Catherine Stearns

Outside Cape Girardeau

Next to a slab of concrete where, each summer,

we broke geodes into crystal flowers,

the chicken coop stands empty,

and down the path the sway-backed barn, empty

of horses and cows and Poland China pigs.

(How I loved to say Poland China pigs

as if we’d traveled continents to get them.)

Inside my head, a headless chicken

flaps its wings as the wind slaps

at the red tile roof of the house.


Pay attention! they said at school,

never giving us anything like

the high soft grasses of the pasture

or the cool glass jars under the basement stairs.

Soon you had to wonder: just what is

the nature of our work as creatures on this earth?

Here, now, memory outlives poverty,

more than what the looters left

takes root and holds. When an old

horizon slashes the sun the whole house

burns, backlit from a rind of frosted glass

somebody must have tossed into the field.

Catherine Stearns teaches at an independent school in Belmont, MA, and has published poems in New Delta Review, NDQuarterly, Modern Poetry Studies, Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, and so on. She is the recipient of a McKnight Foundation grant and the Dana Award in poetry.