Jeanne Wagner is the recipient of several national awards, including The MacGuffin Poet Hunt, the Ann Stanford Prize and the 2009 Briar Cliff Review Award. Her poems have previously appeared in The Southern Poetry Review, as well as Atlanta Review, Mississippi Review and Spoon River Poetry Review among others. The author of four collections, including The Zen Piano-Mover, winner of the 2004 Stevens Manuscript Prize, her latest manuscript has been accepted by Sixteen Rivers Press for publication in 2011. She serves on the editorial staff of the California Quarterly.
At the Botanical Garden
for my mother, Dorothy
Its name, Aloe dorethea,
reminded me of you.
I found it in the Arid House,
still, we’re both well past irony.
What would you have thought of
its barbed and muscular beauty?
Even the word succulent sounds
strangely mammalian to me.
Genus of tough-love, dry ground,
of rare and random rainfall,
yet the heat must have been there
once, and the light intense
for such a brief and grudging
as if to say, for all things there
is a season.
My mother used to tell me that ghosts came into our garden at
night. She could trace their footsteps the next morning in the soft
soil beneath the window sills, the indention of their soles smooth
as filed-off fingerprints. They were the ghosts of her childhood
farm, who opened the gates and let out the cows from the pasture.
Those spirits were pranksters, poachers, saboteurs of boundaries,
they foiled the confines of flesh, each cell a small, insecure paddock,
a fortification that fails. Why does the body try to hold everything
at bay? the ghosts would ask, their voices plaintive, sibilant as rain,
unpunctuated, shunning the hard consonants; a sound somewhere
between a sough and a soft whistle without the shrillness of bone.
Not music, not melody, I understood that, but a language that
was absolutely pure, if empty: their wind-pipes made only of wind.
They’d sniff at our fences for pheromones, stroke the walls like skin.
Published in Alehouse Review 2009
My Grandmother’s Hair
She wore something called a rat
tucked inside her hair, a soft sausage
of mesh wound with gray strands
gleaned from her brushes and combs,
though I imagined the hair had twined itself
there on its own, the way creepers wend
through a trellis, and fine, sticky threads
ply themselves around a stifled pupa.
At night, I’d pull out the hidden loops
of her hairpins, and let down her long,
wavy hair, thin but still silky, tame
under the light strokes of my brush.
Bodies, then, were such secretive things,
surfaces to be read into, inferred:
the irregular sag of a bodice; that self-
effacing spiral of her hair; the blind
right eye, with its marbled blue iris.
The mad son. The husband I never
heard her speak of. Her drowned
brother, his woolen sweater knitted
with a special stitch, so someone would
know who the body belonged to,
when finally the waves unfurled him,