Stephanie Cawley


The first half of my novel will be a series of tedious first dates
i.e. squinting in a dark bar at pictures of waterfalls

on a tiny screen. The second half will be a long description of a party
from the point of view of a dead person i.e. punchlines

with no jokes attached and platters of half-eaten crudité.
The first half of my novel will be a catalog

of street signs that, if mapped, spell out the names of the dead
scrawled around the places they died. The second half

will be a long-winded speech about the dangers of going outside
i.e. skin cancer, loose shingles, mountain lions. The first half

of my novel will be a long description of a single cheese sandwich
i.e. a last meal, i.e. a grave. The second half will be in the voice

of a woman who has never seen the sea. The first half of my novel
will be a series of forlorn soliloquies and the second the same

words in reverse i.e. a return to the point of origin, i.e. a tape
played back suggesting an endless loop. The first half

of my novel will be a collage of lyrics to sad songs i.e. an accurate
transcription of the inner life of a white ceiling slept under

by a grieving daughter. The second half will be the same
lyrics with all the verbs taken out, i.e. love, i.e. hunger, i.e. gone.


                             Starring Joy Katz, Miley Cyrus, Donald Winnicott,
                             Mary Ruefle, and 28 Teeny Tiny Wild Mice

To bring a baby into the poem,
you must, the poet says,
introduce a counterweight
for all that cuteness. Whatever
the opposite of cuteness
is, she says, do that.

In class, the students discuss
the sentimental via the pop star’s
music video: teary close-ups
of a red-lipped trembling
mouth cut with shots of her pale naked
body straddling the heavy swing
of a wrecking ball.

I think about bringing a baby into
the world and what counterweight
I would prepare
to offer or suffer, the baby plopped
on one end of a seesaw, dense
and heavy as the universe
crammed in a nutshell.
On the other end: Big
Suffering, the beloved dead standing
on each other’s heads.

But the mother and baby balance
each other as not weight but
mirrors. In the psychologist’s
theories, the grim
tug of a frown starts the mirror
cracking. The problem is
how to look at anything
and let it be not-you, separate,
what it is and isn’t.

The kitten, in the essay,
for instance, which is, the poet
writes, of course, cuter
than its mother, eyelash whiskers,
nose a smudge of palest
pink, eyes wide and terrified
and hungry. But, she says,
it’s the cat we keep and not
the kitten, so which is worse, which
the true sentimental?

To put a kitten in a poem,
surely, even worse
than a baby. Or worse, the tiny mice
clinging to stalks of grass
in the pictures my friend sends me.
They grin and the smallest puff
of wind slicks back
their baby-fine fur hairdos.
To imagine a field mouse smiles,
the wind whispers, its own
sentimental, or not
sentimental, exactly, but failure
to see the clouds
for what they are, not horses
or houses, but water, in air,
holding its fragile shape.


                    —after Galway Kinnell

There was you writing me
letters about glass
broken in Georgia dirt. You
in a dream with long hair, vines,
a veined stone at your throat.
Then a bullcalf dragged
from darkness—a dark
world and the born thing
broken out of it.


I’m useless as a locket—flat
oval of memory, a gold chain
spinning at my throat, the weight of—
a dead cow, a ton sunk
in mud. Black-and-white, blue
tongue, soft horns, wet
hooves. I am this lowing
towards nothing—sopping
with darkness—towards
some branchy trouble.


If I could make you, I’d make you
the stars, my body
grass. We are a we that goes on
going. Despite this
branchy trouble
I invite. You are this bird
in the throat. This sky
gone dark.


All this a way of not
speaking about—to take
the grass above a grave
out of the poem. Cow,
dung, man, anything
they want. Bark
and branch, leaves ground
into dirt, moss against
a mouth, the grass pushing up


What’s beautiful
is dark—thorned hands,
smooth calves—to be
broken and held.
I should make you
the ground. Glass
in the dirt, and above—
grass, glittering


Stephanie Cawley is from southern New Jersey. She currently lives in Pittsburgh where she is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in H_NGM_N, The Adroit Journal, Prelude, Phantom Books, The Collagist, Linebreak, and elsewhere.