Pressing into the Depths
of an old-growth oak grove on your search for virgin peat having naturally preemptively considered the human calcaneus poised on its subcutaneous fat pad (the sturdy lovechild as it were of evolution & bipedal ambulation); you go whole-soled knowing nature engenders no freaks & that the point of weight-bearing actually is to sink-spring to life your very own rooted upward mobility—to elapse your mossy quiet’s once upon a time into cantilevered boom to mushroom & split your bark like a seething green superhero (who leaves you in tatters) harden yourself new gnarls to gather lichens & ever after phosphoresce the midnight fog like a moonbeam striking your cast-off glass slipper
“Pressing into the Depths” was published in the November 2018 peaceCenterbooks anthology, The Larger Geometry: poems for peace, edited by d ellis phelps.
I’m honored that my poem, “Family Road Trip” was published by Eclectica journal. I’m grateful to editors Jen Finstrom and Evan Richards for selecting this piece to help their fantastic publication kick off its 23rd year online!
My poem, “In Praise of Reason,” has been published in Panoply’s themed (“untamed”) and first-ever contest issue! I’m thrilled to have my poem appear with Robert Okaji’s contest-winning effort, and I’m grateful to editors Jeff, Ryn, and Andrea for selecting my work!
i’m no kind of Ishmael to expound
some great protagonist’s wayward saga,
& haven’t the slightest inkling of other
women’s misfortunes, nor do i know
if i’m even justified in such grief over a life
squandered on an endless vigil’s cries of
who sees me now? & now? & now?
who, besides this mirror i face,
knows my bulging litany of failures,
my spurious assumption of a character i detest?
i was born lacking the power
to reason my way out of this gravitational
force i’ve abhorred since youth, & which
now condemns me to lug about my globed
to bear these adjuncts’ fleshy heft, as if I were
still umbilically moored to the gangway by my own
each a whale of white with its vacant eye
downcast like a faded damask rose.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“Legacy” made its debut appearance in Underfoot Poetry, and is the opening poem of my forthcoming chapbook collection, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release from Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available for advance orders NOW at a substantial discount ($6.50 per copy!). Please consider purchasing a copy of my book (click link above), and/or sharing my author page with your online communities to help get the word out! I am forever grateful for all of your support of my work!
__________cover photo by Matthew Harper
Had you been capable of opening
your eyes you’d have seen
that the obvious upside
to my unique coalescence
of scaly-headed tail caprid skull
leonine belly & three belching maws
was my reliable prescience
to forewarn of cataclysm but
you never ceased to make monstrosity
your sticking point
Even your Lycean forbears’ stories
of the diaspora— of how my children’s
fetal cells drifted from my womb endured
the eons amidst the vessel & sinew landscapes
of aliens & were ultimately delivered
to their new craggy homeland beyond
the blood-brain cordon to spawn a nation
of discrete selves as rare & fierce as their maker—
have failed it seems to inspire
Was the transgression of my seething
once upon a time beneath your collective
hunkering in the basalt’s depths
so heinous as to name me Anathema
so aberrant as to exonerate
your assassin’s sullying of Pegasus?
Though murder carapaces your shuddering
heads from my ash cloud’s descent
yet know this: your lost-wax fairytales
have no more tempered the face of who I am
than cast the specter from the dark
hell-fire you dream: that yet I am
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“Chimera” was first published in Isacoustic* in May 2018. Thank you to editor and poet Barton Smock for selecting this piece for inclusion in Isacoustic* vol. the fourth.
Things I Cannot Say
Even when you are a one-year-old jumping out of your crib
(you have no particular reason for jumping, but you do it,
& the thud you make that’s loud but doesn’t hurt,
wakes your father, the menacing resonance of whose
footsteps approaching your room overwhelms you with terror—
your own heartbeat surging in your head—which you catalogue
into your infant consciousness as a sense of mortal danger
you will run from for the rest of your life, though you have no
language to account for it yet), you already implicitly understand
that your fear is a thing you must never talk about out loud, for
the only way its malaise living in your veins could feel worse,
would be if the words you formulated & ascribed to its being
resulted in its summary negation.
___________________________________For the same, essential reason,
you still hardly believe the amazing thing that happened to you
one day, back when you were a burned-out Graduate Assistant
(who couldn’t have distinguished a metaphysical marvel from
her left elbow)—when, because your arms were overfull with books,
an orangutan puppet named Andreas, & his overripe, over-handled
banana, which you’d recruited to teach German reflexive verbs
to Undergrads, you decided to take the elevator back up from your
third floor classroom to your eighth floor office in Van Hise,
& discovered yourself being flanked for five flights by two
Tibetan Buddhist Monks in their maroon & saffron-yellow robes:
Geshe Sopa, whom you recognized from the Asian Studies Department
on the twelfth floor, & his brightly-smiling companion, none other than
His Holiness the Dalai Lama—even though you’ll never forget how
Andreas clasped his banana, while you summarily exited your body
on a silent wave of preternatural warmth, the mouth of the thing
you would never again inhabit fixing itself into a ridiculous grin.
For my part, I think it’s entirely possible that I’ve been a bodiless soul
since infancy, & also that I never did actually receive a new life from
the Dalai Lama in an elevator in Wisconsin, but I cannot say for certain.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“Things I Cannot Say” was published in the Fall 2017 edition of Harbinger Asylum (thank you to editors Z.M. Wise and Dustin Pickering for selecting this piece), and appears in my forthcoming chapbook, The Death’s-Heads Testament, available NOW for preorder purchase (for only $6.50 per copy!) from Main Street Rag (scheduled for release in March 2019).
Family Road Trip
As we cross from Idaho into Utah,
the speed limit increases to 80 MPH,
& the evening empties
itself of the day’s summer ire,
letting it bubble on the horizon,
like the burgeonings that grace
the faces of teenagers just emerged
from backseat oblivion
to find themselves
metamorphosed from neophytes
into sleek, lanky-limbed
Somewhere between the relative
metropolises of Ogden & Salt Lake City,
we breeze past a little town
that sprouted in the morning
shadow of a mountain,
& is now
consummating its time-dilated version
of a storm-cloud’s single day & night;
& I think how this place must be
the torpor of teenagers incarnate—
tucked in its little bed, & brimming
mustering the elements
it will tower into a thing of splendor.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
Reach for me, for I am
not made of this
fleshy shell; I am deeper.
Reach to the beyond-bone of me,
to the warm & ancient
dark of me.
Find where all my unsaying
resides & swells nameless,
& with your tongue, teach me
to speak. Reach
into the buried of me, stoke
& survey the embers
of my death-preceded devouring,
score my borders,
& till my soil nitrogenous.
Then let me be a sieve for your waters,
& for the salt of your deep,
the belly of hope.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
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!