Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Debra Bruce



Warm Stone Massage

Down by the river stirred up kettle of sun,
heated stones in aromatic oil.
Oval on my navel, round in my hands,
rubbing my wrists, stubbed my wedding band.
Trouble at home, trouble in a body.
Roll on me, solar stones, but do not tell.
Calico, follow your motley down an alley.
Caterpillar, spit new threads for your bed of silk.
Stones rolled over my shoulders, scrubbed my scalp,
flickered down my backbone’s pebbled strip.
What do I owe who whispering warmed the stones?
Body briefly untroubled in its home.
Summer choir loft, heady with heat, I prayed.
That’s where I learned the word indulgences.
(Everything off except my wedding band.)
Roll on me stones, but don’t tell anyone
how much I owe who made my riverbed.




This Time Last Year

Was it only last November
that you had to weigh two terrors,
choosing, going further
down a list from which to lose?
Well-intentioned friends assured you
that the giver gives us only
what he knows each one can handle.
Think it’s true?
May your answer’s distillations
spice the steeping, mulling weeks
left before what’s bound to come.
May the lake you live near manage
all its grays without explaining.
May you meet each invitation
cheering you toward January
as you’ve learned to, by maintaining,
deep beneath a frozen surface,
expectations of the sun.



Someone’s Attention

Decades ago you wrote, Please be my muse,
slipped your note into the scooped hip-pocket
of my jeans one day as I left class.
Later, the boy I loved who sat on the floor,
stretching his runner’s legs from wall to wall,
waiting for me outside your office door,
would not have understood my fear.
He knew you by your jokes, your sparkling beard.
He leaned back humming with his headphones on.
A woman can’t elasticize her years.
How right you were: when no one notices
as she walks by, when no one looks, it puts
a spin on spring. Now add a tinge of terror
to brighten things—ambiguous test results,
an empty house. But never mind.
You rubbed my neck; you asked me for my thoughts,
your touch pouring down my back a lavish wash
more confusing and more dangerous
than my lover shifting against that flimsy wall.
When he started whistling, you bristled,
and I turned to watch the door.
Whatever we said in the flustered seconds left,
neither of us was really listening.



Her Fiftieth Fall

When the sun’s wan winnings
are revealed, it’s no surprise up high,
but below,
the trees, in shocked denial, strip
to shrieks of light
in the glare of all that’s bare.
Her would-be first insisted on kissing
with lips closed, but later
came the one for whom her body’s
bouillon burst and she flung off
a tumult of scarves.
Will winter’s low-impact pounding
outside her house be enough?
Might spring renew her sponsorship
at a more strenuous level?—matron
of March with matchsticks poised,
of all that smolders with what it knows,
of all that grovels,
even for a low-grade glow?



Between Them

He squirmed between them on the couch.
They talked above his head,
withholding words he shouldn’t hear
or spelling them instead.
After they packed him off to bed
they thought they were alone.
But he pressed against his bedroom wall
and learned to read their tones,
standing almost as high as her waist,
to see, without being seen,
whether they leaned back, sandals off,
feet propped on magazines,
or sat up straight in separate chairs
while peaches in a braided bowl
took its pattern into their skin.
Which way would the summers go?
At Spirit Woods, he hiked between them,
suddenly shoulder-high.
No more exchanging looks—he read
their meaning, eye to eye.
They had a plan. They picked a trail.
They had a few years left
before the tumult of his words.
He listened, then raced ahead
to beat them to the waterfall,
to be the only one
who knew the news without being told
it’s best for everyone,
fresh air hustling the trees, assessing
damage yet to be done.