Four Poems by Jennifer K. Sweeney

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              San Bernardino, CA, December 2, 2015


After the shooting,
after the helicopters-for-days
circled our house
then left,
the owls we’d never heard but must have
been there all along
leaned in
toward the house;
like lamplight
homed toward our small
predictable messes, saying what
we could not, the body’s bellow,
choral from the damp cedar
from the hard planks of the heart—
there are two hearts:
one for kindness, one for grief—
and their staying in
had nothing to do with us,
the figures in the house, tending
though their calls felt like sap
easing the shock,
but because they’d been opened
to their own kind
of terror in the air
they lowered to our windows, watchful,
tuning the wrecked sky
back to stillness.



Nacelle and Turn

The windmills station the desert
as though they have come here
of their own accord.

Sentience or
indifference, they vessel
and crank what exactly

100 seasons in a field of quiet
the knowledge of machines
restive and spun,

silent noise of all that motion.
The desert’s question is always
what do you want to let go?

Blanch and scree, the vista scoured
clean and you can tumble
your guilt horse, darkest compass

across the playa rearview.
It will wear your leavings down to a howl.
I want to believe in many things—

health, justice, the moon—
but all that wind moving invisibly
it would carve itself

on the rocks if it could.
To see it gathering
circle circle circle,

is to see space flow
how inside the wind there is
something else moving,

I want to believe
that this is optimism,
alien world.



Wind under the Skin

house full of crickets, moon
slung low in the birches

good night the clock
with its one good eye

do not keep watch
over the tossing bed the

uncorked wine a wind
large as a country

roils up the coast
we will wake to hacked

palms and silence
the locked door

buckles         crickets
scatter the floor

like dropped coins   
how much

of the body is sail,
how much anchor?



In the House of Seals

              Ano Nuevo Lighthouse Ruins


Abandoned on its eroded jetty,
the Victorian is gutted by windbreak,
waves and the pale ash
of salt and plaster.
A clean wind howls up the spiral
stair, rattling the vacant dumbwaiter,
the picture window, walls
bleached in sheets of raw sun.
What keeper’s lantern once swung
the veranda to meet the shore-
tossed plot, what wrack
and beckon of Pacific tide
is now pilgrimage for elephant seals.
Given a home, they return
to the mecca of their kind
paddle into the blown out façade
to birth and die
in heaps of tender slack, skin
like buckled wallpaper.
Dear sitting rooms of milk and bone:
life keens starkly forward
while the dying nurse the dead.
Who knows what will become of us
receding behind white curtains
and what bright ruins might lean
from the pitch of night to shelter us?
To be so wanted
in the work of decay.
If given a home, I’ll take this home.
If given a soul, I’ll shepherd it
on the backs of seals
held in the bellows
of a graysound love.




Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three poetry collections: Little Spells, release in 2015 by New Issues Press; How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize, and a nomination for the Poets’ Prize; and Salt Memory. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, and a Hedgebrook residency, nonfiction appeared recently in The Washington Post, and poems have recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, American Poetry Review, The Awl, Cimarron Review, Crab Orchard, New American Writing, Puerto del Sol, Stirring, Thrush, and Verse Daily.

Photo of owl courtesy Pixabay. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.