Three Poems by Deni Naffziger 

For She Who Holds the Future Close

It is skin and flesh, contact and symbiosis. It is fear and tiredness, and at

the same time, it is joy and hope, and for each one of us, it is unique.

–Carolina Oneto, quilt artist

I make quilts that are large enough to cover a family.

–Judith e. Martin, quilt artist

What I remember about Uncle David 

is a black & white photograph of him 

dressed like a girl in a burial gown, blond hair, 

eyes closed, in a small coffin lined with white satin. 

Sarah died from swallowing glass 

while her sister, my Grandmother Rose,

skated on a frozen pond in her red, wool coat. 

Uncle Bud, shot and tossed in the trunk 

of his own Ford Fairlane, was driven across country

by the man who killed him. It hurt his mother 

worse than if he were a baby. 

Another ill-fated David, my brother,

perished before our mother ever held him.  

And my sister, Mary, passed, dry in the mouth, 

before her lips touched mother’s milk. I know nothing

about the deaths of children who came before, 

about Katie Mulligan’s babies, 

Agnes's and Esther's.


Picture your ancestral mother,

belly big and soft as pillow moss

crossing the continents on shifting floors 

of ice, and oceans advancing. 

Eight hundred thousand years ago —

one of twelve hundred forebears alive

on the planet — she and her babies 

navigated earth as glaciers melted 

by degree. When droughts persisted, 

mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths 

died off. Yet your mother survived 

on pondweed, bramble, and seed.

Tonight I lay in a cradle of bluestem,

stare at a moon that invites imagination,

and I do imagine her marking time, 

wondering when the ducks would return.


Gigi sat snug under quilts on her bed. 

Her long white braids I petted as she fed me 

fruit-flavored treats in exchange for my affection. 

Beside her a framed image on the nightstand. 

Who were these women clad in long white dresses, 

cinched at the waist, white hair, white knots on their heads, 

white aprons, and the look of loss in their eyes? 


You call me to say you’ve been throwing up again. 

First trimester. So I share the story of your ancestral mother, 

the one who gave birth on a pile of twigs. You say lucky 

she came first, that if destiny had rested on your resolve, 

we might not be here. I hear you walk to the freezer, 

open the door, tear the wrapper off a Pedialyte popsicle.

Your first child drained from your pocket like crushed berries 

while you baked a cake. This one, a daughter (silent, 

steadfast), is already preparing the future inside you, 

a future never promised, only hoped for. Dare I call it a miracle? 

She lives because you do, because I did, because 

against all odds, a woman once wrested bark from a tree, 

put larvae to her lips and delivered us.



We didn’t know what we prayed for 

each night, but it was important  

to our mother – her special intention 

a secret, like the chocolate she kept 

in a cupboard she thought we couldn’t reach. 

But this was neither chocolate nor pleasure  

nor anywhere near our grasp. 

It wasn’t a thing we could pull up a chair to, 

or climb on a counter to feel our way 

into the dark corner cabinet past all the sealed Clark Bars,

the Kit Kats and Mars Bars, until we discovered, 

and we always discovered, the open Snickers, 

the odd Hershey square we broke off, nibbled, 

or hid in our pockets before she entered the room. 

We hid all kinds of food, just like she hid things. 

Once I sneaked down to the basement, 

dug into the deep freeze for an ice cream sandwich 

I had veiled behind frozen peas and pork chops,

when I fingered a ponderous wad of paper towel 

that bore a gold stone the size of my fist.

Treasure she held in reserve just in case 

the prayers didn't work. Yes, we had control issues, 

trust issues, all of us, which we learned in Al-Anon 

was a gift from our father long before 

those prayers our mother channeled 

through us. On summer nights, 

windows flung open, our blind appeals floated, 

like our father's cigarette smoke,

on nothing more than faith.


The Morning I Noticed

the burning bush, 

the morning I lifted the cat, 

felt the hard ball in her belly, 

a heart that beat like a hummingbird 

in my hand, the morning I held her 

heart in my palm, a thin veil of skin

between her manic heart and the palm

of my hand, the morning I drove

her to the vet, past the burning bush 

and thought this is the most brilliant red

I have ever seen, the morning the cat, 

in a cardboard box in the backseat, 

called out to me, the morning I heard 

children from Gaza cry over radio waves, 

the red was so splendid, the cry 

in the backseat so fierce, 

the bush so brilliant

Deni Naffziger's work has appeared in New Ohio Review, Atticus Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Northern Appalachian Review, and elsewhere. Her second collection of poems is Strange Bodies (Shadelandhouse Modern Press, 2023). She currently serves as Poet-In-Residence at Passion Works Collaborative Studio in Athens, Ohio.