Poems by Pamela Uschuk
Moonset with Brahma Bull
A gibbous moon trails sparks as it leads
winter by the nose ring, as ice white
as Herman, the Brahma my father tamed,
so large Herman shook the two story barn
thrashing his huge-boned head waiting
for hay, for my father to curry
his coat spackled with tiny black stars.
Herman, whose bellow woke neighbors a mile away,
carried my brother and me like crystal glasses atop his galactic back,
Herman, wild enough to buck for no reason, found joy
tearing roots from fields of alfalfa, asparagus, wild garlic
he breathed on us when we petted his tender pink nose.
Hazy as xrays, the dead tonight slip back to far
dreams as they fine tune the machinery
of the universe, each cog
a clicking memory interlocked
changing the molecular structure of clouds,
pushing up mountains toward a heaven that
recedes, changing us as it changes our needs.
North under a juniper tree, mom’s ashes
are boxed next to Dad’s, guarded
by a stained glass wheel my sister crafted
into kaleidoscopes of plum light fracturing sunlight
and moonlit ghosts hunting the high Rockies.
Some nights I hear my father calling his cattle home
by name, one by one, come home, come home
calling as fondly as to farm dogs he stroked, these cows
raised for inevitable slaughter who nourished us.
As sun turns day to milk light, I think of what
feeds us, how each of us is just a memory of another
so we keep the stories alive
as walnut trees
as moss roses, purple monkshood, daisies going to seed,
as hummingbirds sipping nectar surrounded by thorns,
whose bulbous eyes see sixteen ways at once,
as Herman the Brahma bull,
as my father’s laughter opening a room,
as the moon shedding gold scales across Pacific waves
I can taste in this far desert but cannot see.
Finding Owl Feathers
Two weeks running, screech owl feathers in my path, the scalloped
curves of the first fluttering at the verge
of sunset and coyote yips in the arroyo below, then
a Great Horned’s flight primary in Children’s Memorial Park
as I walked past walls etched with the thousand names of lost children,
near the bronze boy forever riding wild
a flying carpet under lacy mesquite—that
very day in the mail came a friend’s watercolor of owl feet
walking, talons onyx in moonlight,
scimitars of black light to stab prey.
No head, no wings, just white
belly feathers flecked gold and the scaled
crenulated feet reminding me of the barn owl
who fed on mice and rats raiding
the granary on the farm when I was a girl.
Funny that owl did not scare me
murmuring from his roof beam
in the shed’s semi-dark. His thick snowy down
comforted my small tragedies, wings spread
like thick quilts stretched above my head, wings
I wanted to hop on for a sky ride
away from Mom’s tears, her moans
over her fiance killed on Bataan, she said,
before she met my dad. With little clean air to breathe,
Dad sweated in the factory while she dug out
the photo secreted in a box in her underwear drawer.
I didn’t want to see that boy’s handsome cocky face
or her tears, the love she didn’t shower on my dad.
My dad always said Leave the owl be. He’s
doing us a favor, so I thanked owl
for gleaning pests from my dad’s hard-earned grain.
Mom said the owl was bad luck.
I was confused but trusted the owl
with his gold coin eyes, his neat black beak and
his heart-shaped face, silent predator
who without intrigue or desire
ate only what he killed.
Two Bell’s vireos scold me from desert willows, then
the oleanders beginning to bloom tongue pink
waking verdins and Anna’s hummers. Before daybreak
thrashers screech above the crashdash of rush hour.
Where does it come from, that thorny seed,
phosphorus flash of memory?
My mother changed the course of history
that day she strode into the bathroom
without knocking, and me adolescent
whooshing warm water across my thighs
shaken from solitude. What was
I thinking, maybe about an impossibly hot boy
in school or how I longed to run away
to mountains where I could live wild with bears
and mountain lions who made more sense than humans.
Surely I said something like,
“What do you want?”
I remember the red lipstick on the tips of her teeth
as she reached down
with both piano hands fast
as a double snake strike, before I could react,
pinched hard the nipples of my new breasts
I was sure were cancer anyway.
“Oh, look, aren’t they cute.”
her arm with my horrified washcloth, could
have vomited in her face leaning close to mine.
————————–“Get out of here,”
I screamed. “Get out.” But
those pinches never went away and
I never told anyone, not even my dad
when he got home from work, not best friends
or lovers or later my oncologist. I was 13
and embarrassed just to be alive in my changeling body.
When she slammed out the door laughing, I couldn’t
even cry. How could I blame
her? Her normal was our hell.
My mother’s schizophrenia, sometimes
manic-depression ramped her laugh
to a shattered fun house mirror, then
dropped her into a cauldron of burned-on bitter
crusting her heart, her beautiful naked body
splayed across the sheets.
After she came home from the psyche ward,
she sat for months staring out the picture window.
I must have sounded small as a vireo
to her that afternoon trapped in the lukewarm tub.
I stayed in the water a long time that day,
spewing out new swear words no one else
could hear into my washcloth—god
and scrubbed my chest until it burned
from Lava soap that wasn’t nearly strong enough
to erase my breasts or obliterate her indelible prints.
Pamela Uschuk has eight published books of poems, including Crazy Love, winner of a 2010 American Book Award and a new collection, Refugee, from Red Hen Press, 2022. Refugee received a starred review in Kirkus and was chosen as one of the 14 best books of poems in 2022 by Orion Magazine. Translated into more than a dozen languages, her work appears worldwide, including Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni Review, etc. Her awards include Best of the Web, the 2022 Storyknife Women Writers Fellowship, the Struga International Poetry Prize (for a theme poem), The New Millenium Poetry Prize, The King’s English Poetry Prize, Dorothy Daniels Writing Award from the National League of American PEN Women, and prizes from Ascent and Amnesty International. Editor-In-Chief of CUTTHROAT, A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS, and Black Earth Institute Senior Fellow and Board Member, Uschuk lives Colorado and in Arizona. She edited the anthologies, Truth To Power: Writers Respond To The Rhetoric Of Hate And Fear, 2017, Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century, 2020, and Through the Ash, New Leaves, 2022. She teaches at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. She’s finishing work on a multi-genre book called CRAZED ANGELS OF HOPE: SHOUT OUT OVARIAN CANCER, THE WHISPERING DISEASE.