Project Description

What We Know

like animals who know they are prey
we startle at every flung distraction
the way squirrels shriek and scatter
when they mistake a thrown hat
for something raptorial diving

sure their warning is a lie
but they fear that maybe-bird
with utter conviction
target themselves
with urgent cries

because sometimes sacrifice
is what survival looks like
sometimes a hat looks like a thing that might kill you
if it’s brought to your attention in just the right way
which is as good a definition as any of propaganda

swift construct cast like a sourceless shadow
a spell
like all dark things we’re told
meant to lure or repel
and yes

when I say darkness
I mean the skin that isn’t yours
and the skin that is
the casket of flesh we’re born with
the unknown bones it holds

Spoiler Alert

for Kathe Davis 1943-2017

at their first unfurling
dogwood blooms are
the luminescent green
of a storm-ready sky
a sudden smattering of portent
seen from the bedroom window
and how will the delicate things survive
wind-tossed from their moment of waking
as though every spring weren’t a jumbled tumult
of promises and unheeded warnings
some blossoms bitten when they burst too early
into April’s fickle warmth

but not these dogged petals
thickening like white clouds
in a coalescence of water and light
as my attention drifts to more urgent matters
the end of the semester with its attendant pile
of student essays simultaneously artless and contrived
the big orange cat suddenly panting to breathe
heart galloping and water filling his lungs
so that mercy means drowning him with a quick injection

and then there’s the falling in love
if that’s what we’re calling it again
the heart’s artless gallop
toward some tree-limned horizon
the dogwood still outside the window
its entire inflorescence shifted
to leaf


of course I drowned
cried so hard the white of one eye burst into bubbles
like water pounded into thick foam on the shore
I couldn’t still my breaking

curled in on myself
I learned to turn wet clay on a wheel
simulacrum of something that wanted my touch
though I could never keep my hands still enough
to coax the spinning slick into empty symmetry

what did I need to hold things for anyway
every old dream crumbled like pearls worn
back into sand after escaping the oyster’s mouth
except for one still seeded in my lungs
because before anything else I knew darkness
and I could breathe underwater

Stephanie Sesic

Stephanie Sesic teaches writing and literature at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College. Her work has appeared most recently online in The New Verse News. Her chapbook, The Intimate Verge, was published by Pudding House Publications in 2008. Her work reveals an obsession with the sky and tends to stick to the classic themes of sex and death.