March 4, 2016

Three Poems By Judith Skillman: "May Rains", "Friday Mass", "A La Prima "

Judith Skillman’s recent book is House of Burnt Offerings, Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review, J Journal, Seneca Review, Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. Awards include an Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Visit

Woman Stick Figure Violin

May Rains

Evening, and the birds urge me to pick up
the instrument and use its voice, even rusty, my hands
forgetting where to drop a finger and how to anchor
the bow. I wrap myself in scarves, agree to disagree
with these punctual singers. The birds celebrate dawn

and dusk alike. Evening, pain eases enough to allow
flights of fancy if not true imagination. The violin
reclines in its scrolls and purfling upon the plush fur
of its coffin case. Rain is also music, and no one has to work
for that crescendo, diminuendo—you don’t lift or press,

count or listen.  These things happen by themselves,
the longer my time on God’s green earth, to use a cliché,
the more I learn how little the movements must be.
The birds urge me to pick up a piece of carved wood,
cracked and glued back together. Their voices name

a sameness important as a point of departure. I become
their pupil, and find in what I cannot see the door
they drove me up to when I turned nine, and the way
to ring the bell. Still no one answers. I hold the knocker
in a hand too small for good luck’s wooden girth.


Friday Mass

As after a celebration
            where a geriatric procession passes by
            the old taking on their tongues the unleavened
            wafer and believing as it melts
            crumb by crumb it is flesh

As after an anniversary
            when one stands in the sulphurous sun
            and blinks and doesn't know who one is

As in a play
            where a small girl's forgotten her lines
            can't move her tongue
            or wag her hips

As in a laundry that won't come clean
            stains of blood and rust
            strands of fur caught in a lint filter
            a strain of music wobbling through one's head
As if the song that will save us
            was Mr. Sandman
            or Blue Moon

As another face goes by deeply lined
            the teeth gone
            the mouth working the wafer
            the gold cup waiting off to one side
            a woman wiping its lip with a towel

As she wipes she rotates the cup
            of blood shed for a diabetic man
            alone in a room full of needles
            blood beading on a teenager's hand
            and seeping from an abrasion in the rug
As if it were the blood under a patch of pink new skin
            a blazing sun will find
            this morning at 8:30 am
            after the family has stumbled from their beds
            a bunch of ragamuffins
            and the oldest son has boycotted the celebration
            and the middle son has quit smoking

As if the three grown daughters had gained weight
            and birthed nine children

As if they remembered nothing
            of the past except this man and woman
            standing at the altar a second time
            this married couple changed beyond recognition by the years

As it has been and will be forever amen


A La Prima 

Another morning,
the same pots inhaling light,
the kettle with its black
not made from black.
There is a treasure house within you  
the Zen master says.
And I attend my monkey mind,
not knowing where to find said place.
What color, this fatigue?
How deep, this pain?
Outside in the greenbelt
umber trunks, endless silence,
a detachment so profound
the shiver of leaf, flower, bud
makes no difference.


~Judith Skillman

Total Pageviews