How to Be a Malacologist

Snail Buddy

How to Be a Malacologist

Remember when
your child’s heart led your head
like a garden snail’s head leads its footed belly.

Think back to when you were seven
& your adopted pet/school project, Kiddo,
gnawed away at a slice of banana on a glass slide
as you watched, thunderstruck, from beneath him
(find out on Wikipedia that he was using his radula
a structure akin to a tongue used by mollusks to feed).

Recall how proud you were of Kiddo when he not only lost
the school snail race, but redefined it, by turning around
at the half-way point, staying in his own lane, & crossing
the start-line before any of the other snails reached the finish.

Wonder why your teacher didn’t mention anything about Kiddo
& his compatriots being hermaphrodites, or how (if they chose)
they could all be both father & mother to their tiny-shelled progeny,
& realize how simple it would have been for her to call a snail’s powerful,
innate mechanism of retracting its tentacles into its head for protection
by its technical name: invagination.

Then, understand, finally, that if you’d been born with the ability
to operate yourself like a puppet, & pull yourself outside-in
by drawing your head down into your belly & out
through your foot, to invert your once-vibrant
body into an empty sock, how many times
you would have done exactly that.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“How to Be a Malacologist” first appeared in Panoply in January 2018—thank you to editors Jeff, Andrea, and Ryn for selecting this piece!—and is the opening poem of my first chapbook, This Being Done.

What a Patriot Dreams

Desert Flags2

What a Patriot Dreams

I saw the flags come down—
their masts falling like the trees
flattened by shockwaves
in those clips of old footage
from military nuclear bomb tests,
spliced into high school history documentaries.

They weren’t projected celluloid etchings
that teenagers confined to plastic chairs
could summarily cancel
with one hand motioning No
in the universal vernacular…

Caught in a wash of floodlights
on the indigo summer dusk,
the red-white-blue swaths crushed
in on themselves like torn parachutes
& vanished at once—deposed

by morning’s first, grainy insinuations
that breached the blinds’ periphery
& accreted into a silent force
creeping along my bedroom walls,
as if to thwart illumination:

In this country of my own
birth & citizenship, I’ve, in turn,
given birth to two, precious children—

my riven heart’s two halves now trussed
in a spectacular fiasco of feathers & wax.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“What a Patriot Dreams” emerged from a dream I had just after the “orange pustule” (to borrow the apt terminology coined by Rebecca Raphael) pulled the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. What unholy hell have we descended into since then?

Thank you to editor C. M. Tollefson of Cathexis Northwest Press for publishing 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

 

Trace

Trace
For Bob

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

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

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. 

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local

I can’t begin to express how deeply soul-nurturing it is for me to collaborate with such an extraordinarily generous and brilliant man and poet as Robert Okaji!

O at the Edges

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local
(A collaborative poem written with Stephanie L. Harper)

Having plucked the disheveled
petals from the core,
she waits
for the dead to speak
of last week’s sweetness—

of damp upholstery
and worn-out shoes,
of locked chests
and the faint honey
of unrealized hope.

Magnetized,
I twist the stem;
I quarter the seeds and
blemish the plate.
Which north rings true?

Which faded-red
bridge reveals the lost
inner compass?
Our ice cubes clink
no answers, as the essences

of hibiscus, lavender,
and mint slip over my tongue,
concealing the cool
tang of her demurring
ghosts…

But when she says whisper,
touching her lips
with an index finger,
I hear distant trains
baying like wolves,

and smell the char of nights
trailing the undiminished
river, its waters flowing
in every possible
direction, away.

* * *

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local” first appeared in

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Review of Stephanie L. Harper’s The Death’s Head’s Testament

WOW!
The inimitably brilliant, insightful, and sensitive Daniel Paul Marshall has written a gorgeous review of my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament! Please take a look, and consider pre-ordering a copy for just $6.50 each!

Daniel Paul Marshall

The Death’s Head’s
Testament

continues on from Stephanie’s previous book This
Being Done
& fortunate for us Stephanie is in the present progressive,
hammering out the dimensions of poems. The poems here continue to wade in the
difficulties of womanhood, family, child-rearing, love, life, memory &
death.

There
is wakeful invention, an intellectual alacrity, sure-footedness even on the
tremulous ground of the heart in the track of each advancing line. Something
common-place, is elevated to heightened importance if only for it being what it
is: a potential for articulation & loving.

Despite
the morbidity of the title, I hope (well-founded on the verve of being a
life-bringer & cultivator, which Stephanie wears unashamedly on her sleeve)
that Stephanie isn’t concerned as Roy Fisher expresses in Poplars that“I think I
am afraid of becoming a cemetery of performance.” Stephanie’s performance is to
be anticipated.

Stephanie sets off from a harbour in…

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