Janette Schafer – Four Poems


The Monkey-girl

The spindly fingers skim then push
their way into the folds of hair.
The knobby knuckles rise and fall
beneath the seascape waves of black.

The gesture seems to be what’s left of her;
the voiceless hands advance and then retreat,
the tendrils cling uprooted to the scalp,
taking mad revenge upon the fragile head.



How is an absent father found
in a platter of steamed rice?
He is found in glistening shrimp
washed in egg white, puffed
and proud.  He is found
in the slow burn of chorizo
catching at the back
of the soft palate.  He is in
the sweet yellow of saffron
clutching the grain of white.
He is in the translucent onion
and tender green peas, shimmering
in olive oil.  He is shoveled
forkful by forkful into
the hungry mouth until naught
remains but a fullness
that is too soon to leave.


Red Glass Cat
in response to Matthew Ussia

I look at the red cat—
eyes full of glass,
unseeing—on the mantle.
The house is gone now,
belongings heaped in
cardboard boxes or piles of trash.

My grandmother would call this
a bric-a-brac or what-not.
Somewhere in the neighborhood
in a tree above my head,
a feral feline yowls
a complaining defense.

The figurine rests in my palm
heavy with ache and nostalgia.
I lower my face to kiss
the glass ears as if
the thing were alive.

I could keep it—
toss in a drawer,
display on a shelf somewhere
in our new place
where it would never belong.

The heft of the glass
gives respite, but now is not the time
to find comfort in a bauble.
I heave the cat into the air,
shatter it against a dying
sycamore, older than the house being taken,
older still than the street where you live.


Stories we never tell

There is no lie in telling stories,
honing the ending into the desired form
like an expert carver with a sharp blade.
This is the way of lovers and the Irish.
In this tale, they are happy
nesting together in the aftermath
of late afternoon’s lovemaking,
spent and hazy from the day.
They touch and tousle as
dinner is made, hair expertly
tangled, lips lightly bruised
from the mashing mayhem of kisses.
The meal is as sumptuous as they are;
the food is a second feast, almost
bringing them to full.  There is
so much touching, tasting,
that it carries into the family room
where they sit very close as the
television makes noise that goes unnoticed
and a sitcom flickers on uncovered skin.
This is as the day should be
and there is no lie in that.
They pant and heave in a darkened room
interrupted by the ticking of a woman’s watch.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

I don’t always know what beauty looks like, but I do know what it feels like.  It’s the swelling in my chest, the unexpected holding of my breath, the attention I hold in my eyes and my spine, the whisper and shimmer of the divine on my skin.  It inspires, challenges, disrupts.  It holds you hostage and then sets you free.  


Janette Schafer is a poet, playwright, and opera singer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a 2017 Maenad Fellowship winner in creative writing through Chatham University. She was a 2015 Arts MODE Fellowship awardee in playwriting through New Sun Rising LLC, the resulting theatrical work “northeastsouthwest” winning the 2016 Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. Upcoming and recent publications include: Red Eft Review, Eyedrum Periodically, The Woman Inc., Zany Zygote Review, and Chatham University broadsides.