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Four Poems


Why didn’t you just leave?

I swam into a coastal cave that began to fill with water at high tide.

Don’t you have family you could have gone to?

The yellow finch by the porch brought his cigarette butts back to its nest in the avocado tree.

How could you love someone like that?

Like the oviposited eggs of an ichneumon wasp feeds on a caterpillar from inside out.

Why didn’t you just leave?

Introduce a gun in the first scene. Then lean it against a wall. Now pretend it’s not there.

Why did you listen to him?

Goldenrod roots can grow up to 16 feet.

How could you let him do that to you?

How could I know the tide was coming in?

Why didn’t you just leave?

Because of polar wandering, in 13,000 years, the north star won’t be Polaris anymore.

Couldn’t you get help?

I learned how to drive a stick shift, but I never had a manual.

How much did it hurt?

What is the temperature of space?

Why didn’t you just leave?

The desert around us bloomed once a year; for two weeks spring wildflowered the hills.

Why didn’t you tell someone?

Their silences followed me around, stuck in everyone’s mouths like a stitch sewn shut.

What did you do to make him so angry?

I loved to eat a grape plucked directly from an afternoon vine so I could taste the sun.

Why do you keep writing about it?

The word leave comes from Old English for to allow to remain.


How I Love

  1. Like a ribbon that gets its curls from a knife. A toad hops from the kindling bucket under my porch to sip from the roof-eave dripline.
  2. There is no maybe that skin on a wrist might boil when held to a truck hood that’s been sitting in the sun.
  3. Like a meteor shower streaming its shaftlight over a ripening valley.
  4. Leaf stomata unfasten their lips.
  5. Like that meteor’s light that comes to us only when an object burns.
  6. When she read my palm, she saw the line of fate cut short before the heartline.
  7. The happiness line encircles my wrist.
  8. To the edges of the purple needlegrass that swell to keep out saltspray.
  9. Lightningly as I course through the ground to buzz your stony body.
  10. As a seabird loves a hatchling scuttling to moonlit surf.
  11. As a hatchling loves the undertow that pulls it towards the continental shelf.
  12. Where I am the net and you are the loggerhead.
  13. How she said, O, love. Such a tender, permanent thing.
  14. At the velocity the universe expands.
  15. At the point of the universe’s rebounding contraction.
  16. A dissected bean, seeds shorn from pod.
  17. Severely droughted, my hipbones spread like a desert, dune empties dune.
  18. The rusty clang of a buoy in fog.
  19. How a toad hiding in the kindling bucket hears a struck and dropped match.


Prairie Love Song

I find myself in love
with the remaining 5%
of tallgrass prairie
that grows in the hills
of Nebraska and Kansas.
I caress each coneflower
in place of my husband
who doesn’t love this
the way I do. I stare for days
at bluestem in the wind
that roils like a boiling pot
of green, hairy stems
sticky with summer. I roll
in the heat between sheets
of mud-thick air and that
dusty breeze that licks
me all over my burning body.
Sometimes when traveling
I wish he were there, but here
I can take care of myself.



I was born
to a mother
who didn’t want

When I was
waiting for you,
I found a snake
curled up
in the woodpile.
I moved her
body with a stick,
and the next day
she returned
with two more
beside her.

Once, I left
a frog on the grave
you never saw. It
didn’t jump away
but I never saw it again.
I vowed not to spend
my time in a hole.

But sometimes I do
watch the pears
in the neighbor’s tree
as they ripen, then hang
side by side from one
branch that’s slung over
my fence, and I see
how one turns brown
and the spot grows
until it spreads to the other
and they rot as a pair.
I wait for them to fall.
They hang still
in November.

Our time is a forest
that remains the same
until it doesn’t. Until
the trailhead poplar
falls and rots into a nest
of yellowjackets that hollow
out the space where the tree
once stood. We wait
until they die in winter
before we return to the trail.

It can’t be that your hands
are now mine because they are
mine and yours no longer
are. If I’d had a child,
would her hands be
mine? If we walked
in the cemetery together,
would I be holding her hand
or yours or my own?

And here I am
eating an apple
with brown spots. My teeth
cut through the flesh,
the bitter ferment of bruise
that impels the edges
to sing with sweetness.

Kentucky poet, educator, and folklorist Sarah McCartt-Jackson’s poetry books include: Stonelight, Calf Canyon, Vein of Stone, and Children Born on the Wrong Side of the River. She teaches kindergarten and poetry to all ages.