POETRY MONDAY: March 6, 2017

Judy Rowe Michaels

The happy poet you see pictured here, hygge (cozy), as the Danes would say, with a cat on her lap absorbed in a book of poems from WordTech Editions, is a founding member of the poetry critique and performance group, “Cool Women” and a poet for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in New Jersey. A six-time cancer survivor, she also gives talks on ovarian cancer for “Survivors Teaching Students,” a program in over one hundred medical schools throughout the United States.

She has published three full-length poetry collections: The Forest of Wild Hands (University Press of Florida); Reviewing the Skull (WordTech Editions) and a chapbook, Ghost Notes (Finishing Line Press), as well as three books on teaching writing, most recently Catching Tigers in Red Weather (National Council of Teachers of English Press). A MacDowell Colony Fellow, she has held two poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Arts Council and in 2015 won the New Jersey Poets Prize.

We’re pleased today to share three fine poems by Judy Rowe Michaels. “Saint Luke’ s Garden, Hudson Street” is from Reviewing the Skull; “This Morning I Wanted to Tell You” is from Ghost Notes . The third poem, “They’re Taking Your Music” is published here for the first time.

                                           –Irene Willis
                                              Poetry Editor


Saint Luke’s Garden, Hudson Street

The wind plays April here.
Bells and songbirds, all sway, all
open mouths, fling down glory
that cracks the earth, stirs
sun breath to slip between
these brick walls and nest
in magnolia virginiana, heart
of our contemplation. Praise
the silver underside of its leaves.

Who’s here to learn nesting?
That sparrow tugs a clump of pale grass
twice his size, stiff relic of winter,
another pecks string off some rose canes,
and over there a wren plucks
at her own breast.

We five or six strangers,
each having found a half-concealed
bench, are silent. Maybe woolgathering,
lost in the anthem, heedless
of the offering plate.

Or kneeling inwardly
in silent cry. My body’s a nest
for cancer. Green, green, flows around me.
Beaks open, and the wind shows silver.
Tomorrow’s surgery will pluck
and bleed me of cells that spring
called back, that something in me
wanted just as much as these creamy blossoms
want light. Some green bell tolled and woke
what I thought dead.

I’m here
to learn all over what to ask for.
April floods the ear, confuses
breathing, but I know
this garden’s mine, an hour’s train ride
into city miracle of pomegranate,
fig, rosemary, walled by a church
two hundred years ago. All praise,
miracle of pawpaw, of Asian Pear,
fleur-de-lis, Cedar of Lebanon,
and rose bracteata, “the mermaid.”
Lists are steadying, but laude
Harrows the whole mouth, delicate touch
of tongue back to the painful
throat howl. Wall and wind
muffle the traffic here. Tomorrow
I’ll be on a highway south,
then flat out loss, no time,
no breath, no mind.

How can we live
closed and open? Tradition says
look to the sparrow.
Tug, crack, fling,
I pray my shell and core,
petal and fuse. Tell me the moment
the mix is right. Whoever I am then
will squat down in herself and turn
and turn, shaping the nest again.

From Reviewing the Skull (WordTech Editions, 2010) by Judy Rowe Michaels


This Morning I Wanted to Tell You

that when Chekhov died and his body
was shipped to Moscow, he was packed in
ice in a refrigerated car marked

Oysters. You would have wanted
to know this—over coffee, a dark roast,
and English muffins leaking jam

from their irregular holes.
How do I know? About you
or Chekhov? Both gone. The oysters

are footnotes to a book resurrected
from another book, old news, from
the German spa to Moscow to Portland

to a flicker of light in my head that’s
forty-three years of reading
you and reading with you,

and the absurd script that is
death (an entire railway car
devoted to oysters?). This morning,

so much I wanted to tell you—
and then a slow shower
of leaves
from the paper birch

from Ghost Notes by Judy Rowe Michaels, Finishing Line Press, 2015


They’re Taking Your Music

I okayed Coltrane, Sun Ra, Mahler, Andean bombo and those big guitars you said were made from shells of—what?—armadillos. There go Dylan, Ringo and his pals, supreme Diana, Bach and Bird, cloud chamber bowls of Harry Partch’s “Petals Fell on Petaluma.” Three thousand discs stopped spinning when you died.

Music takes strange turns. I was the player, you the listener. But you heard more and deeper. It was always playing in your mind.

Front door’s propped open, letting in the February cold, cat’s under the comforter. And I shiver. Two men from your favorite store descend our crazy stairwell with its endless horizontal crack that won’t spackle. Some nights I still dream the second floor, all yours, caves in, splits off, comes crashing down on my head. How many tons of vinyl?

The movers stagger under all this pent-up sound. I want to grab a disc and set it playing, harsh or sweet. Hold back the tides of empty.



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