Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Deborah Cummins


So you think yourself powerful
when you walk to pier’s end
and your mere shadow drives minnows
by the hundreds out of the shallows.
On the deck, you turn a page of your book,
and the hummingbird deep in the fuchsia’s neck
blurs, whirring off.
At dawn, your strolling the same lane
as the doe is enough
to startle her retreat into the thick, dark spruce.
These could have been my thoughts
but were not, as I swung in the hammock,
tired or lazy on an August afternoon.
Perhaps I resembled a slumbering beast
to the swallowtail who flitted above
and alighted, to my astonishment,
on my bare forearm, rested there
in her wild unremembering.
With one swack, I could’ve ended her
or sent her away. Just lifting my head
would’ve done the trick.
But I didn’t blink, draw a deep breath
as she fanned her wings, probed
my skin as delicately as an eyelash
brushes a cheek. Again,
the surprise was mine
when—nothing more—she rose, disappeared
into the trees, and stirred in me a yearning
against which I was powerless.

When Spring is Late to the Garden

Already I want midsummer, that old intoxicant
frothing with pith and sap,
when everything seems possible,
even life without end.

I’ve watched you thinking it, too, leaning,
dreamy, into your rake.
Sweet accomplice, how gently you brush away
the flowerbed’s detritus, capitulations to winter,

the season it’s easy to know despair.
But the wind’s sudden rise reminds me
of the beauty in bare trees,
their dip and sway. And the light

no longer so indifferent, finds your sleeve,
claims your bent back, as furtive
then certain as Eve’s reach must’ve been,
the whole limb snapping down.

More slowly, after, it must have come to them—
the consequence that something had changed
or was about to, their wondering
Why? and When? the very questions

that, as you straighten, turn in my direction,
seem poised on your lips. As if,
through improbable linkage, I were responsible
for this cold, these small green unravelings.

If a Single Word
            I once thought that a single word
            had the power to change.
            To transform.
                    Eavan Boland

If a single word has the power to transform,
I’d have to propose choice.
I’d have to consider how Lot’s wife turned back,
her small glance all she needed,
knowing where to look among the towers for her house
where once she sang, spun cloth.
Tonight, walking the streets of my neighborhood,
I must consider as well my ancestral mothers
who delivered me here, who, after
their trunks were stowed, all children
accounted for, stood at the railing and watched
the shores of their homeland recede.
Here, where I live, no street name or sign or yard
is unfamiliar. I’m free
to contemplate every aspect of shadow
as darkness descends early in late autumn,
free to stand here on my small piece of ground,
considering my house’s open door, its windows
lit against the night, and, if not transformed,
know gratitude, adding mine.


Trompe L’Oeil

A house’s painted window
with shutters and latch, white curtains,
a potted geranium on the sill,
shadows that never lengthen,
never, beneath clouds, disappear.

The eye knows a lie, or maybe it doesn’t.
These rendered blooms
don’t need water, never wilt.
And what of the stone sill itself?
Imagine a cat sunning there,

batting dead flies, lapping a saucer of milk.
Consider how furtively
a woman might peek from those parted curtains
in a window that needs no key for its latch,
no oil to quiet its hinge.

The eye is a willing accomplice,
embraces artifice when it serves
symmetrical balance,
appreciates the way windows line up
with such a painted addition, an equal number

on either side of the door.
Or, with the dumb trust of a slobbering retriever
willing to chase the same stick
over and over, the eye sees  
what it needs to believe,

maintains a willed innocence,
even when evidence proves contrary—
as when the doctor points to a dark
unremarkable shadow on your X-ray
and the eye takes it in

as a monochrome, some abstracted study
of snow in a blizzard or the sea in fog,
everything obscured.
This time, the trick of the eye required:
what isn’t there.