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Sample Poems by Carol Westberg
Fear of Flying
In our house pots sprouted wings,
flew swiftly after sharp words,
and kept on flying for days
after anyone forgot what set her off.
Was it the cat’s paws
on the dining table? Knives
placed with blades facing the wrong way?
At the piano I sent my fingers flying.
For those hours music took over,
became refuge, proof of passion
and of tenderness.
After lessons I drove the back roads home
to practice, practice,
as if practice might prove my worth.
A gull sails on an updraft, keens
over the farmhouse a thousand miles inland.
The family crest rots slowly in the basement
where our father has forgotten it,
and our mother wills its damp demise.
Land-bound, we slide on in our lifelong roles:
matriarch, peacemaker, fuckup, scapegoat, clown.
In our house dreams flew under the radar.
I flew only at nighttime, alone,
thin arms outstretched.
By day I wondered what a flock might feel like—
each riding another’s slipstream,
some taking turns at the lead.
I played a girl in starched checks
who finds the apron won’t come off.
All her days braided
just so. Good girl, good dog.
I’ll give you this for that, love—
my hand for your approval.
Good as gold. And what
will you give me for Kansas?
In the mirror, a stranger’s smile
coils in the young woman’s lips.
She is inventing a new person,
good as her own.
Not Getting There
To either side, heat wavers
across the fields, skimming tops of wheat
just beginning to flower. Farther on,
morning glories choke the corn
and white grubs turn unseen at the root.
In this season, you can lose
children deep in the two-mile rows.
Early evening, I stop my truck
by our north field, step out,
and lie down in the thick border grass
in the sweet seedy heat
with summer humming. High above
Taurus keeps his head down
as he crosses the sky,
slow and powerful in his dumb resolve.
Mother brought dried blossoms, burnt-
orange corollas for my wedding day.
I know she found them in the high fields
she once despised, trimmed
the woody stalks with her own thin hands,
tied them as a kind of devotion.
Three hours before the ceremony
she took me aside and said,
You just don’t seem to be in love.
Metal bands tight in my chest, I protested.
Fireweed, cotton grass, iris, wild rose.
I can now imagine her despair—a city girl
married at 19, taken north after the war,
and stranded at the end of a quarter-mile lane.
How could she not grow bitter
as the nights closed down around her
and a husband who did not speak?
Sweet daughters, do not judge too harshly
how we fail. For years I could not speak
of what I missed. Call it sleep-
walking or blind devotion to the flat
path I chose. Call it a release
to admit love does not call us all in kind.
My daughters walk the rocky lane
with black oaks arching over
the place they call home. They gather
what grows within reach and catches their eyes.
Aster, coreopsis, twisting bittersweet.
Never an even scale, what he wants
level with what she wants.
He turns in the flannel sheets, feigns
sleep, hopes she will not speak
as she slips in beside him, not
press her cool length against his back.
He reaches for sleep, for the other side
where a conscious self won’t intervene.
He doesn’t want to open his eyes to find
whatever he does won’t be enough.
Electrons flow across space, particles
with mass and weight, barely visible,
elusive as the scope of each one’s need.
Still Life of the Stream
Deep winter, walking the frozen stream
ridged like a windswept dune,
I think of the child who embraced me
at the door—fools both, sure of return.
Sure as ice, as this robed choir weeping
over tree roots, their tears arrested
mid-fall. On past a stretch of shattered ice,
I pause to catch the stream’s low clamor.
Under this fixed translucence,
air rides the living stream. Shadows
pressed thin, imprisoned till thaw.
What’s underneath moves on.
The sauce pools deeper
in one side of the pan.
Don’t blame the stove.
Our floor’s on a geologic roll.
The whole house pitches
like a boat. Stair pulls free
from baseboard, speeds downhill,
abandoning ground floor.
I steal a triangle
from our child’s wooden blocks,
shove it under to prop
the basement door open.
I wake in the dark
from a dream that our house sinks
toward a river of molten rock
as inside the red-white magma rises.