I hope you enjoy these poems here in the midst of summer. To me they are memorable and surprising in their clear and lovely evocation of simple things, like rain, anxiety, wonder, and silence.
SEVENTEEN WAYS OF SAYING RAIN
The Japanese have seventeen words for rain.
Rain that makes the yellow leaves fall, rain that drips from a downspout into the mint patch, rain that beats a tattoo on the metal roof, rain that soaks through a waterproof jacket, rain that hangs like small pearls on spruce branches, rain that turns river water café au lait, rain that drips from the backs of black and white cows, rain on marsh marigolds that was snow yesterday, rain that rolls rocks down onto a mountain pass, rain that makes dust puffs rise from dry earth, rain that shines through July afternoon sunlight, rain that smells of wood stacks and wood smoke, rain that hisses on asphalt under truck wheels, rain that unearths mushrooms in the forest , rain that paints deep red the sandstone cliffs, rain that bends down the faces of sunflowers, rain that mingles with tears of sorrow.
The bell had hung there forever, it seemed.
We came to the church with our children
after years of childlessness—sleeping in,
reading each section of the fat Sunday paper,
drinking café au lait from bowls made by potter-friends.
Sundays were for museum-going,
brunches out with mimosas, omelets filling
elegant white plates, walks around the reservoir.
The gray wood church was nothing like
the brick edifices of our childhoods,
pews stuffed with families,
lines of men standing along the aisles, holding their hats.
By the time we prodigals returned to church,
it was a half-forgotten ritual.
You could always get a seat.
White-robed acolytes, tasked with pulling
the fat white rope each Sunday,
were lifted up on tiptoe, pulled by the heavy bell.
Once, the smallest boy went aloft for a second.
Now the tower’s closed for business, the bell silent.
Rotted window frames, sagging beams
wait for the engineer’s report.
No peals disturb neighbors on the street
where the church stands, unremarkable, plain,
against a backdrop of pines and oaks.
This sixty-year old bell used to strike ten times,
a call to worship, a wedding. On the day
of the death ritual, the bell rang the ancient
three times three strokes for a man,
three times two for a woman.
Sliding into a pew this winter morning
I hear the near-absence of sound, or maybe only
the rustle of a choir robe, a cough, the accidental slam
of the front door as a latecomer slips in.
If it has a soul, the bell
must be bursting with the long wait,
its peals constrained. It’s an unnatural quiet—
its barrel still, ear asleep, its tongue tied.
YOU’RE DOING IT AGAIN!
“You’re doing it again!”
I remove my chewed up left pinky tip, sporting swelled spots and mini blood drops,
From my mouth, and squeeze it in my right fist.
The sting makes my ring finger twitch.
Then pointer and thumb start to scratch, they tap and fumble on the table,
I’m not hungry, or sharpening.
“That’s a nasty habit.”
I’m not teething.
Then there’s a middle nail bit resting on my tongue and I’m not sure whether to spit
Or swallow. I toss it in my teeth, against roof ridges, then
Notice nine fingers left in need of leveling.
Perhaps left for dead
in some sodden gulch
tart on my tongue.
You still carry the voice
of glacier melt
the quartzite gleam of memory
lost in faded composition
your epoch diary.
Speak to me the language
of speckled trout,
the winding current,
the solace of lush banks
and distant falls.
I reach for you now
to make this canyon ring
to shatter me alive
to make this lifetime count.
THE PRIMATE HOUSE
We watch. One Black Howler strokes the other down the belly. He rests his hand on her light pink crotch, then pats aggressively. They are hunched on a high branch, probably plastic. Their tails grip others nearby, for stability (we infer). We imagine their muffled howls. There’s a couple behind us, shoulder-to-shoulder, texting. The light of their phones is captured in the thick glass that separates us from the horny Howlers. You turn to me and ask, what if the aliens came down to Earth and caged the human race? We gaze into our reflections, Black Howlers and LED dancing in our peripherals.
fear of forgetting
We were birding North Park
and along the highway
each electric pole held a raptor
hunched and hungry
for the smorgasbord
of jackrabbits smeared
across blacktop, waiting
for first light to strip
down mountain shoulders,
sweep green into the valley
and it was right then that
I said something profound
which rang honesty
like a small silver bell
but I couldn’t stop to jot it
so I pledged to remember
and kept it safe in mind until
the pull off where we piled out
to study phalaropes
in Lake John which launched
an ascension of ibis
and my perfect line rose too,
wisps of the root thought
dangling in the mist
and while white birds circled,
dropped like smokejumpers,
found balance on one leg,
that thistledown of truth kept flying.
Kierstin Bridger is author of Demimonde—recently out by Lithic Press and shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize. She is winner of the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize and the 2015 ACC Writer’s Studio award. Find her poetry in Thrush Poetry Journal, Tulane Review, Fugue, Contrary and December. She earned her MFA at Pacific University. www.kierstinbridger.com.
Chloe Mozer, currently a freshman at Pitzer College, grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She attended high school at Francis W. Parker, where she discovered her passion for reading and writing poetry—through the inspiration of teachers such as Bonnie Seebold, David Fuder and Matt Laufer.
Beth Paulson’s poems have recently appeared in Ellipsis and are forthcoming in Common Ground and Cloudbank. Her newest book, Canyon Notes, was published in 2012 by Mt. Sneffels Press.
Formerly an art teacher, Harriet Stratton practices what she taught, reads poetry with a passion, and listens to birds. Currently at work on a poetry manuscript, she is a member of the Poetry Book Project at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.
Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College, where her courses focus on law, media, and bioethics. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Blognostics, Silver Birch Press, A New Ulster, Journal of Applied Poetics, Moonsick Magazine, Three Drops from a Cauldron, The Lost Country, Irish Literary Review, The Song Is, and Grey Sparrow Review. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com.