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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Laura Longsong


A Student of the Unlikely

The night salts out stars, pinholes I climb
behind and peek through to scrutinize
the unlikely. I step across light years and turn,
watch a suicide-to-be plant a blossoming tree,
a woman who will drown learn to polka. Why
stop there? Come with me, step and turn—
 
a butterfly siphons shadows into spots
till her wings, flicked open, surprise a snake
with the stare of an owl. Step back—a seam
of coal snowflakes into a sleeve of diamonds.
And turn—a fish flourishes into a fox whose
fin-tender paws pick a path though muck.
 
I recognize this fox because one dawn
when I was twenty-one we gazed at each other,
then she dissolved into forest with the salt-
sifting grace of water. A year later—decades
ago now—I became mated to circumstance
when a collision killed the other I knew

as brother, meaning, since before he or I
could speak, one breath away, one step
away,
meaning not me, but as close
to me as not me can be.
Flesh, breath,
embrace, then walking alone: how small we are
under stars. One skims, bright grain,

beneath night’s chandelier, disappears as if
never existing except in a poem, poor
moment, memento of momentum,
you and me, yes and now, of course.


West Virginia Catholic Girl

Ponderous as the Sunday procession of nuns
the B & O and C & O train cars pass
by my bedroom window night and day
heaped with coal that sweats silver shine
from beneath the same earth where I find
 
broken arrowheads, dirt-caked blue bottles,
rusted shards of tin lids. I give up these treasures,
childish trinkets, for Joey O’Shannon's wet lips
meeting mine next to the chimney of the house
that burnt down so long ago nobody
 
remembers. He gives me a ring shaped
like a rose, with a bud of coal in its center. Never
to be diamonds, coal burns steadily, like the fires
of hell where I can expect—at the rate I’m going—
to endure Evermore, at least that’s what the nuns
 
predict. You will reap what you sow, they promise,
observing my dawdling days, imagining
my baffled nights, and I in turn can easily picture
my soul in hell. Coal flames simmer from one
flat greenish-black horizon to the other, flickering
 
lavishly upon the tattered cloth of my life. Yes,
Sisters, I knew even then, I will rip what I sew.


Birding Blind

All at once birds rise
from tall weeds and blurs
of wildflower blues
into trees. Their movement

the opposite of stars
falling, the birds disappear
as if winked out. I scan
 
kaleidoscoping May glory green
until, dizzied, I stand
still amid still trees. In slowness
each leaf becomes an eye
 
translating dazzle
into chlorophyll, each root
a tongue turning stone
 
into bread. Surely newly-hatched
birds—bulge-eyed and blind,
wrinkled skin almost raw—
huddle over my head
 
in cups woven of fluff, tufts,
twigs, and rain-whittled ribs
of grass, asway in forked

limbs precisely too thin
for squirrels to tread, awaiting
feathers and song, or to be windfall
for a fox, a gulp
 
for a hawk. I wander on up
the path, wondering if any god still
sees every sparrow’s fall
 
I’m alert for a rustle and know
close to nothing. Spring air
touches my bare skin. I belong
like the newly shelled
 
to this breeze, certain of
uncertainty, fingering a braille
in the palm of the morning.
 


Riddle at the Infertility Clinic
 
In the reception room a basket overflows
with artificial roses. Some bloom scarlet
month after month, others remain furled,
tight buds or blind eye sockets mercifully
 
seamed shut. I recount moons, eclipsed,
harvest, gibbous, blue, a fattening drop
of candle-milk, rabbit dwindling
in a magician’s hat. A giantess
 
of a nurse fills the doorway, purses a pink
mouth to frame a name, I am summoned,
I am called, my shriven womb ushered
 
into a room of precisely-shaped instruments,
blank paper pulled over a stirruped table
as if prepared for Pan’s wild wife. I do not need
 
to get undressed. My heart lurches as it swallows
the doctor’s last dose of no-news news—
 
tiny volcanic orbs dissolved to ash,
invisible eggs more useless than these tissues
 
by my hand— they overlap within a box,
chaste embraces topped by an emerging fan,
snowy petal without stamen or stem

sure to be crumpled and dropped
into the bin marked Hazardous
or else the unmarked one for dangerless
 
debris. Where is a place, amid a riot
of seed-plumed grasses, hot-eyed gleams
of Susan, Anne, and Daisy, the pathless
dizzied fields of my life, for the peculiar

rage, ceaselessly recurring, to catch
a skimming star before
it fades into darkness, cradle
its strange shine?