Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Susan Sailer

Learning to Whistle

The road had thinned where spring rains washed
chunks out, impassible by car. She held her suitcase,
leaped. Below, the river churned, tore out trees too
close to banks. Her hold on life had loosened months ago.

On her left, hillside too steep to climb, on her right,
the cliff undercut by surging water. Only one hand
to grab evergreens in case she slipped, she chose
her life apart from him. She touched her turquoise

pendant, glanced at muddy boots. Rounding her lips
to form an o, she tried to whistle, heard a breathy,
high-pitched tone. The road lay flat, beyond that, hills.

Wild Turkey Calling Contest, Stonewall Jackson State Park, WV

The caller takes on gobbler airs: cocks his head,
shuffles his feet, circle-struts the hard-packed ground,
gives the early-morning call of a roosting hen,
the call to separate an excited hen from other hens
and gobbler, the adult hen assembly call,
the cackle as the bird flies limb to ground,
the cluck and purr of feeding flocks.

His feet turn inward, pigeon-toed,
neck extended in the turkey bob and bounce.
Each call comes forth on turkey legs
springy with each step, from eyes
that can't turn except as
the slender neck can turn.

After him, other callers call.
While counters tally ballots, watchers sit quiet.
When a winner hears his number
he lopes down the stairs, impassive till
ten winners stand in an arc splayed out
like a gobbler's fan.

Love Poem to Florence Dodge

She shows up in memory scurrying across the street,
hat straining against its ties, pruning shears in hand.

August and I'm six, standing at the bonfire. Dad hands
me a weiner roasting fork, sees her. It's over, she says,

World War Two. They'll be coming home. She grabs
my parents' hands, they circle-dance around the flames.


She scans her backyard, knows she heard us. I'm nine,
crouching in her arbor, looking up at clusters of fat green

grapes, Joe behind the tool shed, after dinner Kick the Can.
Out of there, you kids, she yells, now!


I'm in her ninth-grade English class. When she says
Rowena, the folds below her chin flap, purplish eyelashes

flutter, the strand of pearls trembles against the purple dress
she wears each day for the two weeks we read Ivanhoe.


She lets me, 16, in the back door, leads me through
the kitchen, stove piled with boxes so not a burner shows.

In the living room, I deliver Mother's message. Her front
door blocked by more boxes, metallic silver Christmas

tree's still up, fully ornamented though April's nearly gone.
Under it, gifts wrapped, colors dulled with dust.


On an end table, propped against a lamp, a crumbling
Tacoma News Tribune photo dated 1919 shows her in breeches,

rugged climbing boots. She grips an ice axe. The only woman
among 14 men at the top of Mt. Rainier.

No Other Life

Still damp from morning rain, the log had served
as windbreak for fires built against it, charred
deepest at its center. The wave that flung it well

above the water line just below the row of sea grass
must have been a rogue. Cedar bark stripped,
the log sun-blanched until what had been red

turned blonde, it lay an island on the beach and I,
another island near it. Sand pipers hopped beside
the foam, jabbed bills into the sand, withdrew

and hopped along. No human life until two girls
with kites appeared. Wind smacked the nylon falcon,
tossed the eagle side to side until they both lost height

and fell. A silver goblet tarnished nearly black lay
half-buried in the sand, I helped a wave wash it clean,
found engraved John loves Sandra until the ocean

waves no more. June 10 1996.