Of These and All

In celebration of World Poetry Day, I offer the following “syntactic echo” of the ineffably ingenious innovator of American Poetry, Walt Whitman. This poetic exercise was the brainchild of one Alessandra Lynch (i.e., I’m not entirely to blame…), instructor/facilitator of my spring 2021 Poetry Workshop in the Butler University MFA Program. 

Of These and All

  “And of these one and all I weave the song of myself”     ~ Walt Whitman, Song of myself 15

The left flesh-melon harbors a pool of sweat, the right flesh-melon harbors a
             pool of sweat,
The perimenopausal woman hot-flashes in the kitchen, the bemused son dons 
            wool slippers in the kitchen,
The second husband purchases electric socks for his perimenopausal wife and

             the ex-husband dissociates further from his ex-wife;
And these stoke my hankerings for donuts, and I make do with home-baked
             banana-nut muffins, 
And such as it is to amass five decades of knowledge, minus where I last left my phone,
             more or less I am in fact speaking on it,
And of these hot flashes, cantankerous joints, suddenly-uncloseable pants and all I 
             justify the lament of my middle-age…

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

Dilated

Dilated

To think that we see them so often    yet so rarely
consider how those piebald songbirds     so at home
on a snow-scape in their portable parkas     are made of
the exact same stuff we use to fill up our electric sky & neon
watermelon nylon winter coats     which must be designed
expressly for us to go out there looking ridiculous
not to mention callous (clothed     as it were     in outright exploitation)—
is the thing I’m pondering as I observe through the window
a little house finch     all feathery & poofed with his flushed cheeks
flitting over the snowy patio     pecking among the abandoned
bench-feet for invisible     if not entirely non-existent morsels
& hawking an air of self-possession that is obvious even to me
in my current     incapacitated state 

As for whether the red-crowned retina specialist
who conducted my examination was young &/or fetching
the prospect was murky (his brisk entrance at the climax
of my dilation     coupled with his expertly-executed clasp
of my hand     inspired my fleeting impression he’d been both)
& all bets were off the very moment the white-cloaked     smeary
hulk of him ambushed my defenseless retinas with an impossibly
aggressive radiant device     thus affording me the pivotal elucidation: 

that a). the anomaly on my fundus autofluourescence images
is simply an unremarkable patch of variegated pigmentation 

b). it was only natural to expect that the definition
of such a lexical wonder as variegated would elude the layperson 

& c). I am indeed obliged by gratuitous pigeonholing
to take categorical offense 

Not that I’m usually so bold as to co-opt medical jargon
but I’m pretty certain variegated is the only word that could
aptly account for what’s right now comprising the better part
of my visual experience     as embodied by this polka-dotty
aberration     also known as a scone     I resorted to purchasing
in the hospital café     thus affording myself the pivotal illusion:

that a). I’m quite absorbed in an earnest task
while waiting here in the lobby for my ride 

& b). I wouldn’t otherwise be averting
my freakish     black gaze from passersby

because c). I’m the kind of person
who always smiles at everyone     as if to say
I accept you for who you are no matter what…    

I’ve gathered that the dark splotches must be
cranberries—however vainly their vague sweet-tang
serves to redeem their crumbly substrate’s alleged
alimentary function

Still     the finch remains staunchly committed
to my functional blindness     as if by sheer force of his
impending command     its concomitant scone-silage
would transcend the glass     & sift to the frozen ground

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Dilated” was published by CatheXis Northwest Press in November 2018 (they seem to be having difficulties with their website). Thank you to editor C.M. Tollefson for accepting this piece!

Hypochondria Blues

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 can 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 smartphone 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 not something 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

“Hypochondria Blues” was published in the anthology, The Larger Geometry, by peaceCENTERbooks. Thank you to editor d ellis phelps for including my work in this beautiful and inspired collection!

The peaceCENTER, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in San Antonio, Texas, supports the learning of peace through prayer and education; and supports the demonstration of peace through nonviolent actions and community.  All proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to benefit the peaceCENTER. 

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! 

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!

Because I Said So

Because I Said So

Because I Said So

It’s been the same     old thing     year after year:
You mope around     all gloomy & convective
grow turbulent with variable shear
& bluster in that helical     invective
tone     All I want to do this spring     is spread
some bliss     inspire the bees to pollinate
warm up the sea     ensure the fish get fed
& coax some pinnipeds beach-ward to mate
but you just keep going all vertical-
like     sprouting vortices to spew about
debris!     Enough!     Go be a spectacle
in Tornado Alley!     Air that funnel out—
then find a nice     dark cloud     & settle down
to spawn some little terrors of your own…

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

This ditty was initially drafted during Tupelo Press’s May 2017 30/30 challenge. Thank you to friend and fellow poet, Clyde Long, for sponsoring this poem by ordering up a sonnet with the title, “Because I Said So,” which included the words, Tornado, beach, and bliss. The uniqueness of these requirements engendered a “pastoral” infused with the life-giving mayhem of spring, reminiscent of the air of triumph that the holy day of Easter embodies for so many.

May the miracles of this season, in all their incarnations, bless you and bolster you the whole year through!