POEM OF THE WEEK: The Things That Keep Us Here

Cone Door Detail


I wouldn’t call them dream times exactly,
those moments when the wind finds you
folding clothes or putting the milk away.
And all that was no longer is.

As if you stepped out from another life
you lived just moments ago. It’s the smell
of the closet or the strain in that sonata
you listened to yet never heard till now.
But it isn’t now anymore.

It could be that a man you know well
turns his head in conversation to look
at someone and you notice the curve
of his neck below his ear to where it slides
inside his sweatshirt.

It hurts to see the softness there. It’s not
longing because you aren’t thinking
about the future. For a moment
you’ve forgotten about that. You should be
in a movie but you aren’t. It’s just your life:

a piano note, a folded shirt, the stray black sock.

by Christine Hemp
from “That Fall,” Finishing Line Press

IMAGE: Marvin Cone, “Appointed Room,” 1940 oil on canvas (detail)

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: My Father Turns Seventy

Peter Hemp 70


October 20, 1997

If the years suddenly went flat, maybe
I could look behind me, see his tall figure
striding through hotel lobbies, plush carpets,
and chandeliers, while bellmen nod hello.
The tinkle of martinis on the rocks. Sunsets
in Moscow, Singapore, the lagoon at Waikiki.

If time were strangely made to turn round
maybe the moments I keep inside would circle
back. Our bike trip on a foggy morning.
The Snake Road gravel sticking to the tires.
We couldn’t see the Sound, but we heard
the foghorn and its muffled echo moaning.

Maybe if the past were shaped into a square
I’d see what he has left along the way. He was only
thirty-five that day chunks of alder fell
from his chainsaw screaming at the woodpile.
He almost lost a finger, but just a bloody square
of thumbnail dropped with the stubborn wood.

Or if the years fell diagonally
I’d see down the middle of the X he drew across
the U.S. map and drove it. I might discover
what he was looking for in Three Forks, Lincoln,
Selma, and Key West. A man obsessed with lines
that intersect. Meriwether Lewis in a Ford.

My father finds the benchmark, the apex, where
past and present meet. Like summits reached —
Rainier, St. Helens, Baker, Hood, and Whitehorse —
he holds both journey and arrival. I think that he
suspects he also carries in his pack the pitch
of my affections. The scale, I have kept.

Now he draws in contour the shape of what’s before him:
Utter wilderness. Olympic peaks look more like him.
They wear the mantle of having been there, no less noble
for the storms or being blinded by the clouds.
What my father doesn’t know is how his imaginary lines
have marked my own map in the making,
a colored web of love.

by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: photograph of Peter Hemp

Poems and Ponderings




My father told us never to look
at the dead animals along the road.
Our Ford sped past the stiff
fuzzy guts, sometimes freshly spilled.

It was out of respect. He said
the same about burned-out houses,
their black windows unblinking.
I wished he’d stop, though, so

I could walk back along the gravelly
shoulder, bend and touch the
crushed legs of a dog or stroke
the small face of a raccoon. Bodies

frozen, their innards like garter snakes
flattened into S-curves on the road.
I wanted to find what was missing,
what had called this carcass home.

–Christine Hemp
from Mañana Magazine

IMAGE:The Enchanted Forest: Marc Chagall’s model for the curtain in the first act of “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky, 1945, collage on paper.

Poems and Ponderings


Giotto UltraViolet 2


I close my eyes
the light that was
against my lids.

by Christine Hemp
from “Looking For Your Name”         (Orchard Press)

IMAGE: Giotto, Detail from fresco in Peruzzi Chapel, Florence., c. 1320
(viewed with ultraviolet light)


Dedicated to generous, gregarious friend and neighbor, Aline Martin, who just left the planet–after 95 years. Buon viaggio, Aline. Safe journey.

Poems and Ponderings


Tunneling 3

by Christine Hemp

I have found my way down.
Feverish, muddled, I dig
deep through loam and stone.
I jam my bleeding fingers
behind stuck rocks,
my nose dirty, the darkness close.

Burrowing deeper I feel
the earth breathing, her flesh
old pebbles, algae, rotted trunk.
Inside her I can breathe.
Rise and fall, rise and fall.
Even the hands of moles move with her.

Secret springs pulse
to the beat of blood and lung.
I press against the damp cool dark,
far from glare and sounds
of feet and talk.

My eyes grow larger now, burning
wide as miners’ lamps. From every
crack and cleft a tiny rivulet
of sand spills in my path.
It’s deeper

down from here on in: to find
that hidden root, a living course,
the buried seam that joins all things.

IMAGE: photograph by Christine Hemp

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: On Getting Married


O'Keefe Clam Shell

For the First Time at 49

by Christine Hemp

I expected long silences and morning breath.
A lingering, tepid cup of coffee. The long
road to death where mortgage and the box
of Wheat Chex chalked out the lines of day.
I expected long silences and mourning. Breath

of someone named “Woman: Married,” expecting
nightmares of altars and the wrong man standing
there. Rings had nothing to do with me. The dreaded
dormitory of the damned. Those girls had given in,
I expected. Long silences stretching. Morning breath

Expecting silence. A sad and empty breath.
And what of those other men? The curves of their
necks disappearing into the soft grey collars
of their sweatshirts? I wanted them all. I don’t know
what I expected, but they fall silent in my morning.

I expected long silences and morning breath.
I wouldn’t acclimate, I thought, couldn’t breathe.
Now, oh — what scents I’ve come to know
and inhale. Where’s the resignation, the impassive face
I expected? Your long silence is the very breath
of morning.

Image: Georgia O’Keefe  Clam Shell 1930. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches 

Poems and Ponderings


Claes Oldenburg1992  Lithograph  Soft Saxophone detail

Debussy called it that
aquatic instrument.
Here on the very edge

of a continent, the Pacific
pulls down the sun, and
I hear one reed singing.

Brass keys walk the curve
like a wave, and the moaning
makes me want to come

to you, blow across the
states to find those notes
spilling from your horn.

So sue me. What do I know?
Just that a wild riff came
spiraling through the cord

of my green phone,
and for a moment I heard
the Atlantic scale of you.

–Christine Hemp (originally appeared in The Maine Times)
Image: Claes Oldenburg “Soft Sax” (detail) 1992 Lithograph

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: The Animal Handler

Full Moon Bud Sept 7

The Animal Handler

At night when the animal handler takes off his clothes
he smells of lions’ fur and zebra breath.
He washes his hands and the water curves
around them like the tails of the horses who canter
round and round the ring for him every day.
He can still feel the paw of the panda who dances
with chairs and tables as if he were born to balance.
The animals know that one gesture, one word,
can free them from the chaos of movement without form.

When he is alone in the dark, the animal handler
whispers, waiting to hear a hoofbeat.
She stamps and he wakes. He calls to her.
His eyes are shadows, blades of grass.
He watches her hocks, the swish of her yellow mane,
the arc of everything coming. His flanks shine.
Now he is moving with the waves of her tail and withers.
The wind whirls around the curtains.
He wants her to leap through his rings of fire.
But he stops.

The plaintive call of the elephant dam. The bear’s low rumble.
Softly he strokes the shapely ear; he kisses the eyelid,
and pulls on his clothes. Panthers and tapirs are calling him                                                   out of his bed.  The whites of their eyes are like moons in the night.

–Christine Hemp

Image: photograph by Christine Hemp

Poems and Ponderings





















Even in the dampened folds of my handkerchief
the cutting took hold,
its tendrils clinging to the cotton cloth.
My pocket breathed.

Though I left the forest the way I’d come,
things had changed: salmon berries dripped
their pinky-orange beyond the bush;
rhododendrons bloomed so white I had to look away.

My leg brushed a fern,
I recognized the whisper I thought I had
forgotten long ago.
Fir needles sang beneath my feet.

Cedar bark and fungus scent followed me
down the path to home.
I knew mosquitoes watched me leave.
Inside my shirt the cutting moved.

I planted the shoot in a clay pot and left it
in my living room; I shut the door behind me.
After several days I woke to the song of the thrush
and I could hear the ticking

Of flickers’ beaks against the wood. Strange smells
seeped out from under the door. Skunk cabbage and scat.
Little beards of moss were pushing through the keyhole.
I began to hear the rain.

–Christine Hemp

originally published in Explorations,
University of Alaska Southeast 
IMAGE: photograph by Christine Hemp

So it’s Labor Day weekend. The swallows’ departure and the arrival of the flying red ants tell us that summer is over. New lunchboxes, a set of Crayolas, and tight shoes replace inner tubes, tree camps, and bicycles. This week’s poem is for all children (young and old) who hate to leave summer behind…


Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: Contraries


Ohlke Detail


Yesterday, for instance, on the lake
we saw two otters slip out and wrestle on the rocks.
Their slick joy carried the August day. Until
someone pointed. A merganser spun

through the reeds, flapping madly at the air,
unable to lift and leave its pain behind.
Riding out this evening, the sunset
molten clay, the lake dented

with waves, I thought, How can ecstasy
and sorrow stand side-by-side in my heart? Love
and fear hot as evening clouds. The spillway
holds them both. Why this boundary

of flesh? We landed on an island. Green lichen
fuzzed the rocks. We ate June berries and John said,
“It’s a pome!!” as he dropped one in his mouth. I nodded
“yes!” thinking he’d said “poem.” “A fruit —

but not a fruit,” he said and smacked his lips.
The world shifted again.
Ojibways call them Spirit Trees, the pines that grow
straight out of rock. Bad luck to cut one down.

They thrive on air and barren ground, yet stretch
their arms across the water, blessing everyone
who passes. We brushed up next to one, then
toppled in the boat, and roared across the choppy lake.

A rainbow hugged the islands and I prayed
that I would get to grow and not be felled
by storms or someone’s careless hand, that I could be
a pine making its living out of stone.

–Christine Hemp

Image: Katie Ohlke, Detail: Day Trip from Artists Camp


Poems and Ponderings