sets

I am the street lamps’ sallow illumine
peering out sensibly from between
foolish tree skeleton embraces

and I am still the child
twisting acorns into the asphalt
with the soles of her shoes

squealing gleefully into the night

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Unvoiced” made its first appearance in Sixfold magazine, winter 2013 edition.

I was inspired to include it on my site today after reading a little metaphysical beauty posted on Robert Okaji’s  O at the Edges , called “Irretrievable.”