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Sample Poems by Julia Lisella

Early Morning, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Birds sleep in dark caves of boughs
remembering song.
By morning it’s thick in their throats.
They flute
through miraculous beaks.

Chirps trump song. Bird at the tip of the bough.
(No one is listening, but everyone can hear.)
The bird is busy with its labor; it’s we
who try to make some beauty of it.

Bells. Birds. Song? Motorboat?
Red swoon. I whistle to recall
my tasks. I count them on my fingers.

Relent. You went to sleep with a sore heart
and woke to it burning a small hole in your spirit.
Be bright. Recast the day.
Lie down in the grass as you were taught.
Look up! Look up!

St. Francis Leaves His Family, His Wealth

You didn’t believe
in the material world. It failed you.
It fails all of us, drifts
and abandons us.
Tapestries that covered your body,
weaves of light, frightened
money away but left
desire for the clean pure
undesiring body. You shed
your robes, your furs,
rich fabrics falling behind
as you kept walking. The light
of the sun breathed on your back
took you away, brought you back.

The Poet Argues with St. Francis’s Desire to Suffer

I want to think of Francis as more than blessed,
joyous and a little odd,
but once he asked one of his brothers
to beat him in the name of God
because he had inadvertently been human,
neglected prayer for one moment, as humans do.

It’s that gesture toward succumbing,
little by little, to his own death,
as Jesus may have done, having it out
with Pilate and arranging his own murder,
that I can’t forgive.

Would I have obeyed you, Francis?
Made you crawl on your knees to me,
made you starve or suffer
because you asked me to?
Or, would I have walked away from you?

Her Garden

She has stopped painting the rotted squash
that sits beside the tailless cat.
In her garden, dry stalks are shadows of iris,
and sunflowers, already shaken,
have delivered their worth—good girls, good boys.
She has brought the canvases inside.
She is painting new shapes: thunderous clouds of black,
red off center. No fruit, no vegetables, no garden,
no hand of God or saint in the foreground.
These feel violent? I ask or guess.
My friend listens, but then points out
the ironing board leaning in the corner of the room
and then there in the corner of the painting
and there you see floorboards. It’s this room? I ask.
I see thick mounds of oil paint, Haiti turning over
in its own old garden,
or suited men and women flying out of hotel windows,
a bomb exploding on young girls in the lobby.
Catastrophic oil leak? Earth swallowing its animal life?
But my friend paints; doesn’t read the papers.

Mothers Talking, Summer Night

The heart sleeps so much of the time
it’s possible to forget to breathe
or forget you’re breathing.
Beats beat and breaths
rise and fall. But you’re
just sitting, listening to that mulled sound.

But then there’s a day; it’s hot,
the concrete would burn your feet,
pavement ants want a meal of you.
You’re wearing your new expensive skirt
that looks casual and cheap
and she tells you she’s been to the oncologist.

You feel salt
rummaging an imaginary
slit on your tongue
and just loving her casually
as mere acquaintance
is not enough.

You sit beside her on the dirty stoop.
You listen for what she has to tell you.
You want to hurry her
and slow her down
all at once.

You want her to live
and now both your tongues are burning.