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Breath of Willow poetry by

Mary McGinnis

Breath of Willow Poetry by Mary McGinnis

©2017 Mary McGinnis All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN: 978-0-9984580-4-5 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 Printed in the United States of America This chapbook is part of the prize given to the winner of the annual Lummox Poetry Contest. This year’s recipient is Mary McGinnis of Santa Fe, NM. For more information go to and look for the Lummox Poetry Contest link.


Acknowledgments: Coming Back to God was published in Third Wednesday Literary Arts Journal, Spring 2016, Vol. IX, No. 2. Earth was published online in Language & Ecology Journal, 2016, and The Rag, Issue #154, April 2011. For The Water Man was published in The Rag, Issue #106, April 2007. Let’s Make Love In The Arroyo was published in The Rag, Issue #128, February 2009. Second Efficiency was published in The Rag, Issue #123, September 2008. Wetlands will be published in the Water issue of Poets Speak Anthology, 2017. Stop Measuring Moon was published in Malpais Review, Spring 2015, Featured Poet: Mary McGinnis. After all these years... (Haiku) was published in The Rag, Issue #108, June 2007.



Dedicated to my cornucopia of friends, poets and all!



After All, Santa Fe After all, you are my town; I learned about air filters from you, I learned about tea made from chamisa from you and even mullein, though really, it was a mountain all along that called me, taught me to linger like the scent of juniper or moon light, said to my insides, look for beauty, always look for beauty, never forsake it; it will touch you like the breath of willow when you are alone. Even as earthquakes and deception fill the news, even as fascism eats at our hearts, it’s still a little bit safe here.


Coming Back To God 1 Will it be like sleeping with a 20 year old clod on the football team, spinning so fast my feet land on somebody’s chest? 2 Will it be like losing myself in a labyrinth, and having to sing a song I love repeatedly until I can get out? 3 Is it like being told I can only speak in my second language, causing confusion as scary and delicious as a bag of popcorn, half-popped, and half not? 4 Is it suddenly knowing the world isn’t anything like I thought it was, with my red heart shifting and flailing, and my relating with you as though relating to myself, salaaming, and salaaming, and standing up straight as I can?

— 10 —

5 Stand still, so that I can know you god: poke out from my under arm so I at least know where you come from. I don’t like it when you disappear into the bottom of my ear, when no one can see you through the transparent ear drum. 6 Be like the moon, and control the secret river. Make me a shield that I can wear that only I will know is there. 7 If confusion is a bag of popcorn, then knowing is orange blossom tea served in a delicately pleated cup. If I am still the woman I was, I will throw stones back into the river— and not be afraid.

— 11 —

No Father* Nights you sat up drawing On ice on a window thinking how he Flung his big shoulders out the door after you were born And hit the bars and hit the freights; you longed for his Touch and became a father, so in the Evening you could hold a squirming daughter bundle and Rock her in strong arms you never knew.

*The winning poem for the 2017 Lummox Poetry Contest, as chosen by judge Judith Skillman.

— 12 —

Dead Mother and Large Twins The laden table rocks with food: the dead mother should have received something different, the twins should have been twisted into one body. Neighbors mill around, chomping. The mother’s eyes are still open. The healer does a slow burn. Inside herself she groans, unable to undo death. Voices poke at her and yammer. She ignores them. She makes a protective circle around the twins and mother. Some outsiders stand around, staring. They ask for a second cold drink. Only one per person, the healer says. The well is almost dry and we’re out of propane. The twins fade into the threadbare sofa. The outsiders pretend to pray for the mother, adopting a solemn expression. The twins don’t look up or move.

— 13 —

Earth Elves must shield you, elves who love wings and all birds as well as earwigs; and the rain must touch you for old time’s sake, and touching you, bring you back, my hollow, broken mother.

— 14 —

Funeral Ice Cream (For Mary Lou) The day before you went into a coma, we were planning an ice cream party— you had sounded so inspired and reckless, when you cried out “Let’s have an ice cream orgy.” I was so inspired by this I thought you might live forever. One friend bought ten kinds of ice cream to stack in your freezer. While you were in deepest sleep, here are the ones who were eating in awkward silence: I was there along with Deb the nurse, Bart the executor, James the poet, a hospice volunteer, young and luminous, Lynn our friend in sweetness, and a tiny piece of your spirit.

— 15 —

For The Water Man If I knife my way through to you at the bottom of the lake, you’ll be wearing a shroud, holding shadows, you’ll reach out a skeletal hand and ask me if I’m cold, handing me a cashmere shawl, handing me yellow fire in a green glass. The lake will thump above us like a shell of mystery out of control. You might say, “Stay with me at the bottom of the lake,” I might say, “Twilight in the mountains is better.” But in Indian legend, no one but you can live at the bottom of a lake. The woods are full of the ghosts of drowned women. It needs to snow in the mind, so I will forget you.

— 16 —

For My Name I got you from my grandmother Mary, nicknamed Mame, a woman I never met because my father married a Protestant; she was an Irish woman who kept her secrets close as a head scarf on her head; lived in a row house in South Philadelphia, with marble steps and a living room achingly clean. Not to be outdone, my mother named me for herself, Ellen; the middle name a heavy melmac plate I couldn’t break but dropped when I turned 16. The “Mary” was a light piece of lace I could wrap around myself, quick-to-say a cricket name, neither round nor square, a butterfly name, spoken when sleepy. It wasn’t as juicy as Magdalena, as raspberry as Diana, it could be whispered well enough. Now you must save me, now we are no longer owned by my mother; I hope you are stronger than a pasta shell, more than an echo of the name of the mother of God; be cooler than marble, faster than crickets, lighter than lace; be the poem filling me up.

— 17 —

Nameless Wife Now that you’re gone, I understand everything; an anachronism in that town, manly and tender, walking, shopping, going everywhere alone. You’d be looking up at Angel Peak while everyone else was working, drinking, or scrounging. In your shed, an unheated studio, you fired images with wildly toxic colors intended for craft shows. From here I want to apologize for my endless obsession with helping. But you’re gone from form to no-form. Now that I am old, I see I was your adversary without meaning to be working on being a good egg, instead of laughing, laughing with you among stones.

— 18 —

Let’s Make Love In This Arroyo Lamy, January 1986 Let’s make love in this arroyo before the noise of the bulldozer digs a hole in my skull as ragged as a bullet hole. Let’s stretch ourselves on this gravel in January sunshine, before the barbed wire we crawled under becomes electrified, and we have to skulk between houses so we’re not seen. Let’s hold each other breathing the dry juniper air until the dust from new construction sites chokes us and the white stones of the cliff outside the village are smudged and covered over with raw seedless dirt from the bulldozer. We will slide down into a ravine. The bedraggled feathers from a bluebird in my jacket pocket: let’s fly out of here in a dream where three disconnected feathers lift us high over brown grasses.

— 19 —

Imaginary Teenager’s Bedroom Here’s the sarong she never learned to wrap— The knife she slid across her wrist without breaking the skin. Here are hair clips she brought from the future Into her bedroom: one of them looked like a black bug— (Someone had left it on a chair arm)— She picked it up, pulled her hair to the top of her head, Shoved the clip onto her hair. Here’s the sound of her dad shaving— He wasn’t singing just shaving. Here’s the window she didn’t look out of: Locusts and birds she heard, The snow balls she thought she could smell from next door. Here’s her mother crumpled next to her in her bed, snoring, And here is her taut hand, Pushing at her mother’s back, Wanting her mother to stop snoring.

— 20 —

Speaking Wells Spring Has pounced and idled like an Elderly hummingbird, Avaricious; bearing down unKindly, the sun between fierce and Indolent—the wells have Never spoken before. They Go silent and almost empty Waiting for rain, for Everything to shift, to be Like it was when Loud hooves broke down and Scattered the air

— 21 —

Second Efficiency It is very dark in this dream— (this happens when I stop to think what dreams are like.) I put my hands on objects in my second kitchen: the first candelabra, the spires of eucalyptus. (This happens when I daydream:) the table wooden and ordinary, the blinds making their dull music, that step you could trip on going up or down, the nameless stove, the three closets stuffed with treasures, mine and others: a sake set, his book of Chinese recipes, which should have been mine, three shirts S. wore to work, heavy with cigarette smoke, a bottle of whiskey (who finished it?) my moth-eaten, mohair shawl, on a stand in the outer hall. . . . a colorless cape of longing, a blurred scape of desiring follows me, ambushes like the sound of rapid transit (a trolley) in my old cinema.

— 22 —

Rickety Stairs rallies must come first, the activists say, before immersion, before another call to war— kindness must be preserved, everyone knows this, straining to see tall democracy leaning to one side, which may have a year or less left— so what do we do next? besides tell each other to hang in there, all of us making time for worry, time for rallies, insisting on love plus action— rats don’t belong on this stairway, only sassy women singing and holding democracy up.

— 23 —

“Like the I of the poem she names ‘Worst Dinner,’ Mary McGinnis is ‘an evangelist for words’ who finds the best even in something as ordinary as an awkward dinner. She tells god and old dragonflies to slow down and be still, dares them to brush us with their wings and scatter light around our ankles. She calls on her grandmother’s name, her name, to be the poem filling us up. She invites us to drink words with her from each other’s breath, to speak our words together, to listen hard and stand still, to laugh. She knows words are silence as well as sound. And, like Basho, to describe lightning we brake our brushes quickly and begin to weep. This dance is for all, and that is good news.” —Steven Schroeder, virtual artists collective * * * “Mary McGinnis’ chapbook Breath of Willow is a delightful collection of praise poems for beauty, deception, bread, confusion, earth, ephemera, dragonflies, the named and unnamed. She shares gentle insights on aging, love, and the natural world. It is a joy to read her unpretentious yet powerful poetry.” —Debbi Brody, author, Portraits in Poetry (2006), In Everything Birds (2015), Village Books Press, Oklahoma

This is a sample. To order the complete 44-page book, visit our website:

McGinnis sampler  

Mary McGinnis loves this world where we are, where “the first March ants candrift up your arm”; where “sassy women hold democracy up”; and “...

McGinnis sampler  

Mary McGinnis loves this world where we are, where “the first March ants candrift up your arm”; where “sassy women hold democracy up”; and “...