Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Poems from Poems by Ellen Austin-Li and Karen George

“Poems from poems, songs/ from songs, paintings from paintings” says poet Adam Zagajewski in describing how artists inspire each other. Here are two poems, the first by Clifton poet Ellen Austin-Li and the second by Karen George of Florence, which use other poets’ poems as diving boards to enter their own.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Cowboy Boots
(Hat tipped to Wallace Stevens)

I. Among the crowd of footwear
standing in her closet,
she chooses the androgynous black cowboy boots.

II. She was of two minds,
like her stylish yet functional
leather cowboy boots.

III. Despite their advancing age, the cowboy boots emitted
the musky aroma of a new buck.

IV. A woman and a pair of shoes
are one.
A woman and her pair of cowboy boots
are at least two.

V. She doesn’t know which she prefers,
the seductress in high-heeled boots,
or the shit-kicking, tough-talking cowgirl
ruling in her cowboy boots,
Or both.

VI. Fine lines filled her mirrored reflection
with unforgiving, advancing age.
The polished gleam of the cowboy boots
passed her eye, caught her attention.
She hesitated in the glow of the easily-renewed boots,
an indescribable sadness weighed her down.

VII. O Cowboys of the Wild West,
could you have imagined over a hundred years hence a gentlewoman
wearing your boots, prancing around, shopping, dancing, loving
in the boots you rode broke-back saddle in?

VIII. She knows a virile Western twang and the Southern drawl of a
charmer, the rugged outdoorsy cadences of some men;
but she knows, too, the lilting feminine voice of a Northern girl,
and she is definitely wearing cowboy boots.

IX. When the cowboy boots are put away,
the imprint of their power remains
On her choices.

X. At the sight of her pulling-on her black or tan cowboy boots,
even the critics of haute couture
applaud her versatile fashion sense.

XI. She drove all over the Midwest
in a black minivan.
Once, she cried she was lost,
alone in this stampede.
The cut of her boot reminded her
to start walking.

XII. The river is moving.
Her cowboy boots must be mud-streaked by now.

XIII. Her whole, tired life was a new frontier.
She knew she was living, even as she was dying.
She was getting old. She was going to die.
Her cowboy boots kicked-up the dust under her feet
as she walked-off into the sunset.


Ellen Austin-Li, originally published on her blog (where the line breaks are better behaved!)


Dream Rerun
( ~ Found poem composed/modified from words of C. D. Wright’s “The Body’s Temperature at Rest”)

In this version
a wildcat stalks the door
of a yellow brick tower

Inside, you behead irises,
pillow them in ice water
step out the door
brush the cat’s back, his face

He breathes a heady rumble
leads you to a pond
dips his paws
in the light mirror
stirs your shadows

Karen L. George
Published in the journal Amethyst Arsenic, Fall 2016 

Join us for the Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily Project Reading on Wednesday, April 26,  7 pm at People’s Liberty, 1805 Elm Street, Over the Rhine


Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Collard Greens at a Republican Picnic by Kelly Thomas

Sometimes the simplest form, in this case a modified “list poem” can pack a mighty punch, as in this one by Clifton resident Kelly Thomas, a poet who is also an editor, writing coach and teacher.


Collard Greens at a Republican Picnic

I am please you,
not me. I am
push it down,
let it simmer. I am
the black pepper speck
caught between your
white teeth. I am

collard greens
at a Republican picnic.
I am shoulders back,
head up. I am
cayenne in the veins,
creamy potato salad
to your face.

I am blackberry jam
staining white bread. I am
the spicy black sheep
roasting in your pit.

Kelly Thomas
*Previously published in Genesis, 2009

Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Two Poems by Sara Moore Wagner and Caroline Plasket

I love bumping up against new-to-me poets in the Cincinnati area, and being knocked off my feet by the poems they write. Here are just two examples, Sara Moore Wagner, who lives in West Chester and teaches at Xavier and Northern Kentucky University (and whom I have met only through her poems) and Caroline Plasket of Erlanger, whom I met at February’s Writers Resist Open Mic. There is something about their poems that belong together. Perhaps it is the way in which the speakers acknowledge their own place in , to quote Mary Oliver, “the family of things.”
I Have No Love for Images

I’ve given up on the idea that a man
can crocus out of the earth all hair,
even his feet covered with hair, out of the earth
like a swollen root, his hands as soft and full
as berries. Because I am not
a tamer, but a shivering vine
and I also come
from this gorged stem, fruit
and not harvester. Forget
me for a second, you have given
up on this man out
of the ground because he is not
Adam but a fleshy bit of death,
and when he does get sick
and naked, when
he throws a bleeding thigh
so near the sun it hots
and smells like meat
your mother boiled down so low
it turned to dust. This thigh he cuts
from a living bull: from your sacred
body—if you want to know,
I’ve been searching for him, too—
I want to eat the stone bread
which stands for days, which stands for God,
to not sleep like a snake in a pile
of filth, to feed myself on air and the prettiest
slivers of sky. To be made
an equivalent beauty, or else
to not die is what I mean.

Sara Moore Wagner
Originally published in The Wide Shore  and will be in my chapbook (Hooked Through) which will be available soon from Five Oaks Press.


Incidental Offering

When he and I embrace each night on a forged promise of forever,
I offer my body: almost as his own
but never even mine, really.
It is there in my bones, where the love settles.

We are the found bird nest that sat on the porch table to be admired
until the cats knocked it off to become a pile of dirt, straw,
and broken shell—jagged blue pieces of a puzzle undone,
to be swept back onto the earth beyond the porch.

The same cats catch cicadas and bring them to the front door.
An offering of broken wings. A death,
while thousands of cicadas in the trees sing the song of living.
I glue a separated wing to a picture and cover it with shellac.
It is timeless there
but can’t fly.

Our children sit around the table each night
where we lay food in front of them,
our offering; a wing of love
ripped from somewhere.
It all becomes timeless in their bones.

One day the children can sprinkle this as ash over the world.
Caroline Plasket
First published in The Tishman Review

Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Three Poems by Roberta Schultz, Leslie Clark and Rita Coleman

Today I offer you three poems with interwoven themes. Roberta Schultz of Wilder, Kentucky is a poet and singer/songwriter (among other fine things) who performs with the trio Raison D’Etre. Leslie Clark is a Clifton poet. It’s a stretch to call Xenia, where Rita Coleman lives, Greater Cincinnati, but she has to be an honorary Cincinnatian by now, as she makes the trek a couple of times a week to write with us at programs I offer. All have chapbooks forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

High Wire (after May Sarton’s “An Observation”)

Some players cannot bear
finger picks between the soft
pluck and the resonating

string. Tips wear blisters, dance
liquid sacrifice over fretboard, caressing
warm bronze, never scraping or buzzing

angel breath from triads. I dodge
the sound man’s slings, duck
thumb picker’s arrows. They would hoist

shields–bright clang of metal
on metal. Wounded digits sense
their way to truth. Daredevils inching

over taut steel.
They feel the way,
never looking down.

Roberta Schultz
Previously published in Still: the Journal 


A Cappella

Morning darkness,
silent world.
A bird calls.

From our beginnings
in the womb
Music is present,
surrounds us,
heartbeats pulsing,
blood rushing.

The body longs to sing,
feeling the rhythms
present in flesh
and bone.

We are born
with a hunger,
ravenous for
the cadences,
the chords,
the close harmonies
that will infuse
our lives.

Leslie Clark, forthcoming in Driving in the Dark.



All birds want to perch on a wire, electric, telephone, cable,
strung between tall crosses of right-sized poles.

When each season’s breezes blow, tiny claws
grip tighter, a subtle movement with each sway of wire.

Wire-perching for the vulnerable and brave is akin
to night walking with a waxing gibbous moon on a rural bike trail,

Alive to contrapuntal calls of cicadas in dark tree tops,
Alert to lumpy shapes along the shoulders, mowed shags of grass.

A flicker of fear, a new one, being muscled from behind
by he-man arms, courses through this woman shadow walker.

The white moon, cool in her simplicity, able to take on all lunacy
draws the walker’s thought up with silver ribbons,

Just as skycurrent draws all birds toward her zenith
toward her circling arms, even those unable to fly.

Like birds on a wire, we winged women must fly higher
than martyr crosses, to escape sacrifice, to soar.

Rita Coleman



Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Three Hive Poems by John Cruze. Nicky Westrick and Andrew R. Boettcher

Three poems about honeybees! Or is that what these small but powerful poems (by John Cruze, Nicky Westrick and Andrew R. Boettcher, respectively, all who have been part of my From Draft to Craft Class, part of Thomas More College’s Creative Writing Vision Program) are about at all? I’ll let you decide.


Follow the Honey

the humble bee
has a secret
it can’t keep
from the fragrant
lobes of flowers
that feed the world

in our striving
we deafen ourselves
to the harmony
in the bee’s
sunlit ways and
honey liquid life

John Cruze
Lawrenceburg, IN

Praying for Honey

Someone broke my heart today,
and I remember the summer afternoon
Dad set a watermelon to float in our pond.
We swam alongside it in the warm sun,
a cook-out with friends.
I see it split open upon the table,
a jagged opening of flesh,
seeds spewing from the mouths of children.
I long for the color of zinnias
and small striped bodies of bees
I would hold and press upon my cheek
was not the sting so harsh.

Nicky Westrick, Loveland, OH


Garden State

New Jersey;
garden state.
Blooms and blooms
of condos and apartments.
Red condo,
green condo,
white condo,
blue condo;
repeated plantings.
All the fields seemed
to grow neighborhoods,
Our playgrounds were
the hives
of poured concrete,
rebar, and wood frames.
We smoked cigarettes
the construction workers left,
and threw rocks
at beer bottles
the teenagers left.
The buzz of nicotine,
and the sting of broken glass.
We were restless, and bored
little bees.

Andrew R. Boettcher
Covington, KY
Check out Andrew’s prize winning poem from the Cincinnati Library’s Poetry in the Garden Contest here.


Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Two Women Dancing by Don Bogen

Don Bogen of Clifton is a professor at the University of Cincinnati and (like many poets we encounter this month) a longtime supporter of poetry and poets in Cincinnati. Here he puts words to movement, allowing us to be both within the speaker/observer and within the pattern of the dance.

Two Women Dancing
The way they mark this intricate beat in slow time,
not facing each other but side by side, angled,
hair swinging forward in doubled fluidity
as each glances just slightly over her left shoulder
and steps back, filling a small invisible box
on the floor, looks measured, Greek–I could imagine
them in robes, their long limbs firm lines beneath linen,
their hips directing the sway, each sandaled foot placed
delicately, deliberately in the pattern.

I feel the pulse too, but I’m frantic. The music
shoves me as if some god demanded a token
of complete abandon with every gesture.
Adrift, drowning, I flail–off time, lost, out of control,
my jittery eyes caught in amazement at how
they glide, slow as in strobe light but always moving
and synchronized, as when one arm mimes another
sweeping the air or both women dip from the waist
to reach down in one motion and lightly touch the floor.

This must be grace–learned and practiced, of course, but still
part of the body’s deepest connection with time,
and time’s with desire, as it builds and subsides
over and over in slow waves. They smile now, their eyes
half-closed. Bass, blips of rhythm guitar, snare taps–there
is so much they are floating on, with the shifting
poise of surfers. As they surrender to the god,
the fluent moves they make assert their mastery–
cool, shared, contained–over all his interwoven strands.

Don Bogen from The Manchester Review

Cincinnati Poetry Month Daily: Two Insomnia Poems by Ella Cather-Davis and Annette Januzzi Wick

Can’t sleep? Might as well write! Here are two very different poems by two very different poets, Ella Cather-Davis of New Richmond and Annette Januzzi Wick of Over the Rhine, both capturing that tension between the internal and external worlds when sleep is caught somewhere in between.

The Breathing Tree

Just outside the glass doors
of this God-forsaken room
over there by the pool,
that tree is breathing.

I view it through half-open eyes
inhaling – – – exhaling
its leaves rustling like tiny bells.
I am too afraid to sleep

I force my heart to slow beats
and cautiously review once more
this vile day which has sent me
fleeing here for asylum.

I await rescue from me,
fight smothering panic,
will my eyes to return to
that calm breathing tree.

I hear a dove call Ooo, Ooo, Ooo.
The world is going on as it does
and I must awake tomorrow
to face its consequences.

And the world will go on
as it always does.

Ella Cather-Davis


Sleeping in my Bra

Lately, the quilts have offered
deep cover
from even deeper state.
I slide beneath
tired from shouting to the world
wanting to shut the world out

My feet are trapped
below the weight of wool,
as if toes have been woven
in place, ensnared in the loom
between the yarns
of what is told to us
and the threads
of what we tell ourselves

I lay in wonder
as thoughts shuttle between

the others
the mothers
the ones without mothers
the ones who can’t be mothers

and questions
throttle my throat
lace up my tongue
in these wee hours

Trapped still am I
from keeping anyone safe
from their own demons
their own diseases
their own direction forward
into a world that would easily
let them disappear

Finally, I wake
comforted by tangles
of a bra that serves
as a shield for my sheness
an armor for my soul

like a harness
lifts a heddle
on a wooden loom

my bra boosts
my femaleness
when I do not have the might.

Annette Januzzi Wick (