Letter to Bowers from the Pandemic’s Underbelly 

Juniper Bonsai

Letter to Bowers from the Pandemic’s Underbelly 

March 26, 2020

Dear Audrey: Four days ago, when I first attempted to write
to you, I got as far as penciling the date at the top of a blank
page before returning to the fevered oblivion of uncertain
breath. I’ve since been fortunate enough to have avoided
the chaos of a hospital emergency room—having providentially
back-doored my way into an out-of-network respiratory clinic,
where chest x-rays yielded a pneumonia diagnosis & an ensuing
test for the dreaded novel coronavirus came back positive—but not
the nightly bane of alternating chills & sweats & not knowing
what further cause for alarm the next hour would bring, including
but not limited to the question of whether my son, standing outside
at ten o’clock at night in a severe thunderstorm with wind gusts of
fifty-miles-per-hour, would have enough sense to come indoors
before the quarter-sized hail began pelting him… I’ve managed to stay
vertical for a full fifteen minutes while eking out these lines, & now,
as I begin to fade, I’m feeling a strange combination of triumph
& lament: while I’m optimistic about my recovery finally heading
in the desired direction & more than relieved not to be adding
at least one particular undesirable statistic to my repertoire, I also
never imagined I’d live to see the day I’d discover that my beloved
Poetry is not so much an actual element of my own blood, as it is
an exotic other, a separate life form, however precious, I’ve only
known the luxury of cultivating like a juniper bonsai in a relatively
oxygen-rich environment. Poetry, it turns out, is not some elixir
for a richer life to be procured & casually sipped; rather like a sapling,
in all its tender precariousness, it requires our fortitude & right orientation
toward the entire living, breathing world (breathing, to my mind, being
the operative word) in order to survive—an inclination which, for my
foreseeable future, will be predominantly horizontal in nature…
In the meantime, I shall count on the selfsame atmosphere that feeds
the breath of Poetry to keep you healthy & safe, as I remain
your reclined & convalescent friend, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

For some reason, I’ve been extra preoccupied with ruminations on the meaning of life and mortality lately…

Oh, and please help me wish my son a happy 22nd birthday today! 

Starlight 02

Matthew, age 6

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.

 

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

 

Briefing from the Sunday Review Board

Illustration by Cameren Harper
@CamHarpArt

Briefing from the Sunday Review Board

_____“Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world,
_____but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” – Romans 12:2 (NIV)
 
my dear friends     i give thanks whenever i remember you
performing the Sunday liturgy in your private domiciles
as you fritter the late-winter daylight     heads bowed
to the gardens you cultivate in solitude     in which the holy grapes
of indolence germinate & swell into such harvests as only a protracted
back surgery recovery may ferment into sacred     existential wine

imbibe     i pray     & rejoice in your propitious
proximity to those who are sanctified:

Blessed be the Teenagers

__________greasified & bespectacled
though they be     for lolling with you on the couch
to watch an “old” movie from two thousand & three
for getting most of the cheesy references to last century
& even laughing aloud (albeit dubiously)     as you’ve
been all the while vaunting the previous night’s travesty
of red flannel covered in Mickey Mouse heads
purple soccer shorts     & magenta knee-high socks
_____& for not only seeming not to mind your ensemble
but also refraining from being put out by the three-inch-
long grey whisker sticking bolt straight out of your temple
from whence it had migrated     undiscovered     until crossing
the evidentiary vista’s periphery

Blessed be the Husband
 
__________for disarming your gesticulating
dismay with his velvety quip     “It’s actually white”
which he punctuates with an ironic kiss     before slipping
out the door like the Count of Monte Cristo to grab
a late     take-out lunch called “linner”    thusly
exercising his seasoned prowess as a nuclear engineer
who (having remained at all times cognizant of the breeder
reactor’s categorical purpose) has managed the containment
area around these billions of atoms your half-life needed
to split in provisioning wholeness for your progeny—

_____namely     your exquisite boy     who took off
at birth on a trajectory through the complex system
of boons & hazards some call autism     which you try to follow
corkscrewing like a solid-fuel rocket that’s lost a fin mid-flight
_____& your willful-sweet girl     whose arrival
from the spacetime continuum came sooner than expected
replete with congenital array of warp-drive clairvoyance
an uncanny talent for art     & a heart anomaly requiring
multiple interventions that have left
__________distortions
rip-roaring in her vector field—

by stabilizing within his perimeter both your incendiary
preoccupation with fissile potential     & its eventual fallout
(a. k. a. forty-something)     an advanced state of spiritual
decay known to impel the trade of a semi-functional uterus
for a pair of robust guinea pig siblings     who     in all likelihood
will outlive god

Blessed     surely     be the Son 
 
__________for being but seventeen
yet somehow finding his way     unprompted
to the shower no later than three pee em
_____& for his gorgeous baritone honed by years
of lessons now forsaken for countertenor arias
redolent of a derailed train

O     Blessed     indeed     be the Daughter

__________for the whiling away
of so many precious hours closed up in her bedroom
to conduct her assays of fan tributes on YouTube
_____& for the eternities of wringing crusades waged
on your universe trussed in her small     perfect hands

Amen!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Briefing from the Sunday Review Board” appears in my chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament (<< click link for poem samples, commentary, and ordering information).  I’ve decided once and for all to retire it from the cyberspace slush pile, and to give it the loving home it deserves, here, in the arms of the WordPress poetry community.
❤ -SLH

An Elegy for Birds & Bees

Lavender Kiss_Matthew Harper

“Lavender Kiss,” by Matthew Harper

An Elegy for Birds & Bees

“When a woman pretends to press her life down into a nice, tidy little package, all she accomplishes is spring-loading all her vital energy down into shadow. ‘Fine. I’m fine,’ such a woman says… Then one day, we hear she has taken up with a piccolo player and has run off to Tippicanoe (sic) to be a pool hall queen…”                               Clarissa Pinkola Estés

over & over in habitual drone
i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say
because i have not told
i am saying i’m done
but this being done
is how i know i will never be done
though my climbing son
a speck eighty feet high in a skyline of swaying cedars
can heft the storm clouds away
from his own silvery horizon
& my seeking daughter
has tenacity enough     without me
to prize out four leaf clovers
from speciously green reaches
_____but i will never release
this breath of finality that i keep
choked in my throat behind earnest songs for my children
no     & i will swallow the rising bile
when the Northern Flicker perches
on our aluminum chimney top     puffed-up
so proud in those marrow-less bones
of his impervious skull’s clever     territorial ricocheting

being done happened
within my own sinew-lined pelvis
the cracked bowl
filled     drained     & refilled
with meticulously rich essences
long after anything living had been fed
the relentlessly heavy     gnawing
red slough of losing myself
to nothing     for nothing
frightened me
_____& so     i had the offending flesh cut out
the fossilized rind that was left is now locked
with its un-told stories
beneath eons of hardened sediments

this being done happens in spring
while i am driving alone
it happens quickly
in instants of lapsed attention
in overzealous moments of stony apathy
when windshield wipers stick unexpectedly
or when sudden     pink shafts of evening sun
transmute newborn lambs bucking
for tender grass & mother’s milk
into silhouettes haunting the roadside
_____the being done
is all these countless     fleeting deaths
i tear into strips     soak in chewed glue
& fashion together to house myself
in a prodigal    crinkled    purgatorial prune

these tiny     stinging      imprudent suicides
should all be spirited away from their haughty blooms
& borne into the ancient hive
clutched industriously
to the undersides of fuzzy exoskeletons
_____there     my secret     greedy orchestrations
would become coded in sacred routines
my life programmed in dance
& propagated by ecstatic waggles & fastidious figure eights
to a crescendo of communal comprehension
of the one     seminal purpose
of the being done that shall be

done at all costs
the Queen’s Royal Jelly must be
sealed with wax in her hexagonal vaults

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“An Elegy for Birds & Bees” first appeared in the 2015 edition of Slippery Elm Literary Journal — thank you editor Dave Essinger for your gracious and validating support of my work! — and is the title poem of my new chapbook, This Being Done, available NOW for order at Finishing Line Press, and scheduled for release in June 2018.  For more insight into this piece’s inception and the role it played in informing the collection as a whole, check out my recent Q&A with Robert Okaji.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to everyone for your investment in (as well as your abiding engagement with and enthusiasm for) my work. It truly means the world to me.

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Starlight 01

Cameren at age 4, taken Mother’s Day 2005

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Apologize? For regretting your birth?

That the white dove of sarcasm
has officially fledged from your belly
alit on the canopy     & uncaged its crystal trill
comes to me as no surprise

But neither of us could have foreseen the power
your brooding would conceive of pencil & ire
before the moment you spat out   crumpled     & hand delivered
my saltwater baptism

Your own tears     now dried for hours     blaze for me
from the gold heart in your gray-green eyes
willing my belief that you truly didn’t realize
I’ve been there your whole life

At sundown     I’m the one always stumbling through the wood
like some sort of village idiot     brandishing my dim lantern
at the giant pines     as if I might catch them in the act
of uprooting themselves     & slinking away

Though you flit by & vanish into the trees
in a flash I can barely make out as a memory
your trace among the cedars & silvertips remains as innate in me
as the wolf’s way to her newborn cub’s whimper

Two months early
yet already ripe for the triumph
& pain only the fiercest have dared to carry in one body
you were born to fly from me—

& so     how could I ever be sorry
to know of finding you over & over again?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Thank you to editor Eli T. Mond for giving this piece a home in the December 2017 edition of The Ibis Head Review.

“In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter” is included in my debut poetry chapbook, This Being Done, which is available for order NOW from Finishing Line Press!

If you would like to order a copy, I ask that you please do so as soon as possible before the deadline for pre-publication orders on April 27, 2018. Although my book is scheduled for release in June, the print-run is based on a minimum quota of copies ordered during the two-month presale period ending on April 27, 2018.

Order online: This Being Done, by Stephanie L. Harper 

I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to any of you who have already preordered This Being Done. Your investment in and appreciation for who I am and what I do means more to me than I could ever adequately express. This journey wouldn’t be the same without your support!

Q&A with Poet Stephanie L. Harper (Part 1)

Thanks for this terrific honor, Bob!

O at the Edges

I’m pleased to offer this Q&A with poet Stephanie L. Harper:

You have a chapbook, This Being Done, coming out soon. Can you tell us something about it? From where did the title come?

 Yes, I’m thrilled that this debut of my work in book form is making its way into the world. The title, This Being Done, is an excerpt from my poem, “An Elegy for Birds & Bees,” which, the more I think about it, the more I believe is the crux of the collection. The poem came to me when I was profoundly depressed and drifting—feeling as if my childbearing days being behind me was somehow synonymous with not having (and not deserving to have) an identity or purpose for my own sake. The poem’s opening lines, “over & over in habitual drone /i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say…

View original post 1,273 more words

Two Poems up at formidableWoman!

Stephanie L Harper 1.JPG

Steph, poet, & Sydney, cattle dog extraordinaire!

Thank you so much to editor D. Ellis Phelps of Moon Shadow Sanctuary Press for hosting my poems, “Risen” and “Instead,” at formidableWoman, and for making me feel like a celebrity with her warm, insightful introduction!

Browse D.’s wonderful site here: Formidable Woman Sanctuary

Also, check out these terrific submissions opportunities here: Moon Shadow Sanctuary Press

“Instead” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done, which will be available for pre-publication order TOMORROW, February 26, 2018, through April 27, 2018, at Finishing Line Press. I will post the link to order as soon as it goes live! Stay tuned for further announcements throughout the next couple of months!

Matthew in the Fountain

 

In the Fountain 1999

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

This poem appears in my chapbook, THIS BEING DONE, forthcoming with Finishing Line Press, someday (I’ve been hearing that they’re experiencing some delays…). The little cherub featured above, in one of the only decent photos I’ve ever taken in my life (in that the subject isn’t my own thumb, or some stranger’s butt), is my son, Matthew, who’s now 19 (oy!), and whose prowess as a photographer did not come from me. I’ve previously shared an example of his amazing work on the blog HERE.