Maryann Corbett – Three Poems



Saint Paul, Minnesota, close to the Mississippi

My life is so placid now, the children grown–
those most important gadflies against rules–
that I slip smoothly into the offered niches
of city order, and the comforting rhythms
of bus routes regular as villanelles,
of street lamps blinking on in unison,
of traffic lights that work, of water and sewer
dependable below the horizon of thought.

So deep my trust in all rule-governed things
that when the unruled world intrudes on me
I come unmoored. A squirrel in the house
reduces me to panicked tears; raccoons
up from the river, gnawing the trashcan lids,
are matches to the fuse of reasonless anger.
A lone bat in the attic flaps my nerves.
The mouse in the basement, the bird in the chimney flue,
who only wanted shelter from the cold—
rattled, I deal with them as best I can.

Yet the same freedom that rattles can astonish:
What seemed to be a cat, impossibly high
up in the branches of a naked elm
surrounded by a rioting mob of crows
united in a raucous disapproval—
so loud it pulled me from the quiet house—
suddenly grew great wings and glided away
with the slow dignity of the owl it was.

Or lifting my eyes just at the graced moment
in which an egret or, once, a great blue heron
passed through the little postage stamp of airspace
over our fenced-in rectangle of yard.

All my life, I’ve read the poets and mystics
who pound the point: it’s openness to gifts
that makes them possible, and discipline
is all very well, but not like mystery,

whose rules are not my rules. I may yet learn.
The squirrels will still eat the tulip bulbs,
the children call for money and be home
irregularly on some holidays.



The ticking cricket
who counted down my night’s time
has just gone silent:

I am a held breath.
Long practice with foreboding
prods me broad awake,

clench-fisted. Has dawn—
its light too faint yet to see—
settled his tolling?

Let me believe that.
Let me deny that God’s hand
let some small thing fall.


Against Clickbait

That quick, insidious link.
Think-free. So slick I click
on shtick. Or I hit like,
like everyone. Poof! Viral,
I spiral off, loll Lolcats,
huff Huffington, down Upworthy.

It’s mainlined junk. It’s sad. Unworthy,
this “Look at this!” and “Watch now!” linking,
these rolling .gifs of noirish cats
mewling bad French, who flip the click
guffaw—share—send it viral
idiot switch. And what’s it like

for drones who drum out come-on headlines like
You’ll gasp! ? What starts as mildly wonder-worthy
turns mushy-brained. Mere anarchy goes viral.
All passionate intensity, I link
the worst (wink wink, nudge nudge). I click and click:
Bieber and Brangelina, food porn, cats

in cups, or shamefaced dogs with signs, or cats
who ride Roombas or wear moustaches like
Hitler’s. What one weird trick will stop the clicking!?
Declare, O Muse: The news that stays newsworthy
is Leave the screen. Put down the phone. Unlink.
Dose the disease with full-strength antivirals,

nostrums to purge the scourge of clickbait’s noroviral
spew. Be healed of mourning over snaps of cats
long gone. Watch living morning glories blare in chain-linked
corkscrews, welkin blurred in rose and cobalt like
a Turner canvas. Scrape storm windows weather-worthy
in breeze abuzz with eighth-grade girlfriends’ giggling cliques.

Or write, and when the poem ends, incline an ear for the click
that snaps shut like a box. No hex, no antiretroviral,
will cure me of the bent world. I’ll bend into it—be worthy
of actual earth and air and neighbors, Rhys and Whyte and Katz.
Write notes with fountain pens, on deckled paper if I like.
Wear linen shirts with starched French cuffs and gaudy garnet cufflinks.

Step out, my high heels clicking walks. A postman tips his hat, exactly like
some high Victorian worthy. Cats at my ankles. Birdsong viral. Listen: bobolink.


Maryann Corbett (born Washington, D.C.) is an American poet, medievalist, and linguist. She grew up in northern Virginia. She did her undergraduate work at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graduated with a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Southwest Review, Barrow Street, Rattle, River Styx, Atlanta Review, The Evansville Review, Measure, Literary Imagination, The Dark Horse, Mezzo Cammin, Linebreak, Subtropics, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, The Poetry Foundation, The Writer’s Almanac, and many other venues in print and online, as well an assortment of anthologies. She has been a several-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, a finalist for the 2009 Morton Marr Prize, the 2010 Best of the Net anthology, and the 2011 Able Muse Book Prize, and a winner of the Lyric Memorial Award, the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, and the Richard Wilbur Award. Her third book, Mid Evil, is the Wilbur Award winner and has been published by the University of Evansville Press. She has worked as a writing teacher and indexer for the Minnesota Legislature. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. More at