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Sandra Kohler, four poems

Snapshot: Late Winter

In my garden, lichen patches

the color of palest jade stud

a brown-gray tree trunk,

each cluster a flower form

compounded of tiny petals

budding in the wintry light.

We’ve come out to the garden

with our small grandchildren,

who love snow, winter’s grasp,

a rigor at which we shudder.

The old are not like children,

children are not like the old.

The countries they live in

are equally distant islands off

the main coast of adulthood,

that severe headland. Bodies

burgeoning, bodies aging:

life, death; decay, bloom.

Katie Becoming Poet


When Katie announces that she wants

to go to paleontologist school, I say it’s

a cool thing to be. What else is, she asks.

I list computer programmer (like Papa

she says), lawyer (Mama), teacher, poet,

archaeologist...She says she will be poet

and archaeologist and paleontologist.


Katie comes downstairs, asks me to write

down her poem for her. It’s about Ella,

her doll, and Violet, Ella’s “garden angel.”

Katie is joy arriving on morning’s porch

in a bathrobe striped red and yellow.


After her piano lesson, I talk to Katie about

practicing, about how my morning writing,

the yellow pages I show her, are practice.

She asks if she can write a poem, and does:

Flowers bloom, the flowers are pink and blue

and purple and orange and red bees bumble

butterflies drink pollen with the bees and

then they fly off. She recites this, writes it

down herself on the yellow pad I give her.


Next morning, Katie’s at our back door,

come down with pad and pencil to go on

with her poem, writes another page. She

insisted yesterday on taking not only pad

but the pencil she’d written with upstairs,

though her mother says they have plenty

of pencils. Katie is right, is poet: this is

the pad, the pencil, this is the ritual.

At Sea

My list this morning: get a haircut, stop

worrying about mortality, write a note

for my husband’s eighty-eighth birthday.

What to say, how to say it, tell hard

truths, not lie. I lie with him, not to him.

I lie in his arms wanting to protect him

and be protected, a wish truly mine, yet

partial, not the whole of what I want.

Nothing’s simple. The truth is double,

multiple. The truth is the single stalk

of a jewel orchid, its ten tiny blossoms,

each composed of seven white petals

around a central pistil that supports

a thick stamen topped by a stigma.

Naming the parts of this rudimentary

frail flower, I tell the truth. But I am

lying, here in my bed, gazing at these

white flags of life in a monochrome

landscape, drained and pallid. In his

dream last night, my husband has lost

me: he thinks he’s following me in

a crowd but when the woman he takes

for me turns she’s someone else and

I’m gone. Though he sees to distance,

he doesn’t see me. I’m the one who

knows where the bus station we’re

heading for is, who has the schedule,

the tickets. He’s at sea without me.

I’m at sea with him, on this journey

which seems at moments stasis, at

others, fits and starts: sudden jolts,

apprehensions of the body’s future.


Verges, edges. My husband’s on the edge of

life, of death. I don’t know if this is true. I verge

on terror, despair. I verge on denial, forgetting,

oblivion, on the blind assumptions of eternity.

Eternity’s verges are leavings, sticks you pick up

in the streets, scrubby branches of New England

winter backyards, worn down, scraggy. The sky

of eternity is luminous, stretched thin, cloud

become scrim, an expanse suffused with blue

dimensions of loss, a white undercoat of denial.

We have come to this house, this staid street,

these words so frail and used. We have come

to this realm where many reside, invisible,

pale shades made known by the intimations

of sound the wind wakes, susurrations in dry

branches. A buddleia shakes in the wind,

its breath the music of fear, like mine. A

door shuts and I don’t know if it will open

again. I imagine a hand on the knob, a back

turning from it, footsteps ebbing to silence.


Sandra Kohler is a poet and teacher. Her third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 40 years. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she moved to Boston in 2006, where she and her husband live in a two-family house with their son and his family, including two grandchildren.

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