James Engelhardt is a native of western North Carolina now pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His poems have appeared in Lilies and Cannonballs Review, Hawk and Handsaw, Alligator Juniper, Saranac Review and Painted Bride Quarterly. Work is forthcoming in Isotope, and the Fourth River. His ecopoetry manifesto is at octopusmagazine.com. He is the Managing Editor of Prairie Schooner.
Brunch Omelettes in North Georgia
Pans rest hot in the sink
when the stainless flatware rattles done.
The youngest in her high chair bangs
for down, the table is abandoned.
Dan pops another bottle of champagne.
Outside, a spit built in one year.
Nearby, three Plymouth Rock hens and a rooster
stagger through the garlic to the snap peas
and the children’s pumpkin vines. One bird
a year gets turned and turned. “That’s her,”
he shows to me a smallish hen. “She carries
everything that dies this year.”
He tracks her through the seasons,
holds her, whispers to her feathered head
the weight of days and sins.
It’s been ten summers since
I’ve seen him smile with a fork or glass,
heard him say that he liked anything at all.
Shelter Is a Place to Hide
I am a shadow, a grey-flecked crow
stooped and trimmed. There’s woodsmoke
and a quiet city. Gold home light
spills through holly over blue snow.
Not dead yet, I am a fever
inside dark colors of a fading coat.
Through the window, fire
has sunk to charcoal. The ash-grey hearth
needs tending. Almost a beacon,
almost a comfort, almost a space
for my hat. In a closet, boxed bikinis.
Years have layered
the memory of the beach, the bright crystal,
the popped and bouncing cork.
Only memory pursues
longer than the lungs of dogs,
disappears farther into earth
than rabbits after first snow,
betrays happiness with a whimper.
In the cold, I hear something close,
the sound loud, like breaking.
The yard’s bank slips steeply.
I trace my deep steps back
to the door freezing into its hinges.
Walking to School
Deep in autumn’s roasted leaves
my daughter shuffles to the warm school
where early morning sun makes paper glow
and the rigid walls are rounded smooth
with smells of uncapped pens, of crayons
left too long in soft, moist hands.
A teacher with milky coffee breath
pins up ancient presidents and turkeys
and the scent of her boyfriend’s favorite
perfume clings to her like mittens clipped
to her pupils’ sleeves as they arrive,
and shrug into their dreary desks
out of the joyful air.