Mudlark Poster No. 141 (2017)

Tectonics | Poems
by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Turning from the Past

Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Turning Away from the Past

Boilermaker | Lawbreaker | Kalihi, 1952 | Specter
Things I Keep | Tectonic | Influenza in Early Spring
Flashlight | The Telescope of Love | The Return
Visiting My Father: Sutter Buttes Cemetery


My father had a Librium
and Phenobarbital cocktail
to wash down the Seagram’s
and Cutty Sark—

so many bottles, so many
pills, all mixed together
in some soul-killing dark.

Open a door: War
breathed there. Open another:
His crazy mother.

Once we thought we’d killed him,
egged him on to knock him out,
then called the doc. Old fashioned
stomach pump; Dairy Queen after.

So it went, and so I passed
up those boys with innocent mugs— 
their long shots, their whiskeys
with beer chasers.


My father lived 
like a monk

in a cell—
whiskey was his 

He was also good 

at the other Deadly 
Sins. Christ! 

how fear’s bells
wrung him.

Kalihi, 1952

The house was quiet but breathings
lifted the coverlet of hush.

I imagined my parents twined leafily 
together in the bedroom’s dusk.

But underneath the private hush
my father growled, Why don’t you die?

and my mother slept with fear
under her side of the bed

where dust balls scudded to the gloomy
symphonies of their bedsprings.

Outside the moon bound us all
in its sling, even my brother, unborn

but tethered, like a tiny rider,
still tucked up snug.


He prickles your skin with his breath, tickles you 
hard on the bed—so hard he leaves blue 
thumbnail sketches of his mirth. 

Sometimes he chases after you like danger, 
lopes after you through the dry summer grasses—
the whiskey surge of adrenaline pumping up 
his crazy wrath, your heart ballooning 
inside you; the two of you casting grotesque 
shadows in the moonlit schoolyard 

behind the house. It’s late, all the lights 
in the neighborhood have gone out: Good. 
No one must see you here, or his twisted face—
this moment when your knotted muscles start 
to cramp, and you pant like the hopeless 
animal he must want you to be.

Things I Keep

I keep the memory of you without the You. 

I keep your pillow and the deep depression 
your head scooped into its fluff. 

I keep the weight of your skull and every last hair 
that ever fell out. 

I keep your face in the medicine chest 
mirror, and the painkillers that waited behind 
the mirror to bring you sleep. 

I keep your dog tags, your driver’s license 
and the picture of your mother before 
she died crazy. 

I keep the double barrel you used to blast 
a hole in our kitchen ceiling.

I keep the spent shells and those starless nights 
that fell through. 

I keep all the small hard bits of our life together, 
which may surprise you.


My geography is spread open before you—
the map of stones, the gutted hills.

Don’t call me flood of moonlight or great calm pasture.
I am the train that rattles your windows all night—-

the crowded tunnel leading to the empty 
passageway; the black labyrinth of forgetting.

I am not a bouquet of white lilies today, or a vase of Polar Star
roses. No. I am the coldest morning—the longest, frostiest 

night in Hell. I am an old flag today, faded glories.
Call me Mr. President, or Inmate Number 999.

I weigh like evidence—
the nuclear warhead praying ardently for peace, 

the cooling towers, the toxic dump site.
An omen, a warning, a sign.

A river rising silently, nervous tongue of water.
Don’t label me an amateur naturalist of suffering.

I am the round seed of mystery with murder at its center,
the House of Convicted Laments.

Influenza in Early Spring

What if this is your last day to see the sun?
I asked the coward-self crouched inside me.

The dog-self I sometimes am did not answer
nor did the saint in her niche, nor the hundred

other selves crowded into the one room tenement 
of the inner life. All was fever and silence, sweat 

and ache, and that vague feeling that time was 
irrevocably passing. Meanwhile the sun ticked on 

toward extinction across a clear blue sky; the buds 
on the sycamore slipped out like little stitches

and the willow catkins furred.


He taught me to hold its light
like fireflies in my palm,

flatten the beam
to a thin gold coin.

(The dollar of his love
was a darker thing.)

He said clamp it
tight until my fingers 

streamed luminescence.
My whole hand, 

even the plump 
Mount of the Moon 

and the cold-hearted
Fate Line, flushed

with meaty red-
gold fire, as though

a hundred candles
blazed there

to celebrate
our blood.

The Telescope of Love

You watched her cross the barren universe 
of their dark bedroom each night, saw the thin skin 

of moonlight peel itself away, the illuminating rind 
becoming less than nothing, even as starlight 

salted their tangled bodies among the sheets; 
and in the morning you observed, through the telescope 

of love, how she shed her chill and magnificent 
gleam of ghostly radiance over the kitchen stove, 

cooling whatever it was that simmered there.

The Return

A girl who runs through the wild grasses of a dream. 

She is three again.

The noise of the falls her father calls Kalihi batters some rocks 
which have risen like lava up out of the grassy dream-sea.

Cattle egrets strut all around her with their golden crests.

(The curtains blowing in her room at the Luana almost 
wake her.)


Rain on the island of a house.

Someone is tearing the walls down, only now it is 
thirty years later. 

But I lived there! she screams with her little girl dream-voice.

A stream rushes past her.

The ocean appears: gull-cries, whale-spume.

Mano the shark god grins at her from behind a red wave. 

“Blood,” he announces. “There will be blood.” 

Where is the house? Where, now, are the falls?

                                             modeled on Trakl’s “The Marshy Pastures,” 
                                             translated by Bly and Wright

Visiting My Father:
Sutter Buttes Cemetery

It is humbling to stand here
in the presence of the Buttes.

The sun crawls along overhead
too carefree to be an ant, 

too brazen to be a centipede:
Only a sun.

My shadow stakes out its territory,
shakes out its shrink-wrapped ghost.

My feelings radiate wildly 
like chrysanthemum petals.

Susan Kelly-DeWitt is the author of Spider Season (Cold River Press, 2016), The Fortunate Islands (Marick Press, 2008), and nine previous small press collections and online chapbooks. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and in print and online journals at home and abroad. She is also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Northern California Book Reviewers Association. For more information, please visit her website at

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