Up to the Mother / Hasta la Madre


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News reached me today
by runners in soft shoes
across the highway of sun
that chickens have stopped
laying in Ayotzinapa.
Those fat red hens,
so glorious—remember how
they made us laugh!—they’ve
had it up to here with bites
to the neck from cocks who wear
jade to hide their ugliness.

Marisol tells me
her pan de muerto
refuses to rise;
43 tries
and the dough just bubbles
the way we used to,
imagining romance
in the schoolyard
where the nuns couldn’t hear us.
Such innocents we were,
hoping to be flirts!

I tell her not to worry.
I have pockets full of anise
and though I’m not
supposed to divulge this secret,
winds in high places
in lands we’ve never heard of
are holding council. Our Lady
of the Dead has stitched the names
and deeds of every twisted soul
on the ammunition sash she wears
across her green silk gown.

You fear this will not be enough.
On stormy days, I fear the same,
but I can also tell you this:

The god who eats stars
has accepted my offering
of anise pods intended
for Marisol’s sweet bread,
and he has instructed her,
because she has no guile,
to cradle the hearts
of the grieving in his name
and whisper to every one of them,
your sons and your daughters live.


Hasta la Madre

Me alcanzaron hoy las noticias
por corredores con huaraches
a través de la autopista del sol
que las gallinas han dejado
de poner huevos en Ayotzinapa.
Esas pollitas rojas y gorditas,
tan gloriosas—¡recuérdate como
nos hacían reir!—ya están
hasta la madre con las mordidas
al cuello por los machos que llevan
el jade para esconder sus fealdades.

Marisol me dice
que su pan de muerto
rechaza levantarse;
43 veces se hizo la prueba
y la masa solo burbujea
como hacíamos nosotros,
imaginando el romance
en el campo del recreo
donde las monjas no podían oirnos.
¡Qué inocentes fuimos,
esperando ser coquetas!

La dije a no preocuparse.
Tengo bolsillas llena de anís
y aunque no debo
divulgar este secreto,
hay vientos en lugares altos
en unas tierras que no hemos
conocido jamás, celebrando
el consejo. Nuestra Señora
de la Muerte ha embastado
los nombres y los hechos
de cada alma depravado
en la banda de cartuchos
que lleva sobre
su vestido de seda verde.

Tú temes que esto no bastará.
En los días tempestuosos, temo lo mismo,
pero también te puedo avisar lo siguiente:

el dios que consume las estrellas
ha aceptado mi ofrenda
de vainas de anís
que fueron destinadas
al pan dulce de Marisol,
y la ha dado órdenes,
porque ella no tiene engaño,
a cunear los corazones
de los doloridos en su nombre
y susurrar a cada uno de ellos,
tus hijos y tus hijas viven.


Author’s Note: “Estar hasta la madre” is a Spanish idiom that translates loosely as “had it up to here”, used when something is no longer tolerable. The image of an altar (ofrenda) for Day of the Dead comes from http://www.serunserdeluz.wordpress.com.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Raining Frogs and Razor Blades


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a glosa

trust your heart if the seas catch fire
live by love though the stars walk backward
losing through you what seemed myself, I find
selves unimaginably mine, beyond…

“dive for dreams”, e.e. cummings


The man with the kind smile is in the news today
for shame; I think his mother must be feeling
terrible. How hard she’s scrubbed what hangs in
public view. It’s not her laundry now, nor mine, and
yet I cannot help but cringe. This brine cooked up
by marketeers of low repute electrocutes—the wire
running through us all burns hot and white. It rips us
into trenches, splitting wrong from everybody’s right.
To him, the kind one, I offer this: while all seems dire,
trust your heart if the seas catch fire.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, that an institution
knows what’s best for you and me between the
sheets and who we call to warm them. The exit
signs are clearly marked; I know the rules,
you know who dominates, submits. Our excitation
knows no bounds…so far, so good, our sword
play’s in good fun—what’s this? You run to papa,
now? What’s changed? This wasn’t in our game!
The pain that binds us reappears, inside outward:
Live by love, though the stars walk backward.

Now we’re raining frogs and razor blades,
the “I would nevers” puffing up, their croaks
if not harmonious, at least, are sanctimonious.
Meanwhile, in stalls high up in marble halls,
stars of varying repute, nova, dark and dwarf,
fear toppling like you from their hard-won blind
heavens. What can I do to extract promises
from the many I have loved most awkwardly?
Not much. I thought I’d left you all behind.
Losing through you what seemed myself, I find

a vast, polluted land that someone promised
me, I can’t remember when or why. I have no
maps or guide. The bondage that delighted
us, our thumbing nose to pharaohs, seems,
in retrospect, like sweet repose. The failure
of success I feared most cruelly has dawned
an angry sun. What would my father say?
I made him proud and do so, still…perhaps,
these plagues I’ll weather and discover fond
selves, unimaginably mine, beyond…


I have taken some liberties with this glosa, a form that many of you may now recognize. The lines I’ve taken from e.e. cummings’ poem, “dive for dreams” are not a consecutive quatrain. I gleaned them from the larger poem in response to a current event, which, in its vividness and universality, addresses us all. Cummings, no stranger to controversy in his lifetime (1894-1962), probably wouldn’t mind.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image from Wikimedia Commons



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maple leaf flag

I love
I am loved
I am love

you love
you are loved
you are love

he loves
he is loved
he is love

she loves
she is loved
she is love

we love
we are loved
we are love

all of you love
all of you are loved
all of you are love

they love
they are loved
they are love

No exceptions.
Any questions?


I offer this piece in honour of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who lost their lives on duty this week. I offer this in appreciation of the tremendous outpouring of support here in Canada and from friends around the world.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

desiring: a north country poem


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Elaine at Rooster Rock


the larchwood dropped her needles
at my feet today, a carpet red and gold
across the coals of where the blacksmith
long departed, forges iron rods and nails
for caskets to bring up the mustard ore

walk softly, she commanded, moving
only when the aspen quakes and pickerel
dive deep to dream—take nothing, least of all
the sticks that petty drummers beat in tattoo
and false chivalry—reactors hold no heat

fire is why
I’ve called you
fire is why
you’ve come

the trail of your desiring
surrounds you now, an asymptote—
he is the curve that holds your line
in place, you are his firmness
mirrored, current to his charge

the ashes of the deadened
tongues you both acquired for
pity’s sake they blew away
the instant you set down the
basket filled with femurs on
the very day he lit the dynamite
that broke off consort with
the empty lords


We followed her directions
stuttering at first, he could not
roll his tongue like poplars do
I learned in snatches how to fish
a dream so deep that mythic
creatures scoff and hiss,
there’s no such thing
as her—or him!

we watch from where we sit
embracing those who navigate
in fits and starts, we hold no
quarrel here upon this rock for
as the larchwood promises each
ray must find its hope at every
dawn resides a new desiring.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Photograph by Lisa Bobechko, ©2014

Multi-tsking: A Seasonal Horror Poem


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I’ve been told by my psychiatrist
I tsk too much, I scold and crow,
take on too many problems.
I disagree, of course, while texting
to my friends the sins of sodium
and artificial sweeteners. What does
a shrink know of the drug wars
in Frambodia or the poisons
they inject in wheat?

I argue justifiably for dolphins
and the glaciers and the son
of some Eurasian activist
imprisoned for the gun he used
in self-defense against the
government inside his head.

I plead the cause of mental
health and donate to the poor.
I preach to the religionists
who knock upon my door.
I blog against hypocrisy.
To thine own self, be true,
I tell my friends, click Like
but only partially when they
support some angle that I’ve
read somewhere suppresses
or oppresses.

I examine every argument—
the noisy ones I love the best—
to find myself a niche. I protest
against poverty and soundly
curse the riche.

Re. cruelty to children, beasts,
and women, well, my outrage
knows no bounds. I post at every
opportunity full-colour clips
of tragedies that could have
been prevented if more people
cared and thought like me.

I raise awareness of injustices
that with a single rewrite of
the country’s constitution would
guarantee equality just like our
founding patriarchs—er, fathers…
um, leaders—once decreed.

I align with all minorities
against the large, the many,
much. Democracy for Everyone!
I cry with others of my tribe,
though tribalism troubles
me, as such—oh, no…

They’re coming in with
tear gas, do you see them?
Riot cops with shields…

When will this end?
…it will not end. Pick up!
…your placard. Join!
…the march, I must!

I try to raise my arm
against the billy club
but I’ve been strapped
to this hard bed. I cannot
turn my head. The light
they’re shining in my
eye’s too bright.

Hello, my name is Dr. Hammersmith.
I am your new neurologist, referred
by your psychiatrist. I must agree
with Dr. Lee: excessive multi-tsking,
disapproving, clucking, many terms
we have for fussing over things
when you could just as easily
exemplify solutions, has caused
a hostile take-over by cortisol,
adrenalin, and other caustic
stress hormones of your once
balanced brain. They’ve pitted
holes the size of Normandy—
I say this, ha ha, metaphorically—
into your hippocampus, hypothalamus,
those precious limbic organs, while
dopamines, endorphins, all the
pleasure drugs your body used
to make when beauty, joy, and
eagerness came naturally have
canceled their production.
Happily, we have a treatment.

It’s still in early research stages,
but I’m sure we’ll be approved
once we’ve cured the likes of
you ten thousand times, or so.

Hammersmith released my eyelid
and produced a hypodermic
with a six-inch silver needle
which he squirted to release
a pinkish liquid.

The pineal gland in humans,
he explained, while lowering the
needle to a spot between my eyes,
has been shrinking for millennia.
We are, today, more civilized
and rational. We have no need
to see what isn’t there—utopias,
perfection, love that never ends
and such. The downside is,
de-pinealized, we make too much
of the unfortunate, see offences
everywhere, and hence, this
multi-tsking epidemic that
prevents the spread of
true intelligence.

But I protest!
Or course, you do.
That’s all you do.

Relax, this will not hurt
a bit. I promise, when you’ve
wakened, you will never
wish to tsk again.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

If I Had




If I had a master, a most unlikely
fate, someone to pose my questions
to, someone to sort my laziness from
thoughts of hate and blow them off like
milkweed fluff to prove their weight,
I guess he’d be something like you.

If I had a lover with eyes like cocoa
butter, someone to share my bed and
put the coffee on, who understands when
family news arrives for good or ill, who knows
just when and where to touch, and why,
I wonder if he’d be something like you.

If I had a friend whose screen door’s
never locked to me, who keeps my
deepest secrets and reads poetry
to financiers, applauds when each of us
succeeds beyond wildest imaginings,
I’m sure he’d be something like you.

If I had another chance at life, to do
again what I have done, differently or
better, to dazzle with my energies and talent
without fear of consequence, of loss or apathy,
I’d pause just long enough to think about
my master, lover, friend, then, smiling,
take your hand and say, I’m here.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Photograph by author

For a Time


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For a time, you were the wall
against which I threw snowballs
shaped like poems that blew into my face.
Now you are the mist above ruins.

For a time, you were the millstone
that sat upon my collarbone and chafed
me till I bled and mastered slouching.
Now you rise like smoke rings.

For a time, you were the bottleneck
that calcified my sweetest words the more
I tried to push them them through your veins.
Now you are my sacral bowl.

For a time, you were the poetry
that ground my winter wheat to fine
and stirred my torpid blood to blue.
Now you are my legacy.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Photograph by author



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With what contortions do I twist and shrink?
With what deliberations analyze
the glut of dissolutions handed down,
and why? Abusing self by what I think,
then crafting words for you to sympathize
is such a tedium, when I could clown,
enjoy with incremental aptitude
the truth beyond decrepit lies of age.
Surrounded by enablers, we all choose
which face to show, the grin or grimace crude,
which view to face, the wall or unwrit page.
This acrobatic editing of news
I toss in favour of the new and bold,
astonishing and joyful to behold.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image of clowns from http://www.prom-pom.com

Roll Call


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Not here yet—

Yes, I am. Present!

Running a little ahead of yourself, are you?

Yes, Ma’am.

Very well, take a seat.

Excuse me, Ma’am.

Yes, Past?

New is not a tense.

Very true, it’s not. And the point of your comment is?

Well, my Dad says, if we let New in where it’s never been before, there’s no telling what could happen.

To whom?

To all of us, Past, Present—I mean, Now—and Future.

I see. What do you say?


You’ve told us what your Father says about New. What do you say? New is sitting right there in front of you. I’m sure we’d all be interested.

Um, well…it’s hard to tell from here. Maybe dresses a little funny…seems okay, though.

Thank you, that’s a good start. New, do you have anything you’d like to say to Past?

No, Ma’am.

Why not?

(long thoughtful pause)

Because it doesn’t matter.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

The Ship of Fools Cruise


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I have just returned
from a twelve-day cruise
through a string of lagoons
that opened to an ocean with views
from my stateroom that burned
all I knew of dodos and loons
to extinction. These new sea legs
feel amphibious to me, which begs
the obvious question: have I devolved
from overwrought human to primordial fish?
Perhaps in the itinerary, I got too involved.
What follows is real, no need to embellish.

The first port of call
was a small rocky isle
named Leave Me Alone
with people I never saw smile.
Heads doddering, their chests were all
caved from speaking only to cone-
shaped devices, never to each other.
Got their news from some all-seeing mother,
they fed us deep-fried curly disdain,
dragged us through museums of love betrayed.
That nobody wanted us there was plain
from dark looks and cheap trinkets arrayed.

The second port, Curiosity,
was a little more pleasant
with umbrella drinks and beach
towels drying on resident
porches and invitations to tea.
What are you doing? I teach,
write, and—oops, I had said too
much, I could tell from the boo
and the hiss and the way they
moved onto the next passing thing.
That I couldn’t brighten everyone’s day
shocked me, at first, like a manta ray sting.

Why Should We Care was the name
of the third port of call after two days
on a green and impetuous sea.
Score cards were handed out at quays:
for each kindness shown, game
points were earned to collect free
pizzas and affection. But if you fell
behind and lost count, there was hell
to pay—bye-bye, fool, back to the ship!
Why Should We Care and its uber-fair
trade did show me how not to give a rip.
A blue-footed booby ate my score card mid-air.

You’ve Done This Before
is a vast territory unclaimed
in the Tropic of Virgo that nobody
wants to admit exists. Home to aged
seducers signing autographs for
dejected hearts, I tried to jet-ski
past them and their fading past,
but I should have asked
for directions first. I crashed
into a carousel and knocked
the horn off a unicorn, mashed
the arms off a giant stone virgin clock.

I was so glad to arrive
at Let’s All Just Pretend, a city
of canals and festivals devoted
to the possibility of prosperity
by means of mental thrive
despite impediment. I toted
nothing, tasted only what
inspired for the moment that
it pleased me, left the prickly
bears to simmer in their justifying
juices, the devotees to melancholy,
freeing me to watch dolphins multiplying.

I Will Not Come This Way
Again, our final destination, served
a feast for the fools like me who’d
had enough of living a half-life unnerved
by news and jealousies. Palms swayed;
we sang to ukelele ballads, and the mood
from deck hand to captain lifted when he threw
away the anchor and we saw that it was true.
Our streamlined ship could fly as well as sail
seas of cloud and clarity. With each cruise
done, a new twelve days of freedom we avail
the cycling sun and stars, everything to choose.


Once in a while, fortune lays a poem across my path that makes me want to run to everyone I know, crying, “Look at this, oh my God—look at this!” Thankfully, Oceantics spares my family and friends. I can just rant away here, trusting that people who want to read on, will.

The poem that ignited me was posted by a friend on Facebook. She posts a poem every day. This one was “Atlantis” by W.H. Auden. Thunderstruck, I printed it off and carried it everywhere for days. I’d probably read the poem twenty times before noticing it rhymed, Auden is so subtle, so gifted. His knowledge of the classics shimmers; I felt like I’d read a 7-stanza Odyssey.

The title of my poem borrows from W.H. who borrowed the concept from Plato. Who knows where Plato got the idea of a ship of fools? We’re all derivative. I have also employed Auden’s 12-line stanzas and rhyme scheme of ABCBACDDEFEF. To his lightness and depth, I cannot come close, but it has been great fun trying.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The image of a blue-footed booby giving a rip comes from Wikipedia.


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