La Maison Française
My son sees no point
in learning French, but I’ve labeled
everything, le lit, le divan, le chat.
Nor is it my favorite,
so many letters unpronounced
like lights left on all day
in a vacant room,
and my accent is terrible.
Nevertheless, le miroir is speckled
with le dentifrice, la bouilliore sings
like l’oiseau in la cuisine.
I tell him he might need this—
one day he could broker la détente
or order a nice vin de France
for someone tres jolie.
And maybe it’s enough
just to spot les histoires
our own words lug along
like a portmanteau.
At the end of all this, he’ll know
some nouns, and he’ll pronounce them
like I do, poorly, with a soupçon
of defiance at so much wasted,
so much left unsaid.
Return is inevitable,
so the lead cow draws
a heavy line home.
On the ridge
they are backlit, they cast
blue shadows, their bodies
umber and red, like
the insides of your lids
when you press them
with a thumb.
Their path defines the break
between night and day
and from here it is
illuminated, a wash
Evenings they descend
in perfect glory,
heads down, steps
measured. Is this
how we know we’re not
wild? We spend days
eating clover like it’s our job
until something in us
is iron and wants the magnet
home. It’s just
past solstice. The sky
will be pale for hours, long
after these sisters lie down
in their rows, long after
horses start to dream
on the hoof.
You don’t need crenelated clouds,
darkening sky. Before, the birds
move in a frenzy of which-tree
and the trees themselves tell you,
almost in words and in the whiter
undersides of upturned leaves.
In lotus, nothing is still in me.
My fingers touch in two raindrops,
my face turned to the sky. Nothing
is still in me. The storm is always
coming, it is never here, never
just passed. Nothing, still in me.
When I was a child I could smell
electrons in air. That was me,
as alive as I’d ever be. A storm
might sneak up on me
if I was lost in play, but never
if I was paying attention.
Small Case Against Perfect Solitude
Sometimes I listen for
that inner lake whose ripples
come and come.
When there is nothing
I feel empty, but not
in the desired way, empty-
filled—just alone, maybe
a little hungry.
And what words arrive
are jarring, like a sneeze
a ringtone in a basilica.
I prefer the murmur
of voices in the west gallery,
furnace hum, a sketcher
dropping a pencil,
its paradiddle as it rolls
across the tile.
Today the butterfly house
releases monarchs, tags affixed
like tiny suitcases for their flight
south. A docent points out
a mourning cloak, faded and ripped,
three weeks old and probably
still laying eggs. She keeps going
until she dies, he tells me,
and at forty-five, with a toddler,
I can relate. One of the children
has stolen the wing of a sulphur.
It was dead anyway, so she palmed it,
and now, fingers flaked in gold leaf,
she tries to work off its color.
I remember how we’d look
for signs of fall these early days of it
in a world tinged in sepia before
brown shocks waited for harvest.
Those days the sun could surprise us
with its insistence, could pin you
to your chair, and you’d picture
those migrating butterflies,
gold, gold, gold, gold, gone.
Karen Craigo is the author of two poetry collections, Passing Through Humansville (Sundress, 2018) and No More Milk (Sundress, 2016), and two chapbooks, Someone Could Build Something Here (Winged City, 2013) and Stone for An Eye (The Kent State University Press, 2004). She is a newspaper editor in Marshfield, Missouri.