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Three Poems

In the Mirror, I Am Right-Handed


Staring at me: two twelve-toed leopards, one striped,

one spotted, hunkered under the hull of an upturned

dory. Their unblinking amber cat eyes watch for
signs of midnight-danger. Suspicion is contagious.

Why are they here, and what do they want?

Why two? Leopards are usually solitary, as am I,

and the waxing moon overhead keeps reminding 

me again, I don’t have to be whole to shine. 

Still, the shine I see is four amber eyes, yet the cats

are strange now. They have only one body but two 

heads are covered not in fur but in calico.

Are they waiting, not for me, but for a gingham dog?
No, it must be for the owl, and they wish to set out 

in his pea-green boat. So what happens when 

I, or anyone, mistrusts reality? Today at daybreak,
the mirror showed me thirty-three, yet tonight—

the mirrored lake reflects me as if I’m old, 

and the owl has flown to zap vole or songbirds,
so I flip the dory but find no leopards, only clawprints

and not my younger self either. As I oar alone  

through the pooling-light, the moon—no, not the moon, 
but my dead father, who taught me to write and row—

keeps saying, Leftie, whatever you do, keep on trying to shine. . . . 


Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On


There’s nothing under my skin but light. Eerie light,

rough like the moon on my ceiling that glowed in the dark


when I was a girl. If I say this light is cold, will you admit

its craters as well as its glow? In a chilly bed, I’m alone here,


and the mercury thermometer under my tongue will only

admit to 96.7°. What I’d imagined before house arrest


this viral year was—at the door—the arrival of my hot 

Will-‘O-the-Wisp hefting his backpack and cherrywood lute.


With a birthday coming, I’d planned for apples and honey

and madeleines, his hands to warm my feet, my body,


make that odd light beneath my skin pulse with his heat.

But the honey has crystalized, apple is wrinkly as my face,


the madeleines now fluted stone. No dream, only reality.

Doors locked. Windows all shuttered. The light under my skin


grows faint, but I fold my arms tight across my chest, rocking,

rocking, chanting to that uncertain beam, unwilling to let it


sputter as I sit in bed still rocking, humming now, unwilling

to stop, afraid to fall asleep and let it die before I wake.



Kayak in the Time of Covid


Don’t laugh, please. But notice the children cancel me

when I explain that the kayak is impartial. It doesn’t care


if the lake is mirror-smooth or a wild gyration of white caps

and isn’t daunted going upstream in an unknown river.


It understands buoyancy and accepts without question

the command of the paddle. If the paddle rests, it’s free to


pick its own path. Can rock, spin, follow the wind, even

beach itself. This one is tough yellow plastic made in Maine


and sold by L.L. Bean. Though old, it still has the strength

of youth. It’s not jealous, doesn’t argue with time or guide.


I might consider it my friend, yet it doesn’t yield to me

more than to anyone who sits inside. Yes, I tell the children,


I love it, even if it merely tolerates who I am. In this sad,

unpredictable world, though, the kayak doesn’t challenge,


balk, stage temper tantrums, break any rules, yet she offers 

each day her own quiet and reassuring consolation.



Susan Terris is the author of seven books of poetry, seventeen chapbooks, three artist's books, and one play. Her poems have appeared in The Pushcart Prize XXXI and The Best American Poetry 2015. Her newest book is "Dream Fragments," which won the 2019 Swan Scythe Press Award.

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