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Sample Poems by Judy Rowe Michaels

Looking for Signs

We offered my entrails for the priests to read,
and my blood. A sign should be
familiar—pollen fingering a pond
is spring. Summer, the shock and awe of locusts.

Love blush, belly bloat.
Know your body, they tell me,
but often it’s the old
too fast for me to read.

Of course, every sign
was new once, unknowable—
first comet, first dog refusing water.

Still, by Christmas we saw
where this star led,
and clung hard to the dying year.

Fifth Recurrence

I’ve finally found a surgeon who will
do it. Intuition knew I had a reason
to keep the Christmas tree
through January, shedding
but still a nest for bells,
birds, eggs, stars.

What do you plan if we can’t
do it?
the first man asked
before we even shook hands.
I swear a frozen bird
fell past his window.
Some risks resist all planning.
Just let the knife slip
through, cut out the rot
so the faithful flesh
can winter on.

I Play the CD of My Sister’s Jazz Quartet

Her nerve endings
jazz the old ivories,
dismember their possibilities,
delicate and sure as our learning
the thrill of separating an egg.

Alone in this hotel room,
and due to be broken,
I float fluid whole
cupped in her invisible shell
of wave and groove.

The Cat and I Listen to Ella Fitzgerald

You liked your jazz
wordless, except for Sunny’s vocals,
your face, she claimed,
like Gerard Depardieu’s.
Ella’s not so sure,
but she’s having a blast
with Cole and it’s the first night
since chemo I’ve felt like me,
well, not the you-and-me one,
but a me you’d recognize.
Ella says the moon’s growing
dim on the rim of the hill,
and her thoughts all stray to you.
It’s not the still of the night really,
with her voice soaring toward
rain pounding the roof.
It never rains in Cole’s songs,
but tonight, New Jersey
pours like it was born to weep.
Your ashes wait patiently
at the funeral home for me,
deaf to rain and rhyme,
to music and stillness.