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Sample Poems by Jennifer Markell


With One Eye Open


The cat watches us eat latkes
fried in oil; curls in on itself,
unconcerned with miracles of light
and all that rises up in praise-
fragments of song, bread of morning,
seeds of a thousand flowers.
She stretches and yawns, heedless
of what comes down, snowfall or footfall,
ash and endless dust.

Though the clock on the mantle insists
each minute counts
equally, these menorah candles
unevenly burn. They stand like sentinels,
vigilant, willing to protect the temple
in spite of impossible odds.
With one eye open, the cat watches.



Play Therapy


What became of the boy who drew smokestacks
in my office, tornadoes bearing down?
The girl who painted fruit trees
pendulous pears, over-ripe
apples bursting with seeds?

And where is the dollhouse I left behind,
miniature cataclysms played out
upstairs-the grandmother who slept
through the baby's cries? The drunken uncle
who jumped from the roof and rose again?

They arrived in the tow of desperate
parents, legal guardians,
judge's orders.
They pulled out their eyelashes,
punched their little fists through windows.

Did Andrew keep marching his soldiers
through barricades he built and then
blew up-duck and cover!
When the army recruiters finally came
with promises he could believe, did he sign?

And what of Amanda, her self-inflicted
wounds, her voice seeking an echo
in every room? What happened after
they found her schizophrenic mother naked
on the lawn, serving tea to the apostles?

Are they out there somewhere
aboard the commuter rail, in line
at the post-office tapping their feet
or at the corner store
picking up a quart of milk?




"Suicide Bomber Kills 8, Wounds 50"



Dust covers the rims of picture frames,
coats the leaves of philodendron.

This dust mocks me,
armed with a wash cloth and can of Pledge.

The computer keyboard,
an alphabet of dust.

Dust inside my grandmother's teacups-

Invisible, dust keeps falling
from collapsed stars;

travels the globe, mingles with desert sand,
rises up from floorboards.

It penetrates my pores.
Soft and gray,

silent as the ash from a cigarette
someone forgot was burning.



The Girl with the Holes in Her Face

spurns my gaze, serves
coffee to burn the tongue.
Cheeks pierced
by needle or by gun,
bullet eyes
dare me to look away.

Metal bolts embedded
in pale flesh
hold what's fallen out of orbit-
trodden moon
tuned to a radio dial
without a station.

Stare at anything
long enough, it dissolves
like a sugar cube swirling
in hot, bitter brew
the way what passes
for song becomes
a spillway of vowels
waterloo, red tide, flood.



Roast Beef


My grandmother unties the bloody string
while my father sharpens the knife.
A wellspring of juices swirl on the platter.
The end of my freshman year,
I announce I've quit eating meat.
In my grandmother's eyes
the pain of ancestors,
the stone and straw of poverty.

Stories I would not hear
until years later-Keep a bag packed-
My grandmother's grandfather
Leopold Ziv
whose hands fluttered
when the Cossacks rode through the village,
who jumped off a roof, leaving his wife
with seven sons, a stash of shoelaces.

I don't remember the words
that exiled me from the table, only
my father's arms cuffing the air
as I slammed the screen door,
backpack flung over one shoulder
half empty-a luxury, like leaving.



Damselfly


lands on my thigh
stays awhile, longer;
nothing to do
I sit and wait, knowing
the slightest flare of wind
will disturb her flame
delicate, blue
as the veins of my legs
beneath a thin envelope of skin
keeps outside out, inside in;
except today--
when sky soaks through
and regret lifts off
with flickering wings.