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Sample Poems by Pia Taavila-Borsheim


I brought in the stray. He'd been mewling
on my front stoop, shivering in the rain.

Then one more and another, until my entire
life was a collection of lost souls, an assortment

of the weary, the lonely, the hungry for food.
You might say I was a female St. Francis,

extending my hands in a Christ-like pose,
the very vines of Buddha climbing my frame.

You might say it is I who was the wandering
Jew, a victim of my own desires. And yet,

there was purpose and gain, such
as we mortals measure them.

I laughed, didn't I? I danced in the kitchen,
even as the shift change brought in

another drifter. Even as you roll your eyes,
I loved them all, every last one.


Suppose the banyan tree did not twist upon itself
and that its roots did not gnarl across the pathway
or that monkeys no longer stole the fruit off my plate,
mating without regard to partner, place or time.

Temples of the gods reveal their carnal pleasures
carved in grotesque relief, the lovers entwined
in panel after panel. As I climb seven hundred steps
to see the Jain statue in all its male glory, I am

reminded of all that I lack. Even the air sighs
with steam and thick heavings; even cocoanut
milk from its hairy shell sticks to the tongue,
nearly bitter to swallow, not enough to quench.

I lift a bottle of Limca from its ice-cubed tub
only to watch it burst in my hand in the too-hot
day. My host runs for a towel and dabs at me,
trying to avoid what he calls those "sacred spaces."

Frangipani blossoms haunt the village square,
lift to the roof tops where, in moonlight,
musicians finger tablas, harmoniums,
singing and moaning to ancient ghazals.

I climb down to the livestock pens, lean against
tough, warm hides. The breathing of cows shivers
up my arms. I'm drawn to the smell of hay
and manure; a pail of cream cools in the corner.

I Hear Horses

In evening air, the musk of dampening flanks
lifts from the brood to nostrils that flare.
The young ones practice their approach,

hooves slipping off as she moves away to tear
grass from sloping lawns. She urinates.
Drawn to her crouching, the yearlings try again,

but the mare turns tail, bares teeth, nips.
At the lower gate, a farmhand off-loads the service
stud, a roan stallion. I hear him kicking in the rig.

A ramp is reeled out and sandbagged. Blind-folded,
he's backed down the chute, led to her pen,
unmasked, turned loose. He crisscrosses

the paddock, traversing fence lines in fleet
navigation. At the window, I lean out over
the sill transfixed, watching, waiting.


Moonlight creeps through linden leaves,
casts long shadows on sidewalk slab.

The last train's passengers hurry by
(newspapers tucked under their arms),

chatting of wine and weekend plans.
Once their goodbyes dissipate,

a silence settles in, sweet and lonely.
Under a cafe table, a cat cleans herself,

stretching and licking, certain in the dark,
in its intimate protections.

I sit on a wrought iron bench to mull over
the day's events, nursing a drink

and the closed buds of tulips,
the bits of paper littering the grass.

Soon enough I'll climb the steps
to my rented room, turn the iron key

in the great brass lock. For now, I coax
a pigeon to coo, to sing to me, tonight.

Two Birds

Across our northern skies, two birds
charge and wheel, the smaller sleek
in hot pursuit. Perhaps the larger

skulked to raid the newborn nest.
Perhaps a tuft of food its beaked
desire lured. Whatever the cause

of this flight's rage, they grapple, peck,
fall and swoop. The chaser nips
the other's tail, ignores the odds,

defying physics, brave in sheer
revenge, aloft. I watch them wing
throughout the morn, then turn to walk

long-rutted fields. Briars, hawthorn
rise to snag. Their gnarled beauty
hosts a single feather, black.