Strangled Roses

(Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Eliza, and his wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, both died of tuberculosis and at the same young age of 24.  At Virginia’s death and upon the realization he had no image of her, Edgar commissioned an artist to paint her corpse.)


“How grace does guide your hand, Mr. Frye—

To limn her back to life, the chestnut hair,

the sacred lily whiteness.”


His voice flaps in the lamp-dark,

a moth roused from a fold of brocade.


Has he no heart for the dead, for me,

Sissy, whose chin he has horribly let sink,


when in time he always tilted it

to set my eyes on even plane with his,


stooping at bedside to read my poem

as if to loosen me from iron breath:

“Love will heal these weakened lungs…” 

But the verses failed in mid-air,

too faint for the brazen dark. 


He wiped my scarlet mouth,

pleading as if he were the child

who once buried curls

in his mother’s sodden breast.

Tonight I fear he is not Eddy,

pacing like a beast, his rough hands

draping my shoulders in a marble pose,

bloodstains in the sheets like strangled roses.


God, do not let him stroke me to half-life,

the flat crepuscular light a mask on my face,

gravid eyeballs aching under lids,

fingers that once brushed his noble cheek

now wrested into my lap.


He means to keep me safe in the gilt frame,

to encrypt the undersound of heaving lungs:

his mother wrack’d in a maze

of blackened blood he cannot flee,

the smothering candle-smoke wavering

like his own vaporous small shadow.


“Make haste, Mr. Frye, before dawn breaks—

Seal the lowered gaze, the ivory neck—

Embalm with paint her beauty,

let her frozen mouth ring for joy!”

(Published in Edgar Allan Poe Review, Autumn 2013)


Spanish Moss in Cypress

Leaf aloft and spirit of leaf:

bird notes thread the trees with the gold-tinted

breeze taking off to set the woods aflame

while the swamp lies sleeping in cypress dark,

the knobs like gnomes assembled to keep the spell

so none can wake the frogs and set them glugging.

Down to the mudflats crawling with mud crabs

and fiddlers waving their same languid claws for eons

as it was in Grendel’s day, coming up out of the fen.

Borne by the tide to range the sea plains, pelicans skim

the breaking swells; the sky bends low in a silver streaming

reach to the edge where the last leaf floats and falters.

(from Hungry Foxes)

The Gardener

Tenderly Sown with Thisweb 2

“Tenderly Sown with This” – Oil and charcoal canvas by Carol Bomer

I haven’t talked to you about

a dark space I dug up.

Clods and rocks I can pick out of soil,

blue-veined clay I can nourish;

weeds, yank up; shade, cut back.

But this


hollow where no seed is meant to grow

astounds.  I go back to basics,

trusting my hands to find the dirt

as it always was, humid and maternal,

easily worked to hatch seeds,

but this


breach of earth voids every breathing

speck so that the spade of my hand

weighs more than death, and the leaves

I touch are stillborn.  Tell me,

must I keep tending, must I

turn this


blank into myself and vanish,

or is the hole an entrance

into some new ground that is yet

familiar, tilled and fertile, vast

as my loss, tenderly sown with


See Luke Hankins’ review of this poem in the Christian journal In Touch.

Mary Rowlandson’s Removes

“When others are sleeping, mine eyes are weeping.”

In the beginning she was called often  

to relate scenes of blood and flame

from the Tenth of February,

with the goodwives crying to hear her tell

of her dead child turned under barren dirt

and left alone on a hill as she was led away—

and how she marked with scripture each remove:

the camp of snow and fever, the swamp of sinking,

the ground where Praying Tom dangled white fingers,

the begging from fire to fire for any niche against

the frozen black void she read as inscrutable love,

for her mind, forged on Calvin, would not bend


though sometimes, in the starved light before day

she would hear the child pleading for water,

pleading from just over the ridge,

and she would cry out, her wits unlashed

as stars withdrew their nets,

but her legs failed her, snared by sleep.

(What mercy, she would later say,

to quell her madcap flight and fiery fate.)


This telling of her inmost trial she came to fix in print,

could hardly believe it was she herself there in the tent

slabbering over a horse’s foot snatched from a child

or swearing in the face of pagan taunts–how is it

she secretly craves that state even now as others sleep,

a manic flame to burn the ordered words,

the syntax that gives shape to every scream..

April reading at Virginia Wesleyan College to usher in National Poetry Month

I’ll be reading from Hungry Foxes as well as a selection of new poems and would love to see you there. The reading is at VWC in Norfolk from 11:00-11:50 a.m. in the Pierce Hospitality House in the Batten Center.

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