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Sample Poems by Stephen Cushman

Another Anniversary of Appomattox

Some people so lonely
they can’t bear the birds again,
those catchy solos about duets
mouthing off outside the window.

Others been lonely so long
they’re used to making do
and don’t want you  
reminding them of redbud blossoms

they’ve learned to live without.
So if you’re a victor, shut
your trap and do no harm
to people who hear in birds,

this wren,
only the terms of surrender.


So subjunctive, your name;
yet there’s nothing iffy
about the trees in basic green,

their colorful underwear gone
back in the drawer of early spring,
nothing the least bit contingent

in the way a wood thrush succeeds
white-throated sparrows at dawn
or iris follows dogwood.

Here in the northern temperate zone,
how could you possibly express
the hypothetical, the wish,

with all your satisfactions
so relentlessly indicative?
Oh, what I wouldn’t give

to cross your looks with just a whiff
of that autumnal musk
you emanate down under.

 Bioluminescence Is a Big Word

for tiny cells and tissues
fermenting with an enzyme
inside the abdomen of the very first firefly

this spring, the only one floating
above the dark acres of a derelict farm
on a muggy May evening. Could be a scout

charged by the others with patrolling the fields,
in bad need of mowing, for non-flying females
on the ground or in bushes, who seeing him beam

the correct species signal, answer right back
in codes of their own. Or maybe he’s eager,
this soft-bodied beetle, and impressively potent.

Whatever the case, how can they call
a device for mating heatless light?
And why dub him lightning bug

when his guttering glow has less in common
with blinding bolts than blinking yellow
at midnight intersections, caution, caution

flashed out here against the black
to steady the pulse in spite of all risk
inherent in chemistry, no matter how small.

Shoulder Season

A sea-side town in Greece
and on the way back from the beach,

along a lane beside the train tracks
through groves of groaning lemon trees

and stands of red poppies,
past purple quilts of bougainvillea

and one sparrow with a currant in its beak
and something heard in the uncut grass

with too much slither for a lizard,
a middle-aged man out trying to teach

himself to ride a beat-up bicycle,
to learn on a few wobbly turns of the pedals

the secret of balance,
having no father to show him how

between the crashes of metal that sound
down the lane at regular intervals

across the warming Gulf of Corinth
from the snowy peak of Parnassus.


Said of a flower
that opens in moonshine,

but doesn’t it mean
full moon bamboozles

the gullible flower,
counterfeiting sun

by cranking out shadows,
or does such a flower

discriminate between
any old onslaught

of usable beams
and the moon’s special mix

of darkness and light
pressure, tender

yet insistent
as it coaxes each petal

so ready to open
to just the right touch.