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Sample Poems by Judy Rowe Michaels


Climbing Eagle Crag
for my parents

If I went alone to a grave,
took leave, year after year, with a single
flower–would loss grow clear

that way, distilled sharp as names
in stone? They chose ashes
flung in air. Each summer now, we four–

uneasy but together– climb for hours
along a brook, through hemlock,
over granite and blueberry, to find

the edge where each of us can feel
singly. Dread? Hurt?
Desire? Fear of saying nothing

or too much. Years ago
we learned the sharp, clear cry
that brings your own voice back to you

from the air. You had to be
shameless, high-pitched, sure
of getting a return. For just that moment

concentrated as rock,
surrounded but alone, I could
make distance speak.


Last Visit

I recognize the man on the other end
of the leash. We all three
get off at the cancer floor and I know
whose love has summoned this dog.
I’ve seen his picture in her room here
and on the wall a calendar
of Bernese Mountain dogs, strong for work
or love. I’ve read about him in her poems,
the puppy meant to be her sick boy’s
friend, who at Sam’s death walked the fields
with her. Who came to know
a hand’s unsteadiness on the leash.
His fur must have caught and held her tears
like Sam’s soft flannel quilt.

The dog is led away into a darkened room
where last things now are first.
The family’s gathered, so I stay outside.
Perhaps someone will lift her hand
and bury it in the familiar coat–
so beautiful, the black and brown and white
separate but blended, and the wet, black nose
that used to point her home.


At Home

His watercolors cover the walls.
She says, “It wasn’t a nice death.”
The winter sky bleeds gray to lavender.
Some days the earth’s a hospital.

She says it wasn’t a nice death.
She lets me choose a watercolor.
Some days the earth’s a hospital.
Dream right, and snow freezes the ground.

She lets me choose a watercolor:
Pines and shore seem to float.
Dream right, and snow freezes the ground.
I have what he died of.

Pines and shore seem to float,
he left the very bottom white.
I have what he died of.
He chose to come home.