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Sample Poems by June Saraceno


I loved the dirt under my nails,
summer-calloused feet.
I'm grateful you left me feral
to roam the fields and woods,
to sink my hands in ochre earth.

I hated the belt-raising
crimson welts on my legs.
Tongue lashings. Church.
Church most of all-
the long drone of it,
leaving sunshine and grass
waiting outside.

Now, my own child is grown,
and I gave him no church,
except my love. Was it enough?
How could it ever be?
The only home for him
to inherit is our shared memories:

A wave knocked us down,
another brought us
back to shore. Look to the sea.
Go there.


The window fills with gardenia bloom in evening.
The humid air, my sister's voice, this window
I raise and lower across elastic time.

Some days the window is out of reach.
I have to climb the trellis that rose to yesterday
and disappeared in winter. I
build steps out of snow and pack them down
with stomping, with sturm und drang, with salt.

It's worth the effort. Every effort.
Though who knows what the window will let in or out?

Sometimes a slight crack and angry voices engulf
the space in flames. Always somewhere a burning roof.

Sometimes the corn stalks are so high that boys climb
them to carve their initials in the flesh of the moon.
Sometimes the window wells with salt spray from an ocean
that buoys and baptizes, but also serves up jellyfish and trash.

I look for the family portrait there, moving frames -
a lullaby slips out, a dime locket, cootie catchers,
a fish hanging from the lightbulb, duck quack,
peed-in underpants stuffed behind a freezer,
mittens and carpet burns, a clue in a clock tower,
backwards braille of names knifed into the sill,
a diary with a broken lock, galoshes, smoke,
a revival tent of dire prophecies, lightening bugs,
ticks, scabs, the hanged man, angels glinting,
a sack of pecans, a rusted tractor, a fly swatter.

It's only a first story window.
It has more stories than stars.
If I don't open it,
I'll never get out.


Our breed was a brooding type,
menfolk in barns and garages, silent,
thick fingers turning tools.
Those hands could snap a shoulder
back in place, or drown a litter
of unwanted pups. They did
what had to be done, without a fuss.
Summer brought a bounty of small
skeletons, surfacing from shallow digs
in the piney woods.

Mothers, captive in their kitchens,
call children in when the evening
star brightens and bats begin to flit.

Call children in to supper, in for the night.
Then recall the lost ones, the nameless ones,
swallow hard, blink them back to shadow.
Turned gruff, these mothers stand
what they can, what they must,
and command: don't track in mud.

They knew the patch of earth allotted,
the garden toil, the final bed where
they would rest, marked as well
as times allowed. Wary folk,
dead set against raising false hope,
they warned in word and deed
bloodlines map existence.
We, their sullen children,
even if we could, would not resist
entirely, the stubborn pull
our dirt-lined palms predicted.

Even were we able to break
Earth's gravity, to rise like Venus,
bright in the gathering dark, put distance
between us, who would choose
to quench that old smoldering fire,
banked deep in the blood?
Who would choose to leave?

Overdue Elegy for Granddaddy Gray

I didn't see you go. You might have
just wandered off to the garden,
or drifted off like smoke curling from a chimney.
The melted nougat of hidden candy,
your last gift.

You were brief in my life-
tricycle days, before school
or learning to tie shoelaces.
You were crew-cut-white, sea-eyed,
grizzle-chinned, superman big.

We recited nightly,
"Now I lay me down to sleep..."
You scratched my cheek with yours,
then warbled a song about the moon
through the leaves of the old oak tree,
shining on the ones we love.

I never said goodbye, unaware
you wouldn't reappear, not at bedtime,
not even at Christmas.

This is it, then. The farewell so long overdue,
it condenses in the air and vanishes
in this cold attic, absent you.