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Sample Poems by Anne Colwell


Unlearning the Stars

My father taught me Orion's belt,
the first of night's forms I learned
to pick out. Three stars, equidistant,

aligned. "Order," my father's hand, two
fingers pointing at the sky, "find the three
then blur your eyes." The warrior

strides through the dark, Sirius
at his heel, Procyon yelping.
They faced always what vanished

before them, the thumbprint smear
my father called the Pleiades,
one remembered face, lovely Merope.

The Ford ticked itself cool in the drive
where he leaned back against it, not
ready for lamplight, searching instead

the sky above the split levels.
"Bedtime," my mother called,
but he let me stay, looking up at him.

He gave me the outlines of love
and loss, of vanity. Cassiopeia,
sad Queen. Chained for her pride

to what she most loved. "Best seen
in November. Right ascension:
one hour. Declination: thirty degrees."

She cries for sailors lost at sea,
protects their reckless crossings,
calling on Polaris, the good guide.

In my father's stories, Perseus frees
Cassiopeia's daughter from the rock her parents
chained her to, kills the monster

they used her to appease. "That's her,"
my father said, "Andromeda, her arms stretch
out, like this. Broken chains hang from her wrists."

I didn't know then to ask why, freed, she
followed her parents every night, jangling
her chains like an unanswered bell.

I didn't know to ask why my father
set his daughters out, bait for his own
monsters, his angry gods, a drunken woman

he wouldn't leave. The wedded promise
he couldn't break. The porch light
flicked on and off. "We have to go in," he said,

letting his shoulders fall, sighing, glasses
sliding down his nose. "She'll be mad."
He rested his warm hand on my head.

When my father died, no new
constellation appeared in the sky.
I wanted the old ones to vanish,

fought to blink them clean. I wanted
to unlearn the stars, the dreams
of passion my father looked up for

but never touched. His one light
burnt out, meteoric, a sizzle and hiss
overhead, caught in the corner

of an eye. Gone, before a voice
could manage, "There."
I stand on the Cape before dawn,

Ursa Major lumbers from the waves.
Hercules, Pegasus, Draco, Cepheus.
They're all there. His order

remains; no son of Zeus can doom me
with saving. I'll stay this time and watch
Cetus boil up from the dark churning,

pray his razor teeth cut deep, rip me,
broken and bleeding from dark myth
to the disordered passion of living.



Heat Wave

Six days
Sky methane flame
Road ashy coal
Butt-end Chesterfield
flicked
through the driver's side
window

the whole damned week
goes up



Open Heart

Rib spreader after bone,
Carved red plates of muscle
Find between delicate bellows
The metronome




Margarita

Mexican restaurant
            American name
                        anchors the strip mall
                                    off the highway.

Seventeen, I order my first
            margarita with my fake
                        i.d., high above
the crowd, it floats

to me.  Crusted with salt,
            that sweet.  I won't know
                        for twenty years it tastes
                                    like a discovered shame.


Serapes on the wall,
            empty pinatas,
sombreros, brims strung
with little red pom-poms.

The tequila is real
            as the boy who brought me here.

I feel them
            later
                        moving inside me.