Penelope Scambly Schott – Two Poems


My Box of Stars

Sometimes I am the brother who flies
with one swan wing,

my crooked flight path leaving crooked

When I was that nymph turned to wood,
my only voice

was the caw of the crow from my topmost

Crow said,

There was one night I loved you.
Keep that night in your box of stars.

Even a dung beetle can navigate
by the light of the Milky Way

but I cannot.
Although I am still trying

to hatch pearls
in the hot curl of my tongue.

The Details

The fervor with which I can love them
The almost invisible lizard sunning on the rock pile
The head-tilt of my white dog
The doe my dog just chased over the barbed wire fence
The doe’s rotating ears as she leapt
Tide wire twists along the fence and the softer twists
of my daughter’s curls
Hairless ears of a young soldier I’ve never met
as he crouches behind a bombed wall
thinking of his baby brother
Not least the Jesus bug who makes this line
of tiny hummocks and indents
upon the water


Author’s Statement on Beauty

A rose is pretty. We admire the velvet petals as they embrace each other. We touch it or smell it. A rose in the snow is prettier because we see warmth in the cold. A final rose tossed into the still-open grave of your beloved dog is most beautiful because you see life and death and the rose contains your love and loss.

I am talking about context and surprise. When we see what we expect, blooming roses all through the rose garden, we are seeing what we went there to see. When we come upon one blooming rose at the unkempt edge of the ruined house, we are startled. We are held by beauty and lost possibilities. Maybe we become wistful as we think about the hopes of the person who planted that rose. Maybe we think about our own hopes, those that will be fulfilled and those that may not.

An artificial rose, whether made of plastic or rubies, will never wilt. It doesn’t contain its own inevitable change. Baby pictures compel us because most of us don’t stay a baby for very long. We can almost understand the odd Victorian fixation with pictures of dead babies. All the promise is both stopped and forever preserved.

Whether we admire roses or sunsets or a beautiful young girl, we speak of something that cannot last. When we look at an old masterpiece in a museum, part of the wonder is that the painting still exists and that across time we are privileged to see it. And one more thing: much of what makes beauty so sharp in the moment is how the memory of that beauty will fade or, if we are lucky enough, how it may inhabit us for the rest of our lives.

Penelope Scambly Schott’s verse biography A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth won an Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Her most recent book is How I Became an Historian. She lives in Portland and Dufur, Oregon where she teaches an annual poetry workshop. More at: