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To All the Horses I’ve Loved Before

When I took riding lessons as a girl,
Mares liked my hair: they muzzled it,
Mistook it for hay, nosed the curls,
My long blonde wheat fronds
Nuzzle-lipped and pepper-minted
It was all innocent horse-play.

Jumping fences, I dreamt
Meadows and willows, shady
Glens where I was never meant
To wander; no boundary made me
Slow long enough to see how far
I’d strayed, or where I went.

When I rode rodeo horses
In Wyoming at a calf ropin’,
We galloped toward the other
End of the arena at full speed;
I learned why cowboys often
Walk bow-legged. (How I love
Bow-legged men.) One of them
Propositioned a seasonal position
On his ranch: “You may not go out
A cowgirl but you’ll come back
As one,” in a broken John-Wayne
Affectation. He served me a bowl,
‘New England clam chowder.”

Vibrating in the saddle,
Reins between my fingertips,
I communicated—a slight pull,
A nudge of my leg, the cowboy
Insisted, “Be one with the horse!”
Utilizing my natural weight, I
Tilted forward and felt seized
By the animal’s innate power.

One arm raised (to practice)
We darted and dove, a game
He demonstrated; I relaxed,
Centered in my hips; the horse,
Mid-conversation, urinated
On the spot—this quarter horse,
A seasoned athlete, made me…
Wait. A roper asked, “What did
You do to that horse?” with coarse
Laughter. Tamed manes, the horse’s
And mine, flagged in synchronicity.

For Those Wyoming Boys 

Poet’s note: This is part of a 30/30 Poetry Challenge in support of the nonprofit Tupelo Press. If you would like to support me in this fundraiser, please donate here and mention my name in comments or in the “in honor of” field that comes up with PayPal. Thank you, friends. -Leah Stetson

Return to-and-from Morgan Meadow

“Isn’t this nice?” I breathed cool misty fog
Just like my mother would say on an island,
But I was talking to my curvy hot dog dog,
A pointer-dachshund, who isn’t that reliable
When I let her run off-leash; the meadow

Seemed deserted, a 500-acre preserve,
No one else parked in the lot so I got risky,
Let the dog romp loose; lessons learned:
Once, she bounded unleashed into the woods
During our tour with the Inland Fisheries
Wildlife Biologist, and his great dane, Gus, rescued
Sophie-Bea. She trotted beneath his elegant body
As he galloped; it’s fleeting, the love lives
Of dogs, or so I have observed.

We tromped through unpredictable snow,
Followed deer tracks, boot holes and paths
Of snow-machines, a sort of broken treadmill
With trap doors for every third or fourth
Footfall, suddenly ankle-and-shin deep,
Crust-cutting and gator-bruising (I should
Have worn knee-pads). We trekked

A mile or more, then turned back, a hard
Walk (The dog snorted cold air and I panted
“Wait for me,” not a command she obeys.)
I felt somehow dismayed not to have
Seen wildlife, though there were signs:
Scat and smells the dog investigated.

At home, we guzzled water and cracked
Open some windows to let 40 degree
Fresh air fill the house; after that,
The dog tore through the upstairs
Screen, over the bulkhead, diving
Head-first, paws out, as if to jump!

There, by the lilac, where I’d tossed
Soft apples for squirrel and deer,
A small grey opossum rummaged
Around, not showing any fear
While my dog bashed herself
Against the window panes.

Oh, the pointless hysterics,
As I searched, half-naked,
Mid-dressing, for the camera
To take its picture.

I went out in mismatched PJ pieces
Breakfast slippers like an old man
Inching toward this bizarre species
That really belongs in Arkansas—
Just look at the headlines: “Recipe
Time: Eat Possum,” “Opossum
Found at Courthouse,” “Officials
Say ‘unlikely culprit’ raided Scout
Troups’ snack tray,” “Possum Tails:
How to Care for Your Pet.”

oppossum

Leah Stetson photo

Seeing this nonnative creature waddle
Through my little Maine wooded seep
Makes me wonder about the weirdos
Who save orphaned opossums, keep
Them as pets and make home videos
Of their marsupials doing pig-tricks.

Now bobcats and red foxes, moose
And coyotes, hell, local legends
Of wild dogs (they’re suspicious)
Run ‘round Morgan Meadow’s
Marshland and forested wetlands,
But the possum is a new-comer.

Its population won’t sky-rocket;
The possum’s plight is pathetic.
It doesn’t survive under pressure
(Tires, mainly, the kill’s automatic)
On my drive up the Hill of Doom,
I swerved to avoid a dead one,
Quite possibly the same possum
That drove my dog nuts.

She’s from Arkansas, too.

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Poet’s Note: I sincerely apologize to my blog followers for this one. I participated on a watershed mapping study of a granite aquifer a long time ago and the image of overflowing septics into neighbors’ wells has long stuck in my imagination. And more recently, a certain pipeline company that shall remain nameless sent out brochures with a check list of things to “keep an eye out for” such as discolored leaves or unsightly oil spills.

Take Two: An Infomercial

Are you worried about your watershed?
Is there an unsavory smell? Or worse,
Heard complaints of unsightly spill
From your septic to your neighbor’s well?

Introducing the new two-times-flow toilet,
Saving wells and neighborly relations all over
With secret deodorant and sanitary pad technology,
Just turn the dial conveniently located on the back of the toilet
And your loved ones can relieve themselves twice a day!

We’ve patented never-before-tried ‘play-doh factory’
Engineering to the porcelain throne, allowing you
And other potential users to pump human waste
Into fun, playful yet possibly harmful geometric shapes.

When things get messy, what you really need in the bathroom
Is a two-timer on speed dial who can take your shit some of the time.

-LCS

Thank you for supporting me in this unique challenge of writing 30 poems in 30 days to raise funds for the nonprofit Tupelo Press. To make a tax-deductible donation to Tupelo Press, please click here.  Or if you’d prefer to support the literary press by subscribing to one of their fine publications, please click here.  In the meantime, my fellow poets and I have the 12 poems so far at the Tupelo Press 30/30 blog page. 

Rose-hip Jelly

My grandmother littered the house
With pastel post-it notes; I read her
Thorny handwriting, broken twigs
Her unfinished thoughts, seed-casings
Reminders, bequeaths, old recipes.

We opened the windows & doors
To let the trapped sea air out
When the river got winded, because
The Big House needed to breathe.

Her notes blew in the breeze,
Scattered, melting into damp soil
Wilted petals from the roses
Thrived in the courtyard
Of my family’s two houses.

My father tended to those bushes
Like Hawthorne’s Rappaccini,
He harvested their pungent oils,
Safely, wearing work gloves,
The pantry became a perfumery
While Dad made rose hip jam.

I pranced between the shrubs
We were sisters, like Beatrice
And her poisonous plants.

I collected the heart-shaped
Droplets, molded perfectly
Fitting my fingertips, a fresh
Pair of thumbprints. If I spun

Around fast enough, my pretend
Petalled fingerprints transposed,
Exposing a wishful identity
The wide rosehips, silky blooms
I hadn’t grown into yet, wild

And slowly solidifying, sun
Speckled inside a fly-eyed
Crystal set on the window sill
Bubbles of black currants
Like tempted insects sealed
In magenta jars of jelly.

~ Leah C. Stetson  TP Subscribe

Poet’s note: I’m still recuperating from the migraine and what’s more fun, I’m hobbled over like a fallen garden gnome from some kind of sciatica (or pinched nerve?), which I’ve never had before. Nevertheless, I just got new sneakers so I can hit the gym and hopefully work out whatever’s bugging me. That said, the poem below is a work-in-progress and so far, not looking pretty.

My Neighbor, the Lawn Ornament Devotee

My neighbor stacks flamingo skeletons
In my dooryard, which is his backyard,
Behind his house, by a tool shed.
These bones are remains of two kinds;
Once fragrant hydrangea & heliotrope,
Hung to attract hummingbirds and butterflies—
Now long dead, their white, plastic hooks
Huddle, as if bowed head to head.

My neighbor’s wife used to peer
Out the back screen door
As Ed exchanged a plastic deer
For a garden gnome, or
A family of clay squirrels.
An iridescent “crystal” sphere
Rested on its pedestal;
Everything else rotated,
According to her cycle.

Mary & Joseph glowed for months
In florescent robes, bent over
A snow-covered baby Jesus,
Their faces not meant to be seen
Up close, like in impressionist paintings.
Removed from their hay manger
On the front lawn, they lay sideways,
Unplugged and dim against spring grass,
Abandoned by a busy re-arranger.

Ed totes the garden gnome
Under a muscled arm; he mows the lawn
In summer, weeds the flower beds
And has done it all by dawn,
Or by the time I have motivated
On a Sunday morning.

But now the feeders are all empties,
Which I don’t mind noticing
Because she put sugar water
Out for hummingbirds,
Who expire from diabetes
By the time they’ve flown to Costa Rica.

My fat cat catapults off a two-by-four
Into my neighbor’s garden
And hunts for frogs. A decapitated replica
Of a Greek Adonis in miniature
Stands barely erect by the gate.

I had not seen my neighbor’s wife,
Who I knew was ill for a long time.
Ed seemed fully devoted,
Probably faithful his whole life,
A Pisces like me so I can relate
To feeling compelled to do
Whatever one can do to please one’s mate
Even if all she asked each day:
For him to “move that over there,”
Hold up an ornament,
Then vacillate.

Poet’s note: I am just coming out of a migraine that I had for the second half of the day (over 6 hours anyway). So this is late by 40 minutes but I technically started it early the morning of Jan. 10, so it counts. And you don’t really want to read what I was working on while in the depths of the Dantesque “Inferno” that is my migraine-state-of-mind.

Impediment

Laura asked, “Why are you a poet?”
It’s compulsory, I said, not because
I want to write; I cannot avoid it.

Long before I could hold a pen,
When I was little, I lugged a clunky
Tape recorder around our huge house;
I found an empty outlet and plugged
It in and pressed the chunky buttons
To record made-up poems and stories,
Read books about mammals aloud;
My toddler brother and I made gory
Cassettes with “haunted sound effects”
Then re-played them to entertain us.

In my thirties, once, as a failed
Experiment, I attended a support
Group (what happens in Anxiety Club,
Stays in Anxiety Club); a last resort,
Hoping to meet like-minded veterans
Of the literary profession, but this
Backfired. Novices, triology-obsessed
Novelists, trichotillomaniacs.

Compelled the way some people
Chew pens or eat paper, I have a literal
Fixation with words. I chew on them.
Verbs click against my teeth; marbles
Big glass shooters, and little onionskins,
Cane-cut swirls, blue specks of mica
Suspended in spheres of crashed glass
The speech therapist in elementary
School pulled me out of math class
And beseeched me to recite a
Sentence over and over in my sweetly
Crooked mouthfuls, I’d enunciate
To overcome a girlish lisp.

I still have it.

Tangible details—these are the closest
I’ll get to wearing braces; tight prose
Retains better than a paper clip,
Jammed like pretend orthodontics
I wore in 6th grade to assimilate.
My dentist—out of sympathy,
Explained, “I’d have to break
Your jaw twice a year. There’s
No permanent solution to fix
Genetic cross-bite like yours.”

Every other syllable

Slips

like drool

between

Partially sealed lips,
Deformed and thin as baleen
Stretched off-center, between
Rosy, frost-bitten cheeks.

This is what it’s like
Talking with marbles
In your mouth.

No wonder I write.

Special thank-you offer for those who donate to Tupelo Press for the 30/30 Challenge: Anyone who donates $250 or more to support this 30/30 poetry challenge this month may choose either of TP’s gorgeous broadsides, one of Ilya Kaminsky’s “Author’s Prayer,” the other of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “The Ghost-Fish Postcards.” Both may be seen here.  Please indicate which one you would like by writing “Aimee” or “Ilya” in the same space on the donation form (where you may also indicate that your gift is made in support of my part of the 30/30 poetry challenge.)

On Discovering a Crack in the Cornerite

A long slim crack runs down like a dark drip of dried paint
In the corner of my bedroom, where two cream-colored walls meet
Ninety degree angles to frame the southwest border—in feng shui,
Activate the love in your life by attracting yang chi, a golden phoenix,
Mandarin ducks, or dragons (I have frogs and mermaids, silly me).

Five years ago, there weren’t any flaws in the plaster, at least
My eyes did not detect a weak spot; storms and shifty energy
Pulled the big pieces apart, slowly, over time, and I just noticed
The definite divide in white; it’s probably brought on lethargy,
An indicator of “bad” feng shui, cracks challenge intimacy.

I dreamt of Stephen King’s Langoliers last night; they’d come
To eat my memories. I seek safety in my best nightmares
At my grandparents’ house, usually the attic; but feral cat-like
Fur-balls with big eyes and teeth slunk out of the barn, where
Grampa kept electric drill presses; these protect me in dreams.

Such cracks in plaster, and prevention, stirred interest among
Architects in the 1920s; they studied the upward phenomenon,
The movement of the outer edge (take note: the order of walls)
Which partitioned the structure, created the stressors of some
Peeled the papery lime layers away from the cornerite’s seam.

At my first improvisational comedy class, I was late; street
Side parking a bit more complicated than expected. I joined
A semi-circle of sock-footed participants, the meet-and-greet,
Each talking about their “edge,” whether lost or found, they coined
The term in a way I didn’t bet: it meant the margin of vulnerability.

My usual reaction, make a joke (but this wasn’t comedy, not yet)
I live at the edge of a lake, well, not technically; I’m in the ecotone.
Sprawled across my bed today, my focus switched, it re-directed
Attention toward that crevice; it reinforced a conclusion, one
I’d reached on the drive home—this device, my “edge,” had pre-sets
Too narrow, no room for cuts, bleeds or formatting errors—

All human, on and off the page.

– Leah C. Stetson  TP Donate

Poet’s note: I woke up yesterday morning with a pinched nerve or some kind of painful back spasm. I’m not one for pain medication, so I have been stretching and soaking, rolling around on tennis balls and walking like Carrie Bradshaw in the episode with Charlotte’s 2nd wedding. Yeah, that bad.

A January To-Do List

Nurse coconut mango tea with dandelion root and bitters
Feed the cats and dead-head the dish garden; water the moss
Pluck juicy sections of pink grapefruit and bag up the litter
Clear off the dining table I inherited from my grandparents
Read the Human Ecology Review and sort the harmless mail
Let the dog out, then in again, patiently listen to her vent
Work up the motivation to vacuum the living room
Dig out my most conservative swimsuit for the lap pool
Roll tennis balls beneath the origin of my back spasms
Debate what to wear to burlesque dance classes;
Squeeze into inappropriate ensembles (as practice)
Call the Department of Labor to obtain a password;
Hear bad ‘hold music’ on the phone for 45 minutes
Ask a local guy to sand my long luge of a driveway
Strap on Nana’s “cramp-ons” to walk on the ice
Forage for birch bark blown down in the wind;
Write checks, a new poem and thank-you notes
Lug firewood and put the clean dishes away
Build a fire in the woodstove, sustain the heat
Curl up with Daphne du Maurier’s lost stories
Hold a warm mug of spicy chai with milky oats
Spoil the dog; rub her belly and give her treats.
Listen to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me;” get cozy,
Soak in the tub with lavender and chamomile;
I don’t have to do anything for a while.

~Leah

Little Rebel at White’s Island

At night the moonlight masked the hedges
On Tucker’s Hill, a private thrill to walk
From our Victorian home to White’s Island.
I’d cross the causeway, both footbridges,
Historic railroad tracks and inhale a secret air
That only I felt could fill my strange, weak lungs
Without a jerk of hyperventilation, my Ondine’s curse.

As if I’d held my breath the swift sprint to the island,
I caught the scents of saltgrass, the mudflats and lush
Odors of the Sheepscot River and damp trees, all seven
That grew in a circle, leaning like a coven of witches.
I stood by their cauldron, a natural cavity in the earth,
Brimming and brewing some magical potion that might
Transform my old soul pre-teen self into maturity.

Poems, not spells, I cast into the water. Smooth stones, not sorcery,
Slid back and forth in my hands. I traded love letters with a boy,
Who stole down to the island to smoke cloves by the stone wall;
Cracks in the mortar of the old bathhouse facilitated delivery.
Flats crackled as the tides shifted; its ebb awakened the eel grass
And all its inhabitants in the water bed.

I played a daring barefoot game along a line of rocks, jagged
And round on the less-popular side, a pebbled beach strewn
With sea glass, not always “ready” (I returned the sharp pieces)
Broken bits of brick, cast-offs from the mason station, dead crabs.

Gramma called the big slate boulder, “Leah’s rock,”
I liked to sit there dripping in my wet bathing suit,
Let my long hair dry in the sun. Salt flaked on my skin
In glistening specks; the white of the salt clung to my ankles
Invisible socks (when I wouldn’t wear my jellies).
Water marks rimmed the rock’s edge in uneven, parallel
Stripes; they measured the tides like waistlines
On a full-figured woman. At high tide, I perched
Curved-postured, as if to dive, and dipped my fins
Into cold dark green saltwater up to my shins.

Those summer nights when I snuck down to the island
In my ripped-seated jeans and tennis sneakers,
Sitting on the rock, my little rebellion.

(a work in progress)                     ~Leah TP Subscribe

Wild Cactus

The windows were broken to eat you alive.
Slicked with ink and thin paper, my hands,
Under-appreciated, unhinged—even thrived
Despite the lackluster smidgen of damp sand.

I am at the beach, plump with rainwater from a
Cool foggy summer—the island, laughing
Staying true to its cold hardiness, a collage
In rescuing the wild form, a soft mossy green.

That said, a spiny devil records their catches:
A hummingbird, stones, monsoon storms, a queen
Flown, thrown and blown through cut paper latches
Burn off their spines, it’s not that damage-repair thing.

Poised to scream out lots of terrible bare-tree lines
Because he was suffering in private gardens,
Clad in welding gloves, a fish hook thought of a tongue
Like a sermon of my father’s, to dig up tender globes,

I re-imagined my artichoke romance, living proof
Their purple-blue thistle havens sugared and sold
Love along the edges of a slip-covered coast
Without shells or throw pillows or souvenirs.

The vivid art of dreaming pins a spooky piece
I kept trying to save Saturn or Uranus, giant houseplants,
Hoping for a robust shape-shifter to take in a dying sea,
A ball of recycled gyotaku doused with kerosene.

LCS

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Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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