Four Poems


Twig tea. I sip you and I’m wild again,
bringing my master gifts.
I read that you’re brewed in Liji,
just south of Kyoto,
from discarded stems, stalks,
leftovers from more rife greens;
that you’re not a “true” tea.

This makes me sad.
How can anything so woody,
so vegetal emerge from waste,
have secrets to hide?
Clearly you come from the land
of higuma, the Hokkaido brown bear.

I’m in need of a near-death experience;
I will drink.
I will put my trust in records,
since 1962: 86 attacks and 33 passings.

Steaming earth aromas.
I inhaled them while pregnant
and found myself singing
the song of a creek bed.
Brook trout so brown, like home,
one modest female mallard
swimming away from the bridge
with her mate, and yellow celandine—
blossoms I’ve known since childhood
which, if you rip the stem,
drip with nitid paint.

I will pick one when the rain falls.
This way, I’ll have something to wash
from my skin before I begin to browse,
time to confess,
because once I am born again
I will strip every bit of stiffness
from your branches,
caper with boastful wings,
disable a dreamer’s voice box.

Only then, when my love’s green head                       
lies calm and still, will I deliver him back,
tenderly, to the cement block steps
of the porch he will finish someday.


Four vintage shifts, polyester prints,
matching sashes to cinch, loose
or tight through hyper-navel loops.

I wash them by hand,
soap and rinse and wring
until the skin lifts from my fingers,
swirls like slip lace into a pair
of barely there stockings, which cover,
however flimsily, blue veins
like drainpipes, like boxes that line old cellars.

She allows her tape to be cut,
a story for every skirt—
smock from London, Indian sarong,
1956, 1979. “My hippy days
were never confined to the sixties.”

I suppose that mine, if you can call them that,
were limited to college years,
that brief period of halter-top sewing,
mid-drift baring, patchouli wearing, sage burning,
burrito buying. I can’t believe that was ever me—
barefoot in Buffalo for the Christmas show,
smoking world peace in the Swan Street garage,
weed with a white kid with dreads
desperate to predict Phish’s set list,
wondering if this time there’d be horns.

I think of who I am now: wife, mother,
gills greased on organic teas, conservative,
champion of cloth diapers, breastfeeding, the gauze kurta.
Last time I smoked anything I fell into sleep,
dreamed a great horned owl took off in a storm.
I know both signs; they mean death.

It’s the cotton that resists change,
does not want to be clean.
Must clings to cloth-covered buttons
and bell-sleeves, gathered at the wrists.
Hope-colored shirtwaists bleed in cold water,
and I wonder if she’ll be gone soon,

if she’s remembered to retain anything;
to be buried in, or if she’ll sell them all                
to Gen-Xers like me, some who will wear               
and cherish, others who’ll barter
and re-sell until history hangs on wire,
upscale thrift shop in Park Slope.

Her soul ascends, though she still has form.
Like the starched collar of a mother hubbard,
this heavenly journey seems pointless—
if the dress had no shape to begin with,
why force an afterlife?

Some days I’m threadbare, like a movie star missionary
(Kate Hepburn, of course) is lifting me over
the heads of children, trying to civilize the ancients.
Other days, I’m stigmatized. Chicago on a summer night,
my neckline lowered, I’m in the street, dancing.

When I go, let me be naked save a mood ring and dark lipstick.
I may no longer care if the band stays together,
or even where I go when my seams have been sewed
for the last time, but I’ll always believe 
in that early nineties shade.

In the end, a promise is made:
to let the dresses lead,
to listen to their legacies.
But the ones I’ve bought are for work and church,
where I cannot perform the jerk bra-less.

The Musicians

She steals a walk
with the kids.
The park sparkles with glass;
a condom rides the swing.

He drags his guitar to the attic.
Landlord curses the smoke,
but shrinks to kick him
out; new amp’s soaked and
the screaming
becomes noiseless.

Soon, the box of wood
will wax inaudible,
long, untamed hair
fell itself, loud and pubescent,
into dangerous blessings
she’ll bury under a tree for swallows.

Candles, Sugar, Rum 

The church we were married in
is historic, a bulwark on the Mohawk.
It’s also a double-edged sword,
boasting transparency and whiteness,
seeming infallible when, in fact,
it has made a killing for generations
off the selling of fortunes:
Foreign language tips in back
(Sex! Unity! Mystery!)
and lucky numbers in front,
Revolutionary stones—
gray slate skipped across the canal
by a child-like god.

Two-hundred years past fighting time,
he’s hiding in clefts and mortar
a misspelled truth,
sucking on whole crops of sugarcane,
shooting spit-wads at our tassels and cannons.

Separate stairways descend from the pulpit;
years ago I thought this cold.
More beautiful secrets hid
in ladies’ ankles and you,
bleeding General Herkimer
over our uniforms, still pointing the way
up Vickerman Hill where your grandmother
waits for light, a snake on a rock,
coiled in dirt and gold.

Bethany Bowman’s poems have recently appeared in The Comstock Review, and are forthcoming in The Other Journal. She holds a Masters in Teaching from the State University of New York at Potsdam, and has taught English in New York and Cincinnati. A stay-at-home mom, she lives with her husband and two children in central Indiana, where she is at work on a novel.              

Art Museums for the Uninitiated

Celebrating 20 Years of Art House America

Celebrating 20 Years of Art House America