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Sample Poems by Kathrine Varnes

Like It Is

Here is a spray of heliotrope
in fuchsia bloom. Here is the fool
who said I do. Here is the grope

that started it all, a small granule
of undissolved sugar. Tarry
and it’s whisked away by the cruel

waiter who lives by an estuary.
Why do we want to redesign
hip pockets anyway? You bury

the curses next to the common thyme;
I mulch them with shame worn sleek
with worry. Whatever stars align

themselves on this — um — yawn — antique
affair, let blaze out. Elephant
on the couch: we crowd the ends, sweet geek.

Let’s name the beast, its elegant
urn-like rump. Let it elope.
Our love was ever indigent.

The Apprentice Siren

At twenty years, I bought a microphone
to lift my voice into the smoky bars:    
I kept the customers from going home    

and eased their drinking. Their lungs took in tar;    
their blood took up the song of alcohol,    
but when I saw them stumbling to their cars,    

my ears rang with a temperate music. Dull
to whistled catcalls and slurred compliments,
I ferried out equipment, locked it all    

safe in the trunk. An apprentice siren’s sense
for melody— and yet no notion of    
the lure of rocks, the ocean’s violence.


The thing is, he had such a sober face    
and we sang okay together, so I was sure,
that summer day I wrapped myself in lace,

that all the parts fit right; our motives were pure.
Then I lose sight of details, let lipstick stale    
on the foam rubber windscreen, the blue silver

mic case gather dust, the electric tail
grow sticky from spilt beer. My good teachers
watched their words unravel, a vapor trail

of lessons fading with my voice, clean shores
where my first wrecks washed up. Incorporated,    
I schooled myself in blend, domestics, creature    

comforts. Then he began to come home late.    
Weekends, we went through fake books, choosing songs
to get by heart, then put them off for later.    


These nights I eat alone. I hear him park
from deep within my dreams. I surface, keep
my body silent near his rustling dark.

As deft as any burglar, he will creep
under the covers, and comfort in the sound
of his familiar breath will ease my sleep.

Then: 4-track, stands, guitar, and mics crowded    
into his backseat, he leaves me to the waves
inside my ears. I worry that he’s found

a place to go. But he hears no escape.    
My voice, tucked in his pocket like a signal    
to find home by, tricks us as it saves

what we call marriage. Always kind and civil,    
we speak of love like diplomats — no bark    
of passion. But no perfidious storm. No ripple.


Or so we thought. The sirens know or ought
to know that their songs are accompaniment
to hunger. Those good promises we fought

to keep became the rocks we broke against,
old sailor. I forgave your perfect ear
as we pitched against the elements,

and I bent quarter tones too far, too far.
Fetching against the cliffs, lost, I forgot —
in the greedy winds — all my repertoire.

Early Education

I spent my youth afraid of Soviets
and how, I’d learned at school, they’d drop the bomb.
(It was just one bomb then.) Poof! We’d be gone.
I don’t remember learning that cigarettes
could kill you. Or about alcohol. But sex
would definitely— except you’d like it, dumbed
with pleasure. We learned demises already forgone
for us, and yet still learned our pirouettes.
Despite disasters bound to come our way,
we learned our math, and history, and how
to bake and frost a cake. We learned to play
at recess with jacks, jump ropes, and balls, to allow
each other to bend the rules, to yell out Pow!
and scare each other, who were living anyway.