Jeanne Wagner – Four Poems


Three Reasons Why I Want to Join the Cloud Appreciation Society


I need to study the tenuous bodies,
their flocculent shapes floating like suds,
when I’m forlorn,
steeped in gray bathwater going tepid,
when it’s been too long a soak and I lie there,
legs and torso growing ponderous,
and I hear the bulky limbs of the black oak
scrape against the eaves,
telling me gravity’s an uncongenial thing.


I forgot to school myself in the nature of fog,
of vapor and mist,
the recycled breath of rivers and seas
ghosting back into sky,
a sky yesterday so darkly pearlescent it pressed
against the harbor.
Even the herons just stood there,
wrong-footed, like me,
unable to decide whether to stay or leave.


I need to be reminded how to love
the transient world again.
This evening we looked out the window,
trying to describe the clouds
and failing,
the bundled light they carried in their bellies
so brilliant, all I could think of was
red sky at night, a sailors’ delight.


The Bee-Bride

Pregnant woman covers her tummy with live bees.

In a dress of bridal-white tulle,
with a crown
of twined buds in her hair,

she makes a strange vestal, inviting
the gods
to come down from the air

and spread across her lap: a pelt  
of brindle
bees smothering her belly’s mound

with an eerie hum, the sound
of a live
electric wire; a welter of furred

molecules crooning to a child
as a pupa inside her womb.

In her hand she holds a small box:
the new queen
with her brazen pheromones.

She lures the bees, brings them down
the way Leda
brought down that avid old swan

with his savage love. If these are gods,
they’re so light
she can welcome their tame assault,

full of honey and hurt, not even flinch
when all that life
embraces her skin with its alien skin.


I Need a Man to Water
              from an ad in the local paper
I’ve found the perfect place to put him, a nook in
the corner of the garden where the morning sun

gropes the new grass, and where later one long branch
will slip its green shade over the border where I can

peg his body into the ground like a candle in its holder.
First I’ll settle his feet into the soft loam, tamp it down

with a brisk thwop from back of my shovel, then bend
over his beseeching mouth, pouring from the spout

of my beaten-copper watering can. I’ll nurture him,
snip away his leafy excesses. When he blooms at last,

I’ll place him in my best raku vase. Afterwards, petals
will be shed like tears. Annuals only need apply.


Clover Hunting

Our backs on the grass, we fall into sky;
my aunt pinches clover between her fingers,
counts leaves to find four because I am four,
told four is a magic number, my eyes
soar dizzily upward while the rest of
my body lies on the soft summer lawn.

they call it, like sword, sward from the Old
English meaning skin, from Friesian meaning
scalp. Sword for small blades that tingle my thin
legs, for the way my aunt drizzles leaves, lets
them play around my face, sun crimsoning
my lids as we lie on our backs and drown

in the sky; the afternoon seeping away, my
golden hair, like the grass, beginning to brown.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

A couple of decades ago, when I took my first night class in poetry at the local high school, the teacher asked the students to list what they looked for in a poem. At the end of the list, I raised my hand and asked, feeling I was probably revealing myself as a poetry-bumpkin, What about beauty? Everybody looked a little embarrassed. Didn’t I know that the days of skylarks and cloudy climes were past? I’m still an unabashed advocate for beauty in poetry. The beauty of sound and well-crafted images, the resonance of the natural world. The only thing to apologize for is not being thorough and expansive enough in our search for it.


Winner of the 2016 Sow’s Ear Chapbook Prize and the 2015 Arts & Letters Award, judged by Stephen Dunn, Jeanne Wagner’s poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Alaska Quarterly, Shenandoah and Southern Review. She is the author of four chapbooks and two full-length collections: The Zen-Piano Mover, winner of the 2004 Stevens Manuscript Prize and In the Body of Our Lives, published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2011.