Economies of Being
Poems by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Ladder to My Heart

Ladder to My Heart, sculpture by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Poem for the Pandemic: A Secular Prayer

Hummingbird Hawkmoth | Cypress

Votive | Visiting a Friend on Hospice

Economies of Being

California Academy of Sciences

Ars Poetica in the Language of Flowers

Poem for the Pandemic: A Secular Prayer


Today a dogwood stood before me
like a towering god dressed in pink
and something inside me bowed to it,

something inside me chanted a hymn,
a prayer, a blessing for dogwoods
in the middle of spring, in the middle

of the pandemic blowing this human
world apart, chewing it up into tiny bits,
minuscule viral drops and drips.

The bees were humming inside
like a choir, like monks at matins or lauds
—zipping and zooming and hovering

among the splay of petals and branches
(unaware they too are vanishing).


The sky is a ruined cathedral
but the crows still worship there;

the finches gather together like poets
about to give a benefit reading,

about to turn breath into song,
about to join hands in secular prayer,

hoping their voices might salve
the saved, while the sun listens in

wearing its mask of smoke—
while two counties away

the trees have become candles,
votives turning to ash.


We flow through the days and the days
flow into us. The cold flows into us—pungent
leaf smells and wood smoke. Autumn
flows into us, equinox and the light’s retreat.
Crackling sounds of boots on an icy sidewalk.

All day our death flows into us. That survivor
the November moon cannot stop it. Beethoven
flows into us, with Dvorák, and Bach.
Crow flows into us; he drifts inside lazily,
like an I-Ching hexagram; our death

glides invisibly beside him.


Chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
Rain-washed cave paintings

that once lived crowded inside
the dark scrawl within
a child's tousled head—

faded pastel pictograms.
The trees feign worship
with an altar of leaves.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

        (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Clear-eyed, I shake the night’s
dusts from my wings, the shadow-
        strings, the death webs

and dart
like the ruby-throated
        hummingbird they’ve named

me after, and plunge
like hawk into the deep-
        funneled throats

of flowers—fuchsias, trumpets,
the yellow ruffles of squash

my quick tongue
an instrument for the nectars
        of day, a highway

for its vegetal sugars. (They say
I can nip a hundred flowers
        in five minutes

and they’re not wrong.)
If I had the beak
        or the talons of a god

I would seize the mouse
of temporality instead
        and crack its bones.


The needles of the cypress
outside hang between
me and a small slice
of clear blue

pie some call heaven—
blueberries and milk,
the kingdom of the blessed
dead in a mixer

of starlight;
        the blades whir,
the beaters spin—froth
of resurrection?

Where did they go?
        Where have they been
transported to
on their gurneys

of air?


The rice fields had dried to stubble, stalks;
I bowed my head and spoke to a flock
of egrets scattered in the glare there.
Then something in the sun’s bright eye broke

and a string of clouds passed over where
the egrets’ wings shifted and stirred.
I bowed, yes—but not in prayer.
I felt a flame rise, layer by layer.

The tinder-scene before me blurred
until all I saw were these two words:
Lord Egret. (I feel a thirst even now
for that symbolic bird.) Spurred

by that thought I made a silent vow
to write it all down, to detail how
time had slowed to some tick-tick
of eternity’s whir.

Visiting a Friend on Hospice

From where I sat beside her,
a rotating fan was positioned

on the floor out of sight
beyond the open kitchen door,

its low, continuous
whir... whir... whir... whir...

sounded like the solemn chant
of monks in processional

while the wall across from us
was suddenly lit with shadows

of leaves and vines in triangular frames
so they looked like stained glass windows

in a chapel built of reflection.
I sat quietly, watching and listening

while she slipped into a deep
slumber, her head bowed, her spine

slumped forward, chin resting
on her black embroidered blouse.

Her hands were clasped together
and the oxygen tube snaked

through the tangle of sheets;
the colorful flower stitchery

on her blouse rose and fell, rose
and fell in silence.


                    for Jane, in memory

Economies of Being

I could not bear
to throw it out, the leftover
salad—too pretty, and the leaves
took so long to arrive;

each one like a landscape
seen from above,
with a river and tributaries—

dark green against the oranges
in a bowl the exact
color of larkspur.

So I ate it
with oil and vinegar,
with sprinkles
of pepper and salt.

I chewed each bite
slowly, like someone who has gone
a long time without food,
though I felt no

bodily hunger.

California Academy of Sciences

        San Francisco, CA

We sat in the planetarium as the earth spun away, as the man with the headphones explained that the moon is one and a half seconds distant at the speed of light, the sun eight minutes, “an eternity if you’re us; so when we look at the sun it’s the ghost-star of eight minutes ago—everything is old news.”

I looked over at you though the you I saw was in the past now; a fraction of a fraction of a second had changed you into former, as in former lover, former friend.

We plunged headlong toward Jupiter, then Saturn’s rings; we toured its moons, crashed on through the dust of the Milky Way to the exoplanets orbiting their stars (Fomalhaut, Fomalhaut B), as they spun across the planetarium’s screen like hundreds of animated windmills in neon.

Then we came “back” to earth. The lights undimmed. The past was still the past, but your firm hand was warm on my trembling one, your familiar breath brushed my cheek.

Ars Poetica in the Language of Flowers

        Some flowers bear written upon their faces the thoughts
of which they are living representatives.

                —Flowers, Their Language, Poetry, and Sentiment, 1870

I’ve lived as Lavender long enough,
that calming spike, that perfume washed
in the old world roots of the Latin lavare
(though once it freshened the poem’s sickroom).

I’ll woo the Greek Aster instead, the late
blooming Starwort-shape of after-
thought, its “love of variety.”

I’ll court the spirit of Japanese Camellia—
spatial spiral of muse-lips, temple of petals
unfolding. I’ll pour words out on the page
like Jasmine tea ceremony. I’ll entreat
like Pear Blossom: “Give me some hope!”
or Jonquil, who emblems: “Have pity on my passion.”

Though my soul “be as fire and my heart
as coal,” I’ll steal a trope from the Victorians
and offer myself like Tulip to the beautiful stone
face of the Muse. I’ll Pansy, I’ll pensée.
I’ll take my heart’s ease in a line well-tuned,
an insight well-blossomed. I’ll be five-fold
and purple with love’s wounds, “to signify
remembrance.” I swear now by Violet’s

faithfulness to be the lapdog of all unruly verbs;
to worship each word unequally, but with Arum Lily’s ardor.
I’ll symbolize with the Rose: “May you be pleased
and your sorrows mine” but refuse
Candytuft’s indifference.

Let these be my florilegium,
my florid design, my day and night blooming
insignia. Failing that,

        I’ll simply wildflower.
        I’ll cut and bouquet.

Susan Kelly-DeWitt is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and the author of Gravitational Tug (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020), Spider Season (Cold River Press, 2016), The Fortunate Islands (Marick Press, 2008) and several other print and online chapbooks. Her poems have been published in journals such as Poetry, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Poetry Northwest, International Literary Quarterly, North American Review, and Terrain among others, and in many anthologies at home and abroad. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Northern California Book Reviewers Association, and her reviews have appeared in Library Journal, Small Press Review, The Sacramento Bee and Poetry Flash, where she is a contributing editor. She is also an exhibiting visual artist and has shown her work in Northern California galleries for thirty years. She recently completed a new poetry collection, Gatherer’s Alphabet, that is making the rounds. For more information, please visit her website at

Other Susan Kelly-DeWitt Mudlarks: Strands, Mudlark Poster No. 159 (2019), Tectonics, Mudlark Poster No. 141 (2017), Season of Change, Mudlark Poster No. 141 (2012), The Limbo Suite, Mudlark Chap No. 38 (2009), and Cassiopeia Above the Banyan Tree, Mudlark Chap No. 33 (2007).

Copyright © Mudlark 2021
Mudlark Posters | Home Page