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! 

On Robert Okaji’s I Have a Bird to Whistle

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I had the great honor and privilege of previewing and writing the following blurb for the back cover of Robert Okaji’s newest chapbook, I Have a Bird to Whistle (Luminous Press):

In I Have a Bird to Whistle, Robert Okaji masterfully constructs a universe of incisively beautiful sensory observations, in which the poet lives at the crux—owns and revels in the “life energy” of the “liminal”—between “unshuttered” stimuli and the “concealed” truth of existence. Here, where every ray of light shed on an otherwise “transitory” moment celebrates the gift of consciousness, and every deviation from expectation substantiates the self-actualizing force of human will, the language of poetry—of colors, sounds, and symbols—circumscribes our very being, as it drives our search for meaning. As nuanced as they are bold and delectable, these poems are utterly human, and utterly divine!

– Stephanie L. Harper, author of This Being Done and The Death’s-Head’s Testament.

In short, this is a reading experience like no other, that you simply don’t want to miss!

U.S. Residents can purchase I Have a Bird to Whistle HERE for the fantastic price of $7.50/copy, shipping included. Non-U.S. purchasers can order directly from Robert by emailing aBirdtoWhistle@yahoo.com.

Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation

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Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation

“Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres
Unter der Sonn’, als euch Götter!
_______________~ J. W. von Goethe’s “Prometheus”

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

“Concerning the Delay of My Self-Immolation” made its debut appearance in Robert Penick’s fabulous literary journal, Ristau: A Journal of Being, in January 2019. It also appears in my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019! Please check out sample poems and early praise for this collection on my Author Page at Main Street Rag, and consider purchasing a copy at the terrific limited-time discount of $6.50! 

I wish I had words to express how much your support of my work means to me. Please just enjoy the poems, and know that I’m immensely grateful!

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam
For E9, Born December 31, 2016

1.

Everything
must first have been

a nameless billowing
in the silent house

of before     until its voice
yolk-forged     could wrest

a pyroclastic mouth
sufficient to speak birth’s

dialect of brokenness

2.

I watched the possibility of you
cradled sixty feet high in a Slash Pine

become a five-day-old
white fluff-bundle of spunk

& open-beaked ferocity     You
command the ripping impulse

that strips off the fish’s silver skin
midriff to tail     with one     swift

grip & flexion     exposing
the host’s fleshy glisten

of lipid-pink life to be flaked
& held to your tiny maw’s tip

3.

Before this feeding     I think
nothing had yet been born

whose name was Tenderness

no one to bring this warmth
of tastes & swallows growing ever

heavier in your belly & on your lids
to bear you to your imperative sleep:

Dream     Little One     in the haven
of your father’s stalwart breast!

Dream of wings outstretched
on the azure’s salt-breath!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam” was first published in the Winter 2017 issue of The Ibis Head Review, and appears in my first chapbook, THIS BEING DONE. If you enjoy my poetry on this blog, you might also consider checking out my newest chapbook, THE DEATH’S-HEAD’S TESTAMENT, scheduled for release by Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available for pre-order sales NOW for a huge discount at $6.50 per copy!

I’M SO VERY GRATEFUL TO OUR COMMUNITY ON WORDPRESS FOR ALL YOUR AMAZING FEEDBACK, SUPPORT, AND FRIENDSHIP! MY LIFE AND MY POETRY WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU!

*I’ve been following parents extraordinaire, Harriet and M-15, and their gorgeous eaglets for three seasons now. Check out the stupendous progress being made minute to minute by this year’s little dinosaur siblings, E12 and E13 on the SW Florida Eagle Cam!

Legacy

Legacy

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
satellites—

to bear these adjuncts’ fleshy heft, as if I were
still umbilically moored to the gangway by my own
murdered albatross—

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!

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__________cover photo by Matthew Harper

Things I Cannot Say

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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).

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Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Vision Board_GISH 2016
Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Dear Bob: In one of my former incarnations
as a starving, family-less, twenty-something Grad
Student, well before the advent of emails & texting,
when handwritten sentiments on stationery were still
in vogue, I certainly sent my share of “Dear Bob Letters.”
The recipients thereof, on the whole a far cry from being
remotely “Bob-like,” included a number of real posers,
some of whom now strut & crow on Facebook like
the ancient, hoary roosters (read: cocks) they clearly are.
As for the others (more of them than you might imagine),
they’re all dead, several by their own hands, even—a stone-
cold statistic (the seeming synchronicity of which is tough
to ignore) I frequently grapple with, sorting through conjured,
a posteriori details & associated, surreal imagery by day, &
chasing after egotistical ghosts in my über-symbolic dreams
by night, always with the conviction that some message for me
yet lurks in the dry lakebeds & sunless recesses of the Nether,
a realm to which the tips of my toes & then some are no strangers.

The only window-treatment manning the threshold between
me & my secrets is a translucent-pink swath of chiffon,
which I’m afraid doesn’t leave much to the imagination—
so consider yourself warned, amico mio! Against the current
backdrop of imbecilic plutocrats, political sycophants,
& psychopaths bearing assault rifles, hardly to be tempered
by the incidental, decent soul, it would not take a discerning
eye long to know me better than I know myself, which is just
about the only thing I know anymore…

In my attempts to locate myself, I often look to nature—
these days, it’s among the imposing Sequoias we boast here
in the Northwest, along with the showy cottonwoods, as fertile
as they are indiscriminate, stripping off their seed-fluff every
chance they get, a prospect that doesn’t seem to bother
the scrub jays deigning to my level for a squawk now & then
before ascending to a higher branch. Whatever folks might say
about birds of a feather, well, after a number of earnest stints
shadowing the local hens—the way they kept those vibrant
petticoats tucked under their brown slickers, & their biting
commentary having seemed uniquely suited to the cold & rain—
I’ve yet to locate my flock, & the search has turned southeastward:
Taking a tip from the meadowlark, I veer for the high desert,
my flight path crossing the sagebrush-dotted, volcanic earth,
hoping I’ll soon look down & see you floating
in a sea of ten gallon hats, just beyond the convection
columns braced against the electric blue sky.

I don’t suppose your self-claimed exile looks anything
like I’ve imagined? It’s not with a small twinge of jealousy
that I seek consolation in your brand of solitude on the other
side of that horizon line; as exile, it would seem to me,
involves the condition of having at some point belonged
somewhere. Now, after a lifetime spent standing out in my field,
I’m not very handy at extrapolating any other kind of belonging,
& feel I ought to find out what I’ve been missing.

So, I’m heading out past the Cascades & the swaggering
sage grouses of the eastern uplands, reaching for that horizon—
green seeping to red, clouds feathering out, & no further from us
than one step beyond our any given station—where you can be
sure I’ll always be no more than a step away from you, & ever
your honest friend, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Western Meadowlark

“Letter from the Other Side of Halfway,” my response to Robert Okaji’s gorgeously soul-fortifying poem, “Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon,” was first penned during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in May 2017, and subsequently published in Underfoot Poetry (thank you to editors/authors Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for generously hosting my work!) in July 2018. This piece also appears in my newest chapbook, The Death-Head’s Testament, NOW available for presale order (@ $6.50 per copy, a significant discount off the cover price!), scheduled for release in March 2019.

3 Poems Up At CatheXis Northwest

house finch

Thank you to editor C. M. Tollefson and the poetry editing team at CatheXis Northwest for publishing my 3 poems, “Aubade with Smoke,” “Dilated,” and “What a Patriot Dreams.”

The latter two poems also appear in my newest chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release by Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available now for advance order @ $6.50 per copy.

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The Death’s-Head’s Testament

Announcing my newest poetry chapbook:

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Hello My Poetry-Loving WordPress Friends!

Here’s the scoop: Main Street Rag has opened advanced sales at $6.50 per copy for my newest poetry chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019! This generous discount off of the $12.00 cover price will be offered for a limited time, so be sure to take advantage of it soon!

ORDER HERE!

Thank you so much, everyone, for your engagement with and support of my work! I couldn’t have come this far without you!

Once, again, credit for this breathtaking cover photo goes to my son, Matthew Harper.

Thank you, also, to editor M. Scott Douglas at Main Street Rag for a terrific design!

 

Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

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Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam

For E9, Born December 31, 2016

1.
Everything
must first have been

a nameless billowing
in the silent house

of before    until its voice
yolk-forged     could wrest

a pyroclastic mouth
sufficient to speak birth’s

dialect of brokenness

2.
I watched the possibility of you
cradled sixty feet high in a Slash Pine

become a five-day-old
white fluff-bundle of spunk

& open-beaked ferocity     You
command the ripping impulse

that strips off the fish’s silver skin
midriff to tail     with one     swift

grip & flexion     exposing
the host’s fleshy glisten

of lipid-pink life to be flaked
& held to your tiny maw’s tip

3.
Before this feeding     I think
nothing had yet been born

whose name was Tenderness

no one to bring this warmth
of tastes & swallows growing ever

heavier in your belly & on your lids
to bear you to your imperative sleep:

Dream    Little One     in the haven
of your father’s stalwart breast!

Dream of wings outstretched
on the azure’s salt-breath!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Live Feed from the SW Florida Eagle Cam” was published in The Ibis Head Review in December 2017, and appears in my chapbook, This Being Done, also available on Amazon.com.