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Sample Poems by Kathleen McCoy


Listening to Leaves

Every hour it strikes me. Unmoved,
the tower clock grinds on,
encircles its stony course, monument

to Ixion, black bones chiming.
An odyssey of sorts is crystallized
as if a couple thousand years of evolution

were compressed into a nut and dropped
at the feet of passers-by, glad
at the sound of its own bursting,

the pattern of a natural motion
soaked in the present tense as shining
Westminster whiteness chimes,

shattering on earth and air.
This is still the mystery: how
all things spin together, dig, poke,

arch their way to relevance riding
a minor mode. We are listening to leaves
as though we were united in their turning.



The Slim Ridge

Along the slim ridge that divides
time from timelessness,
a newborn foal rises, cross-
legged, collapses and rises again
to fall again and again until,
unstopped by fear or thought
of failure, he pulls himself upright
by sheer belief in uprightness:

no transcendence, no heady
levitation over wracking waters, yet
stillness and movement congeal,
diffused light fiery
as anchored sprouts of maple leaves.


Dessert at Malachi’s

The busboy-waiter-conjurer of desserts
turns an orange into a coiled serpent,
igniting it with high-proof rum and ah,

instead of a rabbit, pulls up from the tray
the spiral flame that was
its sloughed-off skin—

see how he revels in the power
of tortured fruit. He tugs at his collar
with a revealing shiver of sweat—

the I that he appears to be
is way too small for him;
his impurities ignite, refined in flame;

his mask of platitudes curls into itself
like the corners of a flaming peel
and the brandied tarts become him.


A Dream of Plath Reading

Darkness rumbles in the dank room
as Sylvia rises to read for Ted and Nick;
Frieda’s fingers knot themselves
at the quiet desperation of her low,

strong voice. Sylvia's words wear the colors
of gaudy talismans from the nostalgia shop
she frequents on her diurnal trek
between heaven and hell. I expect

knives slinging at the air or
at us, but instead there is a keen
peal of words, a mesmerizing
water music, and

she takes me by the hand as she
lures us into the ocean’s deep:
even in the water
she burns to whiteness.