Albany Poetry 
Workshop Logo
Author Photo

Jeanne Wagner

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.



Published in California Quarterly 2009




Ghost Sonnet



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,                         

on the shore of Inishturk.