How to Be a Malacologist

Snail Buddy

How to Be a Malacologist

Remember when
your child’s heart led your head
like a garden snail’s head leads its footed belly.

Think back to when you were seven
& your adopted pet/school project, Kiddo,
gnawed away at a slice of banana on a glass slide
as you watched, thunderstruck, from beneath him
(find out on Wikipedia that he was using his radula
a structure akin to a tongue used by mollusks to feed).

Recall how proud you were of Kiddo when he not only lost
the school snail race, but redefined it, by turning around
at the half-way point, staying in his own lane, & crossing
the start-line before any of the other snails reached the finish.

Wonder why your teacher didn’t mention anything about Kiddo
& his compatriots being hermaphrodites, or how (if they chose)
they could all be both father & mother to their tiny-shelled progeny,
& realize how simple it would have been for her to call a snail’s powerful,
innate mechanism of retracting its tentacles into its head for protection
by its technical name: invagination.

Then, understand, finally, that if you’d been born with the ability
to operate yourself like a puppet, & pull yourself outside-in
by drawing your head down into your belly & out
through your foot, to invert your once-vibrant
body into an empty sock, how many times
you would have done exactly that.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“How to Be a Malacologist” first appeared in Panoply in January 2018—thank you to editors Jeff, Andrea, and Ryn for selecting this piece!—and is the opening poem of my first chapbook, This Being Done.

Terminal

NORTHERN-FLYING-SQUIRREL-3

Terminal

What is the terminal velocity of a squirrel?
my son once asked

(only the gods know what
precipitated his inquiry),

no doubt hoping
for a literal response;

but I couldn’t help
wondering

whether the fall that fails
to attenuate its consequent

landing, misses the mark,
or strikes true?

While certain Rodentia have
inherited the uncanny

fortune of built-in
arm-to-ankle extensions,

evolution withholds
such membranous solutions

to our own, inborn
predilection for doom.

What profit is to be
won of our climbing—

of so much inching along
the highest branches until

they can no longer bear
our weight—

much less of our retreats,
our blunderings, our plummets?

Does the sole stepping
forth create the target,

or obliterate its imprinted
eons from the forest loam?

Terminal is an attitude,
I wish I’d known enough to tell him,
 
having little to do with velocity,
& much to do with trajectory.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

“Terminal” was published by editor extraordinaire Barton Smock in Isacoustic* in October 2019.

 

Matthew in the Fountain

Matthew in the Fountain

Matthew in the Fountain
August 1999, age 14 months

In the spray’s scattering
of afternoon rays
_____you pass before the sun
a toddling pointed-toe satellite
eclipsing all
but its faint red ghost

Summer haloes you in sun-white down
mottling the concrete’s cool glisten
like a memory from the womb

Watching the world swim into focus
in your smart brown eyes
_____your round cheeks
flushing with the kisses of angels
showering from the sky          I realize
in a shutter’s split-second
__________I’ve traversed eternity

My child     you burst open my heart like the sun
bursts infinitely open each fountain drop

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Happy Mother’s Day! Today, I share this poem encapsulating a life-defining moment for me as a mother, in celebration of motherhood in all its beautiful wisdom, generosity, and complexity in our world. 

“Matthew in the Fountain” appears in my debut chapbook collection, This Being Done, and was published in the 2019 Transcendent Zero Press anthology, EPIPHANIES AND LATE REALIZATIONS OF LOVE. Thank you, Dustin Pickering, for selecting this piece.

 

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.

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… 😉

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.