Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor

Michelle Bitting: Three Poems

Poem for Philip on World Poetry Day, 2021

Sleeping with you every night
Could never be tedious, no, it’s as marvelous
As the stars and milk you dust my coffee
With each morning, and who but you
Would rise, fill the mighty press, steep my French
Roast with water roiled in an old Wolfgang
Puck kettle you found at the seaside
Thrift store because no one else wanted it
With its chrome and polished wood trim—so 80’s passé—
People can get pretty snooty, but not us,
Except maybe those moments I’m my own bad
Shell, cracked and spoiling ochre on a burning sidewalk.
You know, the first time we made love I studied
Your face for a while at a dead dark hour, unconvinced
You were lovely, your monument nose and epic jowls,
The unchiseled neck of a passing pelican—but
Aren’t those birds my favorite now? And aren’t I
Framed in my tracks today, watching them
Rembrandt the sky, cooking up shadows
And light, brushing a small, unstoppable fire
Across the heavens, every stroke a masterpiece, really.


Ode to my Dead Grandfather’s Pail of Wild Bird Seed

Corrugated can we hauled back from the deserted home.

Tin keeper of an avian buffet: millet, dandelion, sunflower

for phoebe, towhee, sparrow. Little specks our guests

now peck from the orbital ring atop cross-armed poles,

backyard crucifix towered to thwart possum and rat,

hand painted by our son—a pandemic craft. Can you catch

this, Grandpa? A drift of wings collects—feed for the godly

rowing amid cumulus, cell tower, sky—our crepuscular

hearts pierced. Don’t ghosts get hungry, foraging among

friends? Conservative-to-the-core Grandpa, a locked chest

until stuck drawers opened in the dwindling end. A girl could get

blue around the edges. But for the birds and garden, our laughing

banter some days on full buzz, blooming as your time flew

by and we minded roses and weather, relishing aromas

beyond the box of ash you’ve become. I lift the lid and let

warblers keep court, celebrate starlings and juncos plucking

the yard for life—poop and lint and thistle twig nesting planets

in the eaves, the crescendo of finch song that feathers light

into shadow, scoring paths to higher spheres, overriding sour

notes like fallen eggs from family branches. Grandpa, what I’m

trying to say: innocence lost is sometimes offered in a hand

of seed held out—something happening to the spirit called mercy

our creaturely bodies, however fleeting, taking it in.


Epistle to Hedera

~ genus of a dozen grasping plant species


Dear English Ivy, woody vine from Europe with

the perennial bad wrap, invasive green and domineering

id stalking the neighbor’s garden. Dear tough

root systems and leaves that scale and topple fences,

dark underworlds wrought for snails and worms to

roam, rats to run. Are we done yet? Even the birds

are in cahoots, smuggling seeds on daily routes

from bush to bed and back, winged abettors to a riot

of emerald hands up the trunks of deciduous mothers

like needy children at season’s end when she’s released

her foliage guard. Dear canopy shroud of verdant

shimmering the old crone casts to forest floor, claiming

the shady understory, suckling winter’s veins of thinning

light inside dungeons of time. Do I know you? I’m told

your fruit is toxic to humans and livestock; your sap

we can’t escape will irritate skin. Well, haven’t I drunk

the sun’s elixir, jumped up and down the muddy diurnal

slopes, the stalks of my young legs electric with chlorophyll,

arches tender from grinding blade and cell to cytoplasmic sludge?

I stained my cheeks and mouth with it, high on medicinal

fumes converted for strength to sugar in my heart’s obscured

rooms. Isn’t this how wounds heal, wisdom grows, until

meditations on feral evils open to mind what’s entombed—

brightness socked in steepness, scars that kick through loam,

blooming lattices to stars? In the beginning, there was grass,

before your spun stems of intractable webbing, before drought

and cost of sprinkling said no to extra water, yes to a drier wild.

And with the grass, a family of deer that appeared to graze

the hillside one day, their gradual decimation of fragile netting

against slag and slide we watched with horror in the rainy season.

This is our history. Dear Ivy, you won’t remember, but I do—how

my husband would leap from our still-warm sheets and bolt

outside hollering Shoo! Shoo! His voice and hands hotly

clacking the air. How the doe turned her slender head

to note the interruption without budging until his calves

and bare ass quickened in her direction—the whole nude

and velvet bag of him—the taut and round and jangling parts—

the swirls of chiseled skin, ribboned marbles on chaotic parade

in the early haze and chill, an animal sprung from his cave,

warbling the native wood notes wildly as Milton and you, dear Ivy,

might say—tenacity—its uncivilized beauty

holding up the dream in the fiery dawn of our yard.


Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher


Book cover to NIGHTMARES & MIRACLES by Michelle Bitting
NIGHTMARES & MIRACLES by Michelle Bitting

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