Helen Wickes


The moon gobbled the sun for lunch, that's
what the man from Karachi says on the radio,
talking us through midday's midnight,
telling us he's nostalgic for the Babylonians,
who, during their eclipses, smashed crockery
to hasten the light. Oh, wishful humans.
Here in this parking lot, in a tin pail
of ordinary yellow zinnia splendor,
there is one flower, solar, radial, fringed,
centripetal, which I desperately want
and which the veiled and turbaned vendor
won't sell, won't give. How to bargain
when I can't see her eyes, what's she hidingC
beauty or danger? I can't keep them straight.
Black sunflower, she calls this flower.
I'd settle for its smolder, a slow combustion
of dark red threatening to scorch,
contracting toward night and failing to do so,
the color stewing, fermenting, thick
and pungent as summer's ripening heart.


One coyote, fat and bold,
rushing uphill, turns to look back.
Evening plays a chordal descent, a delayed backbeat,
a Sam Cooke sunset, the coyote a copper smudge
behind the manzanita and oak.
The tulle fog gropes the valley,
low to the ground, as if waiting
to be pulled under, sucked back
through any roadside ditch.
The whole week gone, like a partially eaten meal
whisked away before you've placed the cutlery
at three-fifteen, to signal I'm finished.
Out of the plowed field,
a flock of starlings, dark sprouts
sprung forth. Buddy Holly,
notes by the mouthful,
that trick of heat and youth.
Raving on. The famous critics say
that poems now are all anecdote with epiphany.
They'd dislike me. Let them.
Right now I'd settle for epiphany,
with or without the anecdote.
When you can't get to the thin edge
of your own living, when you can't sharpen it
and run barefoot, it hardly seems worthwhile.
The cold sneaks in, a clingy, seacoast cold,
a joint tightener, heart toughener.
A black cat, out of nowhere,
young and greedy, jumps to my lap,
wants all of me. What's left for tonight
is subject to fits and lives on thin air.


One angus crosses the field,
a laggard stopping to holler,
his herd gone on without him.
The short days tightening a belt
around the year's waistline. Under brown hillsides
bright green articulates the bone
of creek bed, outcrop, fire trail to the peak.
The cyclers shimmer past in nylon,
churning insects, pumping their torsos
as if they had only one life
to hoist over the hill to the reservoir.
There's the faint noise of a plane
and of a small bird through bare branches.
A hospital message said, pray for no clots,
your mother's heart,
syncopation, skipping beats.

The angus all one herd now,
outcast submerged, indistinguishable.
Black cream clotting, curds from whey
bottled, flung out, who will find it?
In the city I stop to watch bagpipe players
tune up in a parking lot,
twisting their drone pipes,
honking and bleating, a farmyard in kilts.
Imagine the source in a bellows
under your arm, which you unloosen
note by note until the sound
drowns out everything.
After raggedy scales the flailing
into fifths: convergence, melody.


A black dog ferries his goat herd home,
eases the lumpy mass of them
through a narrow gate, along a narrow path,
and the goats toying with the dog,
herd animals but not sheep.
Red tongue draping the dog's jaw,
burrs in his belly hair,
ear tuned to his slouching master,
who chugs a Coke, whistles an order.
Overhead scent of bay laurel,
wet clay on the trail,
jerking ankle from tibia, femur from pelvis.
Who gets the drumstick:
me or this greasy, bottomless substrate?
The brain tires of hounding its thoughts,
marshalling them across the vast and oozy
floodplain of the mind
toward some endgame, stop game, home.
Lucky dog running on pure trust
for a guy who leans on a truck,
squinting into puffy clouds.
In this sometime feast of sunlight,
stuff yourselves and take your fill.
A long time gone, as every other herder of thoughts has sung.
Gibbous moon tonight,
Regulus to the East in Leo,
white-edged, blue at the center.
Hotter than the sun,
it won't outlive. Burning as we speak.

Copyright © 2013 Helen Wickes


Helen Wickes lives in Oakland, California, and worked for many years as a psychotherapist. In 2002 she received an M.F.A. from Bennington College. Her first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Her poems can be read and heard online at From The Fishouse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI Online, Amarillo Bay, Arroyo Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Confrontation, Corium Magazine, Eclipse, Evansville Review, RiverSedge, Sanskrit, South Dakota Review, Stand, Talking River, TriQuarterly, Runes, ZYZZYVA, Zone 3, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Collagist, The Hollins Critic, The Journal, Natural Bridge, Santa Clara Review, Folly, Forge, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Limestone, PANK, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Bryant Literary Review, Eclectica, Ellipsis…, Southwestern American Literature, Willow Review, FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry, Hanging Loose, Prick of the Spindle, Boulevard, Soundings East, Verdad, The Coe Review, Concho River Review, Crucible, The Jabberwock Review, Kaleidoscope, Pleiades, PMS poemmemoirstory, SLAB, Visions International, The Griffin, Salamander, Splash of Red, Epicenter, Barnstorm, Poetry Flash, In the Grove, CQ, CSPS, Freshwater, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, West Marin Review, Softblow, 5 AM, the Bennington Review, and the anthology Best of the Web 2009.