POEM OF THE WEEK: Lorraine Troutman’s Roses


for Dr. Aimee Kohn

One season, between jobs and men, I potted
pansies, weeded beds for cash. The air
was cold, spring barely evident but for the odd
crocus and a stirring among the chickadees. Alone
at Adelma Beach with my shears and instructions
to prune all of Lorraine Troutman’s roses, I scanned
the garden heavy with alder leaves, soggy
clumps of grass, and sticks blown from winter gales
funneled down the Straits. Not a wrinkle on the bay.

The leggy roses sagged from months of wind.
I snipped the canes, finding pith among deadwood
stems, making cuts at least an inch below
unhealthy branches, sometimes even slicing off
a full and shapely bud, knowing that disease
could kill the bush if I didn’t sacrifice
parts of those pale pink ramblers, yellow climbers.

The sun peeked through the clouds and I stopped,
stepped back, took in the shape of what I’d done.
When I turned I caught the light glancing off
the surface of the bay and through the calm rose
a creature from the deep, blowing from its spout.
It blasted straight up until the whole of it, shining
in the sun, held the moment in that pose, all its heft
defying air and sea. It breathed. Then heaved itself—
with joy?— sideways on the water, its tail smacking
afterwards, an affirmation of its feat.

I saw no one to wave to, to point and say, “Did you
see that?!” But all morning as I worked my way
through thorns and vines, I kept the secret close,
sometimes looking back at the spot on the water
where the whale had shown me what power lies
beneath a quiet tide; what spouting streams
exhale like healing fonts right behind us
while we pare what needs to go, taking care of what is
good and whole in Lorraine Troutman’s roses.

–Christine Hemp
from The Examined Life Journal, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

IMAGE:  photograph: Breaching Humpback by Jon Cornforth

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: The Empty Tomb

Hank Graber photo  Anthony McCall Long Film for Four Projectors (1974) 1














Three nights before she was to dance
Saint-Saëns’ “The Dying Swan,” Anna Pavlova
drowned. (God comes on a dreadful tide.)
Her lungs filled with pneumonia’s pools
and she surrendered, saying, “Play that last
measure very softly,” then drew
her final breath. Russia refused to accept
that its perfect bird lay still. The dark
stage lay quiet – but they came, offered up
their tickets and settled in their seats.
The overture swelled, Anna’s entrance
to “The Swan” familiar as the dawn.

Waiting for those supple wings and feet
that floated just above the floor, the crowd
exhaled a collective “Oh!” when the spotlight
suddenly shone. On the stage a silent beam
followed her – or where her shapes had been.
The white disc slid across the boards
as the strings’ crescendo filled the hall. First
stage left, then stage right, the swan – their swan –
falling to her death in unobstructed view.

When the lamp found center stage, her solo
absence bloomed with each imagined pirouette,
each entrechat. The dance was nothing
and everything without her. And still,
as if at any moment she’d leap into that cone
of light— her feathers lifting slightly in the air—
the beam embraced her with the grace
of something good we’ve all once known.
When the finale comes, what then? they thought.
The music had to stop. And it did. A hush
the size of Russia. The light stood still.
Then, in a tidal wave they rose: A thousand
hands and hearts roaring for an empty stage.

by Christine Hemp

IMAGE: Anthony McCall, “Long Film for Four Projectors” Light Installation/Film, 1974
(photo by Hank Graber)

Poems and Ponderings




I open the door. Only an empty
egg carton, a dusting of Parmesan cheese
in a plastic container, an inch of red

wine left in a bottle, one wrinkled potato,
and a sticky puddle where the apple juice
leaked last month. Rorschach on glass.

No excuse now but to clean. Yellow-gloved
and determined, I scrub each shelf,
chucking the flaky onion skins stuck

to the crisper drawer. Surprising how
the shiny white, the polished void calms me.
A whiff of stringent bleach.

I close the door, glad to have prepared
a clean and spacious place for a new round
of sustenance. Absence making way for fruit.

–Christine Hemp                                                                                                                        IMAGE: French Skeleton Toile Rubber Gloves Milwaukee Art vs. Craft

Poems and Ponderings


Jugglers Dream Calder


Look at the juggler balancing time!
His hands intent on a touch, not a hold.
He knows suspension is his paradigm.

He throws up the terrible flames – watch them climb
in a circle of light like a big marigold.
Just look at that juggler balancing time!

Tossing his torches, mocking what’s tame,
he walks the tightrope in a ragged blindfold.
He knows suspension is his paradigm.

Round and round like a fanatical rhyme
he sends the world spinning—ah, numbers untold
see the juggler balancing. Time

and space are God’s ball and flame.
Flinging sun and moon to the vacuous cold,
he knows suspension is his paradigm.

But we all must be jugglers in pantomime,
hands ready to clutch, but brief touch is more bold
for us. And the juggler balancing time
Suspends! Suspense is his paradigm.

–Christine Hemp
   from  the Webster Review

IMAGE: “Juggler’s Dreams,” Alexander Calder, 1966; gouache and ink on paper
29 × 42 in

Poems and Ponderings


Fall of Icarus Matisse


It was his idea, this flying thing.
We collected feathers at night, stuffing
our pockets with mourning dove down. By day,
we’d weave and glue them with the wax
I stole after we’d shooed the bees away.

Oh, how it felt, finally, to blow off Crete
leaving a labyrinth of dead-ends:
my clumsiness with figures, father’s calm
impatience, cool logic, interminable devising.
The sea wind touched my face like balm.

He thought I’d tag along as usual,
in the wake of his careful scheme
bound by the string connecting father and son,
invisible thread I tried for years to untie.
I ached to be a good-for-something on my own.

I didn’t know I’d get drunk with the heat,
flying high, too much a son to return.
Poor Daedelus, his mouth an O below,
his hands outstretched to catch the rain
of wax. He still doesn’t know.

My wings fell, yes – I saw him hover
over the tiny splash – but by then I’d been
swallowed into love’s eye, the light I’ve come to see
as home, drowning in the yes, this swirling
white-hot where night will never find me.

And now when my father wakes
each morning, his bones still sore
from his one-time flight, his confidence undone
because the master plan fell through,
he rises to a light he never knew, his son.

by Christine Hemp

from Graven Images, A Journal of Law, Culture, and the Sacred;
and in XY Files: Poems of the Male Experience Anthology by Sherman Asher Press).

IMAGE: Henri Matisse “Icarus” 1943 guache on paper, cut-out

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: The Rain Rises

toby wild field














The mist rises from the pavement after rain.
The pavement rises, too, and says goodbye.
The toad goes nowhere till the rain raises him.
A hurricane wind strains the road’s undulations.
The terrain moves, changes as the rain rises.

After the rinsing rain, we can see the road
And ride its curves and follow it upward.
Look! The road is rising to the sky! And we
Are riding it like fools, like wise men
Who know only that they must go. We rise,

The mist turning into skirts, our legs white
Against the plain blue sky now showing
Through the clouds. Everything rises, finally,
Doesn’t it? All of us, wind-billowed and hazy,
Our bodies turned to mist inside the rain.

by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: Mark Tobey, “Wild Field” Tempera on board, 1959

Poems and Ponderings


Ezter Imres Must Produce collage 2



arrange our cups
and plates on the floor
in the shape
of a clock. Watch
time stand still.

by Christine Hemp

IMAGE:  Eszter Imre,    “Must Produce” series, Porcelain (2012)

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: At the National Gallery



A friend told me once (years ago) that someone
suggested she say, “Thank you, Jesus” for everything.
Snarled traffic. A cloudy day. Finding a penny

in the gutter. All were equal blessings.
She tried it out, an experiment in gratitude. Saying it
changed her life. Though she didn’t believe

in God (much less Jesus), “thank-you’s”
filled her days. Life was brighter. Good stuff happened. Later
she tapered off. Then forgot to do it. Red lights and rain

again turned into annoyances, she said.  Today
by chance I wander into the Dutch Masters. The guard
nods and I move toward Vermeer’s “Lady Writing.”

I’d forgotten her. It’s been years. Track lighting
illuminates the canvas, but it doesn’t hold a candle
to Vermeer’s yellow. The plushy coat, white ermine cuffs

and collar. The girl’s face turns out– distracted,
preoccupied. A pause mid-sentence. A letter to her lover?
Liquid brown eyes. High, soft forehead, full lips. Her earrings

glitter. The necklace on the desk is dabbed with dazzling
flecks from some unknown source. Involuntary words form
behind my lips like beaded light: “Thank you, Jesus.”

by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: Johannes Vermeer, “A Lady Writing” 1665 oil on canvas

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: Beetle Backs and Wings

Audobon Cropped














I grabbed a shirt and wrapped the giant
beetle in the cloth. I gently carried him
out to the dark. To the world of mosquitoes
and moths, his kind. When I dropped him

on the porch he paused, found his bearings,
then scrabbled toward a place I do not know:
The underworld of beetle holes,
shiny shells and leggy families crowding.

Every day the world is buzzing, crawling,
calling to a nest. The olive-sided flycatcher
offers her cadenza: “You COULD be!
You COULD be!” and I skate

along those notes, trying to fly
on sound as much as wing to be
inside her joy, her insistence without doubt.
She may eat the beetle, yes, but who says

that death is every time a failure?
What is this world anyway, when we finally slip
through that membrane which keeps us
from the dead? The flycatcher – can’t she be

there, too? And how could heaven not
contain both beetle and the bird? I have no use
for Elysium without the River Styx. Like the glossy
feathers of the hummingbird – not green at all,

merely a reflection of light’s emerald wavelength –
this world is false. Oh, but the sheen of it
(beetle backs and wings) keeps me
coming back for more.

by Christine Hemp
from “That Fall” (Finishing Line Press)

IMAGE: John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Olive sided Flycatcher. From “The Birds of America” (Amsterdam Edition)

Poems and Ponderings

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