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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Aubade with Smoke; Dilated; What a Patriot Dreams

By: Stephanie L. Harper

Aubade with Smoke

That i left my window opened

last night, letting in wildfire smoke

as i drifted off to the melody

of Katydids lullabying

in the waxing crescent’s red haze,

explains my waking this morning

to eyes tearing, the huskiness

in my throat, limbs still heavy

with song-sweet sleep, & the strange,

deep orange of smoke-subdued rays,

but not my drowning.

Culpability on that latter count

falls to the un-receding

deluge that was my dream,

the opus magnum i’d composed

to get you alone,

& let myself be flooded—


but how cruelly i was torn

from your arms by the “friend”

my conscience must’ve conjured up,

whose happening along unshadowed us

from the sultry elms’ intertwining depths,

& left me drifting away on the pulse

of his cool reproof: don’t! don’t!

Now, as i rise to the dawn’s breezy

August heat already stoking

its defiance of yesterday’s firelines,

with your name seared on my lips,

i am ablaze.


To think that we see them so often yet so rarely

consider how those piebald songbirds so at home

on a snow-scape in their portable parkas are made of

the exact same stuff we use to fill up our electric sky & neon

watermelon nylon winter coats which must be designed

expressly for us to go out there looking ridiculous

not to mention callous (clothed as it were in outright exploitation)—

is the thing I’m pondering as I observe through the window

a little house finch all feathery & poofed with his flushed cheeks

flitting over the snowy patio pecking among the abandoned

bench-feet for invisible if not entirely non-existent morsels

& hawking an air of self-possession that is obvious even to me

in my current incapacitated state

As for whether the red-crowned retina specialist

who conducted my examination was young &/or fetching

the prospect was murky (his brisk entrance at the climax

of my dilation coupled with his expertly-executed clasp

of my hand inspired my fleeting impression he’d been both)

& all bets were off the very moment the white-cloaked smeary

hulk of him ambushed my defenseless retinas with an impossibly

aggressive radiant device thus affording me the pivotal elucidation:

that a). the anomaly on my fundus autofluourescence images

is simply an unremarkable patch of variegated pigmentation

b). it was only natural to expect that the definition

of such a lexical wonder as variegated would elude the layperson

& c). I am indeed obliged by gratuitous pigeonholing

to take categorical offense

Not that I’m usually so bold as to co-opt medical jargon

but I’m pretty certain variegated is the only word that could

aptly account for what’s right now comprising the better part

of my visual experience as embodied by this polka-dotty

aberration also known as a scone I resorted to purchasing

in the hospital café thus affording myself the pivotal illusion:

that a). I’m quite absorbed in an earnest task

while waiting here in the lobby for my ride

b). I wouldn’t otherwise be averting

my freakish black gaze from passersby

because c). I’m the kind of person

who always smiles at everyone as if to say

I accept you for who you are no matter what…

I’ve gathered that the dark splotches must be

cranberries—however vainly their vague sweet-tang

serves to redeem their crumbly substrate’s alleged

alimentary function

Still the finch remains staunchly committed

to my functional blindness as if by sheer force of his

impending command its concomitant scone-silage

would transcend the glass & sift to the frozen ground

What a Patriot Dreams

I saw the flags come down—

in a scene that scrolled in slo-mo,

& from multiple vantages—

their masts falling like the trees

flattened by shockwaves

in those clips of old footage

from military nuclear bomb tests,

spliced into documentaries

for high school history classes;

except, my dream version’s vivid images

weren’t the projected celluloid etchings

that teenagers confined to plastic chairs

could summarily cancel from sight

with one hand motioning No

in the universal vernacular.

From a sweeping arc of floodlights

that rendered the indigo skyline

of an early-summer dusk starless,

the flags all vanished at once—

their wingless heaps of red-white-blue

crushing in on themselves, darkening,

& dropping like torn parachutes.

Sleep’s last claim on my consciousness

was that horizon of empty haloes

the mass plummet had left behind,

before my eyes fluttered open

to this morning’s first, grainy insinuations

that breached the blinds’ periphery,

& accreted into a single, silent force

creeping along my bedroom walls,

as if it could somehow thwart illumination

of my most preposterous, waking truth:

that in this country of my own

birth & citizenship, I’ve, in turn,

given birth to two, precious children—

my riven heart’s two halves now trussed

in a spectacular fiasco of feathers & wax.


Stephanie L. Harper holds an M.A. in German literature from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and author of the chapbook, *This Being Done* (Finishing Line Press). Her poems appear in such journals and anthologies as Slippery Elm, Isacoustic*, Rat's Ass Review, Panoply, Underfoot, Stories that Need to Be Told (TulipTree Publishing, LLC), and elsewhere. She lives in Hillsboro, OR with her husband, children and a cattle dog named Sydney. Visit Stephanie online at


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