I’m pleased to share that my poem, “(Cento) Because the world is,” is now live in the magnificent collection of visual and literary art that is the Spring 2022 issue of The Night Heron Barks. I’m grateful to editor Rogan Kelly for including my cento (a poem cobbled together from the words of other poets) among such a lineup of literary stars (please do check them out!). What an honor!
Hope Springs Eternal & So Does Willie Nelson
Posted in honor of his 88th birthday!
Another death hoax? Gee, how original…
You folks ain’t fickle—guess I’ll give ya points
fer grit if not fer gumption. I’ve rolled joints
my friends, far stiffer than my tricky ankle,
imbibed red wine that’s older than yer gran’;
this here bandana holds more DNA
than most small countries on a holiday,
so keep your Internet! Just leave the bedpan
close, gas up the bus, & brace for twenty
more long years—well, give or take a decade.
The road’s a callin’, songs are in my head,
& my ol’ guitar plays as good as any;
there’s plenty weed to smoke & hair to braid:
So’s far as I can tell, I’m still not dead.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
Inspired by Aristophanes’ mythological revelation in Plato’s Symposium. 6″ X 9″ acrylic and ink on paper.
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
“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.
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.
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
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
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
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!