Susan Varnot’s poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Southern Poetry Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Zone 3. Her work can be viewed on line at Barnwood Magazine and The Pedestal Review. A graduate of the MFA program at Arizona State University, she has recently relocated from New Mexico to California, where she teaches at UC Merced.
The chimes are weary with so much code
and wind rioting their pipes under threat
of thunderclouds with lightning spiking
throughout the tin-blue valley as though right here,
right now, ecclesiastical ions were dropped
to smolder in the wet grass of a field.
And somewhere, far off, another cloud burns.
From where I watch, after circuiting the walls
of this house, pulling plugs, disconnecting
phones, not too close to the windows,
the air clicks and whirs, the swallows twitter,
shaking themselves into shadow under the eaves.
A dog sways up from the irrigation ditch,
shuddering before curling down
in the shed. Its snout lifts, frantic and jerking,
into the air, scents slick and mud-wet
gathering into a cluster of ends.
Horses stand simply in the first splatters of rain
as though they were a fixed, muscular
quiet. And the blossoms of the apple trees splay,
tear away, a skin-soft blur of pink in the fall.
On the Anniversary of the Trinity Site Test
Lightning owns the sky|
tonight. Everything metal grins:
barbed fence lines, sloping
electrical wires, static
constellating the air. To watch
the low drifting clouds carries
a vertigo inverted, a sense of losing
a foothold, of falling
skyward, moonward, as if floating
in the first bomb tested just south of here.
The neighbor’s cattle
bellow and steady themselves beneath
a pine, dumb and patient,
waiting out a storm, unwary of the tree
and the mechanics of its spire
that light could light into.
The herd ferries stillness,
mound to mound. I
hold before you, too,
the man from a dinner party
who introduced himself as Red Bird,
who is dying and who was there
at the missile range anchored by the blast
in a bunker in the sands and
who saw his friend whip ground
when the waves finally hit.
He waited out the moment when
North America touched the quick
fuse to sky. Now evening
and years away, I wonder how
his pulse grew until two
suns appeared as if day had doubled.
I wonder, too, if this man might
meet himself again, flashing
before the mirror of that instant
when his cells first flew
wing against wing, sky before sky.
The Annual Pilgrimage to el Santuario de Chimayo
Green patches of grass
swell while the last
proof of winter sways
leaf-brown beside fences
lining the street.
It is Good Friday
and, all day, pilgrims
ascend to the chapel
where the soil spins
beside the altar: crutches,
splints, pill bottles,
From the house,
I see them in miniature
placed along the horizon
where step meets sky.
They migrate into the dim
interior where they set
to fire wicks
that burn a whispering
These hopeful shuffle
through a broken village
where life takes on
clouds then blue.