Previous Poems-of-the-Month

all poems Copyright 2009 - 2016


2009

Skull

You walked up Tabletop Mountain
And found a skull. A coyote, dog,
Or wolf -- you are not sure.
Perhaps a deer. You run
You finger along the teeth:
Yellowed ivories glowing,
Molars' compacted surfaces.
Not a single one missing, the animal
Died young. For the skeletal grin
You feel wistful, even as a man.
Is there a secret you missed
Along the way, a better kind of life
Lived among the ruins of nature
Rather than this entrapment
Where you fight your way through
Each urban day, return to the well-kept
House at night. You walked up Tabletop,
Looked far out to where the shape-shifting
Begins again between brother
And sister mountains twisting
Sunset-colored crepuscules southwest,
Blued by the moon raising its single horn
In the east. When you picked up
The skull it walked with you, breathed
Through eye sockets wide open
As with the sudden shocked surprise --
You are not sure which --
Of being dead or carried in your hand.

Copyright Judith Skillman December 2009


The Rail Yard

When she thinks back on it
The place was dull, all gray and tan,
Industrial white, no flavor other
Than the whiff of memory.
 
The trains would run whether or not
She sat on board with her crochet hook
And the tapestry bag in her lap --
That string of yellow yarn growing
 
Like a snake beside her.
What is it makes the nights
Longer than the days, makes pain
Unconditional, even as love grows only
 
Under certain conditions? She knows
There were noises that woke her
Past midnight in her uncle's house. She
Remembers when he took to baking bread --
 
All his anger over the death of Gail
Held in his fists, pounded into yeast and flour.
When she thinks back it was always
The same city made again many times
 
As from a cookie cutter -- places where
A woman wouldn't want to walk alone.
Whenever she recalls the seedy side
Of the story, it's always the wrong lotto,
 
Business as usual -- snow, slush, or rain.
The schedule holding sway. A full moon
Rising or falling from a sky exactly
The same size, shape, and color as brick.


Copyright Judith Skillman October 2009



2010

Lamb's Ear - January 2010

One gray leaf snipped finger and thumb
from the larger body
of felt. Animal for an afternoon.
No particulars save for a wan sun
required to winter over.

Each stem softened by resemblance,
meant to follow the girl who stands
against a stone wall, countryside,
with her sister. Bouguereaux's peasants,
their eyes large with childhood.

Lamb's ear: small tangential clump
beholden to the sun.
In fur lies the answer to the past.
We live in a garden of questions.
How many, how much, why or why not--

The queries indelicate, held
by a pink tongue
as the false sheep sleeps
in its coat of leaves. To propagate
is a mother's best wish.

 

Animus - February 2010

She watches the other, her well twin,
from a distance. Sees the part
of the story where that one
untangles a piece of clematis
from its hedge.

She marvels at the show
of patience with which a woman
loosens each branch, undoes
the puzzle of spirals.
Her own hair in curls,

a witch or a crone
come from elsewhere
while she was asleep. Her dreams --
the terrible things that happen there
on her pillow...

She watches it all
as if it were a film
and she the one-down,
out of luck protagonist
to blame for soap's maudlin lines:

I love you, I want you, I am happy, I am sad...
The day works over her muscles
the same knotted strings
that bound her once to a kite,
a piece of Paradise, the right side of youth.


Drying up Moon - August 2010

Summer. Heat
takes the water
from our mouths,
and gives us thirst.
We use cedar bark
for hats and baskets.
Moon of the ripening--
all things must swell
and burst, or else
they dry and shrivel.
There is no choice
when sun bakes soil.
Cracks trace patterns
in dirt. Whether we gaze
straight ahead, up,
or down we see only
yellow.


Antechamber - September 2010

"In the very antechambers of feeling
it is forbidden to be explicit..."
                          - Pessoa

Is it alright then, to be a cult?
A solitary?
To substitute oneself for God,
albeit casually?

What the hot sun
doesn’t kill it punishes
with lethargy, save
the birds, who give
themselves up
to thermals.


The Sifting - October 2010

Through the long hours of afternoon,
the torture of opera wedded to scents
of rising bread, a river of cardamom
merging with poppy seeds -- this was the art
of childhood, not to be mastered but
conquered by. All through the long hours
of an afternoon punctuated
by swipes of viola bow and their
attendant flats, always in residence
in the house of my parents, humbled
but not poor, its windows tinted by rain
sun, or snow, a house immoderately
fond of its yard, a yard gone spindly
with saplings in whose arches ballerinas
twirled, jeted, and pirouetted come evening,
when droplets, flakes, or hail from Thor
fell, and thunder.


2011

Morning Fog

Its dalliance with the earth
almost spent, the sun-disc
floating in totality --
where no one is left sleeping
after a night like that,
its fingers lifting
from what it touched
(to cure? to injure?) --
rooftops, fence posts,
the shadow leaves of autumn
it lifts up and away
as if late for the lecture of oceans,
this fugitive caught in the act,
trailing lines of web and
smoke. Particles grayed yellow
by the scion, milk-scored
umbrella folding back into its handle.
This is the swan song,
this the thick obscuring mist.

 

The Cut Outs - May 2011

To scissor the palm from an azure sky
men come, holding blades, unlikely
Machete taken from a drug lord whose luck
Fell when the tunnel entrance,
Hidden under a bag of cement,
Exposed by agents, neatly ate the inspector
On his ladder. Without characters the story
Becomes a ruse. As, without the fog
Of weather, any night's becomes another.
To be laid low, to suffer on account
Of indulgence. I feel my shoulder for
Wings, find instead tabs of paper
Meant to fold me into this landscape,
Where we sit in a living room
Civil at last, you with your screen
And I with mine.


The Green Hour - August 2011

"L'heure vert" in French equals, roughly, Happy Hour

One to go and workday's finished,
smudged like droplets against
the window. Who else craves anise-
flavored spirits of Grande wormwood,
sweet fennel, la fee verte?

Van Gogh, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud
gathered in cafe's to toast
the green fairy, her garters mussed
to better hold Artemis' long-legged
beauty. Poor petite absinthe-nymphet

bird of five o'clock intermission
from office, bank, shop, boulangerie.
Wearing clothes she's stolen
from the fannier. A loiterer who learns
nothing, an eye silted with sun.


Wind - October 2011

Like pain it came and left by halves
and now mostly it stays on,
a boarder too poor to leave.

Like cottonwood it coated scenes
of past lives, and now it breathes in
heady gusts of her, as chunks calve

from her ego the way a glacier loosens
its sides to water. Wind, like air,
is not like anything, she thinks.

Ivory sheers hang to blot
the sun’s bright face close to solstice.
She didn't think she'd end up like this,

one of Macbeth's three witches
stirring words together, whispering
curses under her breath

like her father. All tenses conspire.
Sun lights hearts of ivy, the yard
overgrown, as when desire

first departed on its thin-ribbed horse
for another land, and the door
slammed shut of its own accord.

 

At the Butterfly Museum - Nov 2011

Too much to ascribe
to the heavy air
circulating false tropics,
yet more comers
continue to drip slowly
from the mouth
of each golden chrysalis.

They are let go
twice a day,
and when they die
a girl goes around,
picking them up
from walkway
and pond, checking
for damp tissue
left on moss, vermiculite,
and asphalt, patting down
soil beneath angel trumpets
steeped in honeysuckle
and musk.

 

The Sifting - Dec 2011

Through the long hours of afternoon,
the torture of opera wedded to scents
of rising bread, a river of cardamom
merging with poppy seeds—this was the art
of childhood, not to be mastered, rather,
conquered by. All through the long hours
of an afternoon punctuated
by swipes of viola bow and their
attendant flats, always in residence
in the house of my parents, humbled
but not poor, its windows tinted by rain
sun, or snow, a house immoderately
fond of its yard, a yard gone spindly
with saplings in whose arches ballerinas
twirled, jeted, and pirouetted come evening,
when droplets, flakes, or hail from Thor
fell, and thunder.


2012


A Ceiling of Crows - February 2012

Our dark bird of symbolism, our caw caw.
Where does the train of thoughts go?
In what order, and is the river of Lethe
above or below the earth? What about heaven --
does it lie in the upper region, above cirrus
banded, dried, pinked? If they flew beneath
the ground, in hell, we'd see what they'd done
to deserve their reputation, about which
little can be done except observe how they dog
the cat, drive the songbirds from thicket
to holly to hunger. On the shortest day
of this long, hard year, they'll still come in droves.
You and I -- gloved, hooded -- beneath a catechism
of crosses pouring through a hole in the sky
to peck at the blind sun, the halved moon.


Relinquishment - May 2012

Mid-March, the black and white of winter goes on pouring
images upon the window--a surface for rivulets of down pour.

Those whose lives we tend to ravish come and go of their own accord.
The end, beginning, middle--all stays corseted in waters, pouring.

Who wondered the way of the wanderer, who else came before?
She likes to ask the questions that have no answers, in her shower when it pours.

And others too, in surgery, the salivary gland removed with its stone sores.
A father's curse, salt and pepper hair, tear-stained gouache upon which ink pours.

I too see outward, from my knothole the day appears to break, or,
better yet, rid itself of nightmare dangers. All spent in time for water to pour

as if this were the flood, again. Inside the whale a cold, tungsten core--
a bit of flailing to get away from. Then all's quiet. As on a front, one pores

over the pages of a book on suffering. And finds the usual cliches pouring
across lidded edges, as, from the a claw foot tub the overflowing pours.

 

Ghazal of Equal Night and Day - August 2012

The crescent moon climbs into its dark circle.
From the white lilac, shoots curl, dark circles.

The sun sets due west. We watch the Olympics.
In the saddle there, once we came full circle

back to camp to find deer chewing on buds.
Unafraid, they stared back us from liquid, dark circles.

I never thought I would be jilted by dreams.
And now children's children, the tight circle

of care for young, care for elders. How to fathom
hell, where Dante's dead wander in dark circles?

How live through sleeplessness until sun surfaces?
We cast our nets in largesse, beyond dark circles.

We pull Venus and Mars from the sky-whirl.
Inside those buds, odors of musk still circle, encircle.

 

Pulling the Needle - Sept 2012

Out of my finger       in dream
holding the head     in my right hand
feeling the pain       the shaft
beneath layers    it hurts to bend
the argument remains    in the finger
as well as those helpless    to attend
blood comes       passers-by dismissed  
in passive witnessing        the finger phallic  
the needle            a symbol
meant to be felt        in sleep  
where the deities meet    to exorcise
with the genius       of machines
what the unconscious     guards with moats
bridges and barbed wire      there I meet the other
the one who        twins me
in daytime    when an orange sun
drops        through the marine layer
of marbled clouds           into the sea


I Admire Ricardo Reis - Nov 2012

I admire Ricardo Reis.
He  had no brothers, only a cousin
who pretended to know what moved
the sensual soul who wrote in evaporates.

The rain never fell on his coffin
when at last the men pried his identity
away from Fernando Pessoa
and laid  him too in the ground.

There he rests—Caeiro, Reis, and the third
persona of a poet who denied everything,
therefore creating everything for us
to enjoy again, as if for the first time.

We have become so jaded
even the sky greens at sunset.
The hills,metallic, meets the sea
to bathe in little dormitories.  

In those rooms filled with circuits,
the J, the tit, and the cross shine from screens
until some of us wonder
whether we are truly women.

We count the minutes of our youth
and dismiss the years of our aging
as if it were pointless to be sad
about less attractive to the men we used to be.

Copyright 2012, Judith Skillman


2013


Child’s Pose - May 2013

Never the children we wanted to be, we ran away, sat on porches, hobos holding sticks with makeshift bags attached. Unable to stop the arguments, we left, returning only when hunger crept too close. Huddled alone, salt in our mouths, our throats— a telltale taste infecting the clothing that would cotton to a weakness.  Too numb to return a boxed ear, hard pinch, the tickling torture of relatives.  Some of us began to learn like peasants, all over again-- the counting, the amulet of red beads. Evil, when kept at bay, seemed almost good. Then rain wet us through to the heart and we grew up. A big wind came, trees blowsy, unfettered, their branches lifting as if to reveal, beneath green skirts, what it was had to be hidden from all the eyes.

 

The Rooster - August 2013

Those who romanticize morning
hear it only at dawn.

The ones who suspect foods of poison
listen for it after the hour of noon.

And some betray their lovers
just to revel in its old song

sung on commission in the territories
of spring, oh yes, after sunset.

 

Rumination - October 2013

How heavily it sits on one—
the chewing of the cud,
the pastoral.

How it wanders toward the road
where fancy grates trap
the animal, keep bovines

pulling grass up by the roots,
chewing, chewing and swallowing,
regurgitating to swallow again.

Of its four stomachs—which of them,
the hardy soul would ask,
is meant for thought?

It pervades summer,
the sense of being lost in a supermarket,
the boats with loud wakes

and neighbors blaring noise.
In the end, cousin to obsession,
one step from fantasy,

the ruminant becomes her own world,
including that sky where astronomers
camped near cattle

will sip hot chocolate,
will see the Perseids.
They fondle their black scopes

all night long.
They conjure the phantoms
and the alchemy.

Copyright 2013, Judith Skillman


New World Quail

Always rushing, dressed for business—
the bobbing hats,
the one by one and across the street
as if it were
any kind of day, and not the end
of August.
Ever herding this year’s young
wherever it is
they need to learn to go, and, having
safely entered
the apple orchard, plumage disappears,
feathered to match
exactly that background for which
they become the foil, never quite
leaving earth, nor settling on it
wholeheartedly.

Copyright 2013, Judith Skillman

 


2014


Eulogy for Gregor Samsa

I only knew him
as a traveling salesman.
At times he came
into the hotel
and our eyes met.
I suspected he would
return, ask me to his room,
but he was too shy,
boyish in reserve.
Impatient for others
I finally gave up
waiting. A fantasy groom--
worse than flirtation
that goes forward
towards the awkward meeting
that never ends.

(Who is Gregor Samsa?)

Copyright 2014, Judith Skillman

 

Afterimages

Of the sun, one winter afternoon—
the sun close to setting, one afternoon

after staring into a star too soon
and long before it disappeared: noon

the time when drought takes one
by surprise. And lessons, afternoons

with father, his solar physics—don’t
stare or you’ll go blind, eclipsed sun,

half sun, quarter sun, sun through pin-
hole camera, all after he was the sun

and the moon together—a web spun
of such sheerness, his disappearance.

Afterimages spring green and red, suns
float against closed eyes and afternoons.

From him—the Pater—must come afternoon.
What else is it to be awake, to mourn the One?

Copyright 2014, Judith Skillman


2015

Homesickness

In the kitchen
I have water, bells, a candle.
I have a man in the living room
reading from a screen
he holds in his hand.
 
Outside the sun
lights paper birches.
A sky of ultramarine
brushes the rooftops
in this town so small
 
everyone knows the mayor’s
DUI’s, the young woman
with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Upstairs I have a bed,
a quilt, a book. Light shines
 
through cotton curtains.
My bad dreams may
come true, or sleep
could leave me with just
the shadows under my eyes
 
and the sin of overstatement,
as when the kettle blows
its top, or the idea
of tomorrow ushers in
another yesterday.

Copyright 2015, Judith Skillman

 

Bees Bow the Lavender

These the last before colony collapse
sip as when I am no one
and the Romantic era descends with dusk.
Black-bodied, helmeted green
against stems that bob slightly
for a grief-stricken woman
who has emptied herself of sweetness.

Copyright 2015, Judith Skillman

 

Every limb as tired as a person

            from Kafka’s Conversation Slips

You must understand, for the time being,
that I am without flowers. The Viburnum

outside the window sways. Its throbbing
keeps time with the wind and the ravens.

Here and there yellows turn, rust over
as if with illness. The doctor has found

no cure for moods. I used to like to walk
downstairs into the world. There a family

ate and drank. My sisters’ cheekbones high,
their eyes bright and well slept. I was punished

for not being an entrepreneur—for
wanting to write. You must remember me now.

The stories waited to be born. Labor
after labor between bouts of illness.

I ask my awful god for an appetite!
I lift a bowl from the wooden table

to the cupboard fitted with glass panes.
My arm weighs more than all Mama’s fine

China gathered in the low boy, hemmed in.
Father was handy with his hammer and nails.

Would that I might sense a little gaiety.
I’d take up the charcoal stick, shave thin rounds

from its black tip. I’d sketch the vibrant tree
whose roots, leaves, and seeds hold poison.

Copyright 2015, Judith Skillman


2016

Flooded

Nation of water and excess,
each droplet another source
of loss and discontent.
Or else what music calls
to the earth from its dislocated sky—
low-hanging, pregnant
as with Noah’s flood.
Again inundated, as in dream.
A slow truth brings the body back—
it is the other who lies
between two worlds--
the uncle shrunken to half
his size, that one who succored me
with smoke rings from his ear.
Child the birdbath fills. Come, let us drink.

Copyright 2016, Judith Skillman

 

Blue Shadows

Come around corners, towards you,
without intent. You are the figure the women
draw in a dark room, lights at their easels
casting halos. Their scrutiny does not equal
flirtation, not even a crush. Their hands
will be busy with brushes and Liquin.
Charcoal always loses out to oil. Fat over lean,
the winter will carve out your cheeks—
since you’re naked take that in, use it
for a joke, a little laughter to warm your lungs
when the harshness of arctic snow comes
to the Northeast. Take up the shovel,
this time wearing a layer of silk under the down.
If you squint when you leave the studio
remember it will always be noon
in the land of radiation. Lord Raleigh is alive
and well. He walked out under the yellow sun
and could do nothing to stop sunlight’s erasure,
albeit with complements, of these late crabapples
from city trees.

Copyright 2016, Judith Skillman

 

Bull in a China Shop

That’s Kafka’s father there,
crashing through the door.
Pausing in a soft light
to consider the fragility
of earthenware taken from the oven.
He holds a tea cup
away from his face
and sees through the bottom
to his fingers.
Fat cutthroats one two three four
with the thumb
ready to strangle
his son’s sensitivity—its fretfulness,
its inborn angst.

Copyright 2016, Judith Skillman

 

Autumn Song

The rains begin to beat against the glass.
Summer flowers replaced by umber leaves.
All we took for granted in our ease.

A cycle, a circle—how else learn loss?
Plump cheeks, tanned legs, soft skin but yet a sieve.
The rains begin to beat against the glass.

As metaphor the same four seasons pass,
and childhood’s novel—what is there to grieve?
All we take for granted in our ease.

Monsoons come to loose the rose, its green caress.
Branches held hostage, harsh winds moan through sleeves.
The rains begin to beat against the glass.

I know my body turns back into moss.
The spell of blues that rheumatism gives.
How much I took for granted in my ease.

It’s cold in the bedroom where I undress.
More difficult than ever to believe.
The rains beat hard against the glass.
I took so much for granted in my ease.


2017


 Studio

             after Lucian Freud

His grandson subdued, sitting for a portrait
on a hardwood chair. This could be any house—
the fireplace cold, the mantle dusty.
Light makes its rounds: morning, afternoon, evening.
Feet scuff oak floors, no one’s fastidious
about dirt—his own grandfather saw to that.
A newspaper lies open, its pages
gawking about the war he’s escaped here
in Paddington. Never mind the punishing
sittings for Kitty and her dog, his mother’s
three hundred hours under scrutiny.
Were there forty children or fourteen?
Questions not asked on an analytic
sofa. Only supine figures. Big Sue’s
folded flesh mimics mountains. Belly
belly belly breast. Here the evacuee,
there the rat. Will he sleep in the stable
tonight? Most noble are the horses. They
require no remonstrance to stand still.
He holds the halter with one hand
and the brush in the other, indifferent
to any lesson except linen stretched on a rack.