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Susanna J. Mishler


Weekday in Spring

and puddles profess their love 
to my pant legs. The splendor of winter
reduced to so much dirty snow -
blasted water and dirt will arrange themselves slowly
into clouds and grass. They make sense of themselves,
whereas we won't, though perhaps
there's some consolation in knowing 
every chromosome has a solution. It's tempting
to log all the wonderful things about having a new map
of ourselves, but the waxwings are here, fat little birds
shitting whole berries. In my favorite sci-fi movie
there's an owl that's supposedly real though we never
see it shit, which is like feeling the flaws in a wine glass
with your fingertips. Snow under the ash trees looks like carnage - 
white splattered with hundreds of tiny red, half-digested spheres.
Waxwings will pass what they eat in 15 minutes,
but this is supposed to be about people, how
we've mapped all the little rooms of our bodies yet don't know
what's inside them. How the mysterious inhabitants 
communicate as if through hotel walls: one knock
means hungry, two means clogged toilet. 
This is like trying to understand how
action is built on email; how can any of this result in
so much as a sigh, or eyes moving left to right? The idea of chaos
came from a highly ordered mind, just as the idea of entropy
irritates tax auditors the most and puppies not at all.
If my den were truly a den it would have a dirt floor and ceiling,
not this messed-up waiting room furniture. The goldfish could care less
if I vacuumed all the dog hair off the couch, but the cat 
considers this a victory and turns her attention to the fat waxwings. 
Soon there will be a blueprint for everything and to most of us
trying to read one will be like deciphering a coffee stain.
The biggest requests will be for top-heavy bodies - men's and women's - 
and those with the right kind of inheritance 
will get them. Barbie isn't given enough credit:
imagine you're head-first in a toy box, naked, with no genitals,
and that your head and your ass are facing the same direction.
No wonder math is hard. Everything was fine until I moved to
the suburbs and learned to see menace in dandelion fluff
and carnage in bird guano. Our neighbor
wet-vacs the puddles from his front walk which gives me the sense
of living under a vault, inside one of those snow globes
except it isn't snowing, it's raining red bird shit and I doubt that
even with a blueprint I could find my way out or even find the wall
I should have my ear pressed to.

What Fits Neatly In a Hand

A pebble. An earring. A stack 
of dimes. A little water,


and the reflection of something small 
or distant in the sky.
A toy fighterplane.


Not a live goldfish, but a dead one.
Not the other hand - 
not completely.


A matchbook, a moth. A cupboard hinge.
A tooth. Pieces

of broken things, wristwatch gears,
plate shards, ashes. The curve
of an infant's head.


Crumbled plaster. A chipped button
sewn to a shirt scrap. 
An ice cube - briefly.


Not the curled edges of burning paper.
Not an aspen, but a lemon seed.


The opposable thumb. Two aspirin. 
Some sand - barely.

Ways of Seeing

Quarters hit an empty violin case. A boy dances on the sidewalk and wears a clown's nose as he plays. He learned this from his father, who sits at home with shoes three sizes too big, in blackface, painting a portrait from a photograph of his son standing outside a train station with his mother. The mother isn't in the portrait and where her hand rested on the boy's shoulder a green parrot sits instead. The parrot has two heads, one in its stomach. The father imagines the top head feeds the bottom face crackers, and the top head is him. He paints the boy's face and outlines his eyes with red diamonds so no one will hurt him. The father grew so close to the boy's mother when she died it seemed that they were in a rowboat together, and that she disappeared through a small hole in the bottom; he thought he could follow but he wouldn't fit. When she finished disappearing, the boat bottom slowly leaked. He scrutinized the hull - smudged his face with burnt cork, plugged the hole with what remained. This was followed by days of bailing water, eating crackers. He believes blackface is the thing keeping him on this side. The boy himself is almost enough. Almost, because the man doesn't have a son; his change hit the boy's case in passing. The man always wanted to learn watercolor. The boy wishes for a violin.


-from Termination Dust

BIO: Susanna J. Mishler’s poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Her first collection of poems, Termination Dust, was published by Red Hen Press/Boreal Books in 2014. Susanna holds an MFA in Poetry from The University of Arizona in Tucson, where she served as a poetry editor for Sonora Review. She’s the recipient of a Peter Taylor Fellowship in Poetry from the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop, and the Bill Waller Writing Award from the University of Arizona. Susanna also co-directs Synergies, a live reading and performance series in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. Among other things, Susanna has worked as a dock hand, science educator, and sled dog handler. She currently lives in Anchorage, teaches workshops, and earns her living as an electrician.

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