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The Driftless Diary

When the time came to leave, I turned my feet East, into a dirty-blue
                                                  The musked moon, so close,
I took a bite, then threw it back over my shoulder,
the sweet of it stickying my mouth and chin.

This is how destiny starts, thinking we’re free to decide.

Off the Colorado Plateau, in a long skid down to tablelands, I felt
the curved slide

                                                  level at the Kansas border,
a flat plain stretching out before me like a waiting bed.
I kept on going, into dry storms blowing grit,

lazy small towns where circuses and holy rollers raised tents,


where, in the gold-tooth light of campfires, gypsies danced and slow
cattle eased down on locust husks.

In the evening of the even-ing land, I grew wide and wide open.

When I crossed the unscoured hills of home, I found the deep
well, dropped a stone in,

                                                  and heard it hit water below.
Sometimes the wild grass is singing. Sometimes
there’s just a cool dark

rushing at me from deeper than I think I can go.

Always, there is the hard hour before dawn,
and the hunger I bow to,

                                        the pure and the not-so.

I carry my old delicious burdens.


Long Summer Nights in the Midwest

                                                for Diane Wakoski

Cornfields wade deep into silence
fuzz in the burnt light

no wind no moon

this is about the usefulness of what is not
this is about the space where there is nothing

but the steady shring of crickets
but a soft hoot in those far-off woods


In Defense of Moonlight

Midnight oil
burning its low ohm
in the trees. Who hasn’t been lit
by it, and who hasn’t wanted to omit
it from their loom
of words, thinking they might
find less sentimental glint
elsewhere, in gin-gloom
or the bent tin of street lingo.
Still, it calls us always in, its lion,
its loon, its hoot.


A Different God for City Girls

When my friend said she had seen God’s face,
I wondered if it was an old man’s,
backlit by a playground’s night-game lights,
wondered if it was a woman’s,
fan of silver pins glittering between her lips
as she knelt on cold linoleum
turning up dress hems for money.
My friend said you can only see God’s face askance.
She said it terrified her
like the sleek and planet-eyed sea lion
whose yawn reveals a cavern of sharp teeth.
I prayed for a glimpse, but only saw
what God wanted me to see, a scarped skyline,
hard angles spangled with small panes of light.


The Fracture of Yearning

                                                from the letters of S. Maria Celeste to her father, Galileo
                                                San Matteo

                                                19th day of December 1625

the citron you commanded me
to make into candy
the fruit was not fresh enough

I am sending you two baked pears
enclose a rose

accept the thorns

and also its green leaves
after the brevity and darkness of winter


                                                  6th of September 1629

the ampule of oil with scorpions
freshly made cinnamon water

the cold weather approaching

we await cloth
for the collars and the handkerchief

you promised

it is already late


                                                  19th of February 1630

all about my woes
these winter nights

the clock that traveled back and forth between us


                                                  17th day of September 1633

unexpectedly on that distant doorstep

the wine casks, the saffron
perfection at two lire per ounce,
the linen at 20 crazie per pound

spin it very fine

I send you golden pills
the round ones

morsels at the bottom
save the box it is not mine

tolerate remoteness
time evaporates

vanish these days or weeks


                                                  5th of November 1633

fathom my soul and its longings  


Susan Elbe is the author of Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Press) and a chapbook, Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, including Blackbird, diode, MARGIE, North American Review, Salt Hill, and A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women’s Poetry (Calyx Books). She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.