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And Always the Desert Close Behind 


Blood blooming over the curved earth, torch of the bombs, 

a rage that my grandmother spoke without translation


in the ancient tongue, shaped by the wind that blows through holes

in the city walls and pocks the earth with stones like olive pits. 


This was the story she offered with one hand in her pocket—

sorrow that followed her here from the East with its dry sockets


and apricots. But I didn’t want that story. Instead, I waited for light 

like a dog, my legs raised to the gold of summer sun, shamelessly bare, 


my legs stretched out to be touched by one long blade of grass that grew 

from an abundance of green. I looked away from the news, the desert 


with our people in it, racing from death, or stepping right in. The desert 

with its shattered bones and the tongues clicking “tsk, tsk” at the girl overseas 


averting her eyes. Here, it was summer, and I could pretend I forgot everything 

but green, soft as the belly of a bird, or the airplanes that marked the air like a grandfather clock, 


roaring the clouds clean every hour. Here, where a tulip was my long painted finger 

as it reached its stalk deep into the vase. I have desired like that every day of my life, 


with all of my cells sprung and frothing like a carwash in the center of the moon. 

Today even, I use my desire like armor, breastplate and greaves. I have turned my back 

from my grandmother handing me the ancient hates she kept in her skirt. 

I have done this to avoid feeling what it is to place a tulip on my father’s body 


cooling in its casket while the bombs arc and roar like slow-moving meteors 

in a sky yellow as a cat’s eyes, while the bombs drown my grandmother’s cries 


from the cement wall of her grave.

Unrhymed Sonnet with Lake, Old Bones and Mary Oliver’s Geese


Up over Kezar Lake, the White Mountains like mothers


hovering with their awful worrying, their heavy legs 

purple-veined majesty and just reaching the summer storm clouds 

that wagged their gray tongues in the style of old rabbis, trembling lake  

a cold green and three feet lower than last year. Each day I would cling 

to the dock ladder, watching the rocks that looked like Mary Oliver’s geese

just peeking through the moving lip of the surface, and I wasn’t good, 


I would pee in the water, relaxing my body as I only can when immersed 

and step with a squish into the weedy mud lake floor full of dead eyes 

and stones and the bones of every poet who had come to the colony 

in the last 100 years, mud rising out of their empty sockets, cold water 

pecking at my bare legs like the beaks of the underwater geese 

that honked with each rush of the waves from the passing motorboats, 

hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours, hours. 

Unrhymed Sonnet with Heat Wave and Hours


Tuesday, the heat was a heavy wine, still as skin, 


my legs askew in a chair where even the fabric 


itched with loneliness, hours empty of people


like an echo across water. How delighted I was. 


Hours made of blurred glass, like the mirror 


after my daughter has traced her face in sunscreen, 


pressed her flesh to see the imprint. Hours like grease 


spattering the stove and left to trap the dust. Hours 


that dissolved like honey in my swollen mouth. Hours 


that ached, calling and recoiling like a throbbing sore


touched and touched again. The sting of solitude that shook 


as if racked by sickness, the mountains watching me 


to see my next dull move. A poem. A swim. Raking up mud 


with my fingers or feet, one way or another.

Unrhymed Sonnet with Full Moon and One Ripe Tomato


Poetry in my nails splitting with the dark along with moon 


in gold air coming over a lake cold below a simmering heat, 


groundhog nibbling and darting into taller grasses at the periphery 


of lawn, tying scarves around my heavy hair, happier than I’d been 


in years, my body whole and lonely, moon yellow, poetry 


as nourishing as touch, my own words glowing like a million moons, 


my toes long as fingers, picking up the stones in the lake 


to feel the jagged pressure against tender skin, gleam the gold of myself 


in the hours curved long with poems, digging into the silt 


of all I had been before I cut clear to the quick. I watched the lake 


shiver under my eye, I watched it roll with the coming wind, 


I cut a tomato red ripe and leaking seeds onto a white napkin, 


each one in its jelly, each one destined to fruit if I would allow, 


give them what they need to root, bloom.


Meghan Sterling’s work has been nominated for 4 pushcart prizes in 2021 and has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, Colorado Review, Idaho Review, Pinch Journal, Radar Poetry, Pacifica Literary Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The West Review, Mockingheart Review, Small Orange, SWIMM, Rust & Moth, and many others. She is Associate Poetry Editor of the Maine Review, and winner of Sweet Literary's 2021 poetry contest, Equinox’s 2021 poetry contest, and West Trestle Review’s 2021 poetry contest. Her collection These Few Seeds is out now from Terrapin Books. Read her work at

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