Chimera

chimera
Chimera 

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
your affection…

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

Vessel

“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.

A New Poem Up at BONED!

I’m thrilled to share the news that my poem, “Rhapsody in Bone” — a bit of formal verse for the 21st century… — is featured at the wonderful web journal, BONED! I’m grateful to editor Nate Ragolia for giving my quirky piece inspired by an ancient Inuit myth such a lovely and fitting home.

“Rhapsody in Bone” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done, available now from Finishing Line Press. Orders will ship in June 2018.

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.

Brave

towering pine

Brave

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding,
like your climbs to the tops of towering pines,
and your belief that you can never cry.

At age five, you dream of a woman
with wings like a bat dressed all in black.
She swoops down, grabs you, pins you in her lap,
and while hitting you over and over, she’s whispering
that it will end when you stop struggling;
so you pretend to relax until her grip loosens
and then you fight to escape, but each time
her strength overwhelms you. It takes
several beatings before you realize
she is trying to help you, she is teaching you
how to be brave—
how to be so still
that you can let yourself have no feeling
when the scratchy hands are pressing into you,
like the night lets itself be swallowed by darkness.

An eight-year-old now, you’re standing
outside their locked bedroom door, waiting
for your mother to call to you
as he yells his nonsense, rips out drawers,
and slams the walls with his fists.
When something made of glass shatters
against the vanity, her cry of surprise
convinces you to call the police.
They come and go in a flash—
barely pausing to ruffle your hair
and chuckle
that it was all “just a misunderstanding”—
and they leave you there,
to keep being unseen.

For most of the schoolyear,
at age eleven, you are chronically ill:
the oozing, itching, gray-swollen chickenpox lesions
that make you potently untouchable,
lead to an infiltration of fevers, flooded lungs,
and inflamed tonsils and ears
that hold you prisoner from the inside,
but soon you come to know your captors
as the oddly loyal, untiring allies
who keep you warded at night, for months.
Your classmates are jealous, though,
that you still make passing grades
in your constant absence from school—
on the phone, they accuse you of faking,
and you can’t help the feeling, either,
that being sick really is a kind of cheating,
like getting something you want
without doing anything to earn it.

Mom is taking you to open a bank account
with your own passbook, though you’re just twelve
(her eyes are still swollen from crying yesterday),
so you can sign for the money you’ll need to get
yourself and your little brother to the airport
to fly to an uncle you barely know in New York,
if she either goes missing, or you find her dead,
because, as she’s confided to you—
and you have no reason not to believe it—
your father vowed to kill her.
For the next three years, then (she doesn’t know),
you skip lunch at school and save the money
to deposit into the “plane ticket” account.
No, she never gets murdered,
maybe even because you always keep watch,
like the kind of parent you’d want to be would,
even after your father finally moves out
during the same summer you get your tonsils
(and the disease they harbored) removed.

You’re now proving to be a picture of health
(though you bear the hunger of indignity, standing
in lines in the school gym for government hand-outs
of peanut butter, processed cheese and expired bread),
because you can run like no one else.
You are your soccer coach’s favorite, you believe,
because you are tough, and you work the hardest.
He makes a fuss over you like you are special,
takes you out for ice cream, has you come along
on fishing trips with his sons, and invites
you over for dinner, or to stay the night,
and you never consider he’ll expect you to repay him
for these casual, kind gestures, until
he’s suddenly always touching and hugging you
as if it is his right, and even though you make sure
only to be in public places with him,
in plain sight of your teammates’ parents,
you can’t discourage his lewd hovering,
or his propositions (which he thinks are charming)
for you to fuck him in the back of his van.
Somebody should be watching!
Somebody should be watching!
People are watching, but they only see
the things that have no need
for invisibility, like the crude posturing
of a man just being a man—

just someone who reserves
the Scouts’ clubhouse through Parks and Rec
for a “team meeting” that you feel obligated to attend;
someone who waits on a weekday evening
in a prefab aluminum building
with the lights dimmed
for a fifteen-year-old girl to enter alone,
while, at home, his own kids watch T.V.,
and his wife keeps his dinner warm.

Some things leave no room for misunderstanding—

like the lust throbbing in a man’s neck,
the presumption gleaming in his eyes,
and the fact that wrongs always pile upon wrongs
in the same way he now heaps this assault from behind,
with his thick hands fumbling for your breasts,
on top of his preposterous lie;

and so when he leans in with his belly
and his cock stiffens against the small of your back,
a scream gets trapped in your throat,
and you find yourself struggling wildly—
you elbow him hard in the ribs,
then rear up and ram your head into his chin,
and somehow stun him long enough
to get away—

you get away,
but leaving yourself there
unseen in the dark
doesn’t ever feel brave.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Brave” was first published in the TulipTree Publications, LLC 2016 anthology, Stories That Need to Be Told, which was a Colorado Book Award nominee. This poem also appears in my chapbook, This Being Done, NOW AVAILABLE for advance copy purchase at Finishing Line Press: RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE! – OR – use the form below as a guide for placing orders via post:

I’m deeply grateful for your orders! Thank you! Thank you! If you haven’t done so already, but are considering purchasing a copy, I ask that you please do so as soon as possible, as my print-run will be contingent upon the number of copies sold (for which there is a minimum quota) during the pre-publication period, which ends on April 27, 2018.

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