Word Poetry

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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Leah Nielsen


February

Behind the heifer, my husband, hands gloved,
the right loaded with the syringe, the left guiding
the path to the cervix, inches his way inside.
He shoots slowly, so air won’t discharge

with the sperm. By now I should’ve given up
feeling sorry for her—stanchioned
and fighting it, buck and bellow.
His hands slip out and she’s released

to the pasture’s skiving air where she huddles
with the herd waiting for late autumn, the sharp spurns
from the gut to end, until there’s nothing
in her. In my dreams, the sky is the only thing left

of the landscape, steeled against winter
while the cows, trees, barns, houses and soil all dissolve
to soot. I wake to an ashen world—such is the imagination
in the hands of the melancholy.

Plastic wrapped windows, no wonder nothing’s aired.
We could call it a difference of desires. His: simple.
Mine: more. But even so we’d be left
wondering about this stiff silence.

We feed the cattle, horses and dogs, haul firewood,
cook supper—venison, bread, tea. On a good night
he brushes my hair. On a better night, the creak and sigh.
Then we’re left with trying. And, and, and.


Second Attempt at a Wedding Poem for My Sister

Help me out here. I’m clinging
to unsuitable images—backyard
bayberries thick with armored caterpillars,
cocoons sagging the branches,

and the bees hidden in honeysuckle,
clover, the swing set poles,
the compost cracking with flies.
Don’t mention Dad, please.

Dad had a way of killing things—a torch
to the bayberry bugs, salt for slugs,
a quick shovel cut for snakes.
The absence is what you’ve grown to love

and talking about him kills it some.
And, it doesn’t have to be a love poem,
though nothing should die in it. We spent
years on our knees in soil he nursed

to the color of coal, plucking out grubs,
splitting them between our fingernails
until one year he took chlordane to them.
The moles moved to the neighbor’s yard

 in search of better food. We fought
over who got to kill the slugs. Dad brought
two shakers and we rained death over them.
Let me give you something useful.

Don’t use rice. The birds and all.


Apology, a Love Poem

The small fire reaches into the fallen branches,
and the lawn chairs—webbing cracked, frames worn
to bent like the edge of land along the river—hold

the weight of us, and a dull fleshing knife
takes to the tangle of hooks, last year’s line still stuck
to some and I say I’m sorry

until I forgive myself. And the sticks root
in the sand, the chalk line bound to them.
Apologize until I forgive you

for what you haven’t done. How easily
the night crawlers slip onto the hooks, knot
themselves around the end. You toss the trotline

smooth as water into the water and the water smoothes
itself into the night, and the night pulls
the sparks from the fire, and nothing fades.

 



May

The catfish twitch in a five gallon pail beside
the workbench while my husband inspects the catch.
I bring a bowl for fillets, water sways
above the rim, trickles down my hands,

and off my elbows to the ground. With pliers
he strikes the first on the head, again and again.
The tail lashes. He clenches the belly, hammers
the head against the bench. Again. Then lays

it out to clean, slides the knife from spine
to dorsal fin, peels back the skin. What tools
would he use to turn me inside out? He cuts
toward the tail, slices meat from ribs. It bleeds

in the bowl while he works the other side.
Would he know me any better then? He pricks
the stomach for the bait, and knows I’m impressed
with the hairless sparrow he took from a corncrib nest.


Third Attempt at a Wedding Poem for My Sister

They’re never as gone as we’d like them to be—
the ones who made us wish we hadn’t
put their dicks in our mouths or gone on
saying their names, the ones who loved us

sometimes and we stayed so long we began
to think love was like that, (sometimes
it is), the ones who craved and cried
for more. We were fifteen, sixteen, twenty-four.

The dress tucked away in plastic,
nails filed and pink, hair freshly trimmed—
you think you’re ready and they reappear—
insects in dreams, sliding on, in,

their chitin glints like starlight, so real
our bodies are sky, heaven. I classify them—
warmhearted, warm, warmed up— I think
I’ve got them pinned. But they crawl back

into the night, leave me lonely
when I wake and all day long I can’t shake
the feeling they’ve taken me with them through
the crack beneath the baseboards, into

their dark walls. Is it the same for you?