Susan Terris


Susan Terris’ most recent books are Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press) and Memos (Omnidawn). She is the author of six poetry books, fifteen chapbooks, and three artist's books.  Journal publications include The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, Volt,Blackbird Online, PoetryMagzine.com,diode, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers from Field appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI.  She's editor of Spillway Magazine. A poem from Memos appears in Best American Poetry 2015. Her next book Take Two: Film Studies will be published by Omnidawn in 2017. www.susanterris.com


Clean-Up Man
In his binoculars, the man thought he saw a circling
of eagles, but  I saw turkey vultures.
Something nearby was dead. Eat or be eaten. Once
in Bostwana, we watched a pride scrabbling in
a buffalo carcass as the lion and his mate, sated
yet alert for vultures or hyena, lay nearby.
This man, to his pride known as the garbage-man
or clean-up man, scavenged left-over food from all
our plates. Now appetite and senses dulled, he eats less,
forgets waste, dead meat, the words for vulture,
hawk, osprey. When he scans the sky with binoculars,
the only name that remains is eagle, the eagle. . . .
Flamingo Dream
Pink vision with knob-stick legs and bat-wing
feet: listen—the man in the moon can
see your neon flash even through
cloud. Parchment beak, feathered down,
a careful adagio of time, you tell me
a story of white lilies and blue-green
algae, of winter and summer's hard sting.
In your eyes, both the blink of dawn
and ember of last light. There poised
on one foot, a shred of desire—
windsong, furrowed water,
tropical warp, and a slow stuttered rapture.
Ice Bear Dream
What does it mean to have inky skin, guard hairs,
and glassy needles of fur that trick
the eye into seeing white, when there is none?
You are a cunning boar, sometimes crashing, yet
still graceful as you move from place to place.
Polar creature, Arctic heart, you seem to revel in
your accidental beauty. Keen of sight and smell
and touch. Patient enough to wait, then wait
longer for what you want most. Merciless with the
weak and always hunting. It’s all about the hunt.
The catch satisfies only briefly as does the ice cave
where we sometimes lie in raw embrace.
Cherrywood Dreams
Who has it? The four poster cherrywood crib now
considerd unsafe. Meant for newborns and brought
from the old country. Her sister maybe? She
remembers lifting this bobble-headed infant sister
from it, dangling and dancing the child, then sneaking
her back before discovery and consequences.
She remembers, later, the rough collie, legs poling
through its bars, as her doctor uncle hung an IV
from one knobbed post and tried to save the dog
fed strychnine-laced meat by the mafioso neighbor.
Dead dog. Dead mother and so many who once
lay swaddled there before old enough to walk into
wilderness. On this crib, each round knob: a bead
for someone’s beginning. Though painted white
for generations, it’s stripped again and lightly-oiled.
Cradle to Mt. Sinai stone and then to cradle again.
An outmoded item. But test it. If you, Baby, can spend
a few months in this antique, maybe you’ll flourish.
Yes, you the yet-unborn—all these beads count.
May this old crib offer you wild and unsafe dreams.
A Girl Named Joy
This is not a fairy tale: They said her name
was a joke, that she was ugly, fat, bug-eyed,
had poodle hair and dragon teeth.
Said she walked like a duck, and no one
had a grandmother named Pussy.
They were twelve. Their teeth were straight.
They flicked long, straight hair off
their faces. Their mothers thought they
were in the bathroom brushing their hair,
but they were sharpening their tongues.
So Joy fasted, wore braces, unkinked
her hair. She took ballet and wore contacts.
Then they said she was a copy-cat duck
who’d studied ballet. They said she
had Pussy, and they’d never be her friend.
She might have hung herself, but she didn’t.
Instead, she grew, married, grieved
when Pussy died, had children. And to
make sure her story had a fairy tale ending,
she wrote about those girls. . . .


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