Selected Poems

by Jennifer Maloney


In the lobby
of an office building in Tampa,
your body
(its bones and sinews crafted,
fashioned with intent,
like a Calder mobile
suspended in space)
could do no more.

God was busy
pasting petals onto rosebuds,
just so.

You passed the kiosk,
flashed your ID at the guard.
He heard you wheeze,
your breath
like a reed flute, but
thought a fly
must have buzzed his ear;
continued working
on the sunrise.
Called on the archangels
for a touch more maroon.

When your feet—feet that once
had danced,
turned, presented
belled ankles
to a haunt-struck room
beneath a float of veils,
a shivering belt—
when they faltered, finally
God paused.
Considered, then

dripped another crystal tear
from the church steeple downtown.

Each day, the children shake
the chain link fence,
thigh-bloodied women wail,
men gaze, mutewith slack-jawed reverence
as the spike hangs from their arm
like a body from a cross, and God
hears his name:
a chorus, rising.

It must be good.

Da Vinci said
art is never finished,

On the day you were born:
your toes, those tiny rosebuds.
Your eyes dawning on the world,
archangels painting and repainting them,
violet, then green, then blue.
Like a sunrise.

Ode to Robert Frost

Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.—Robert Frost

Oh, Robert, shaggy, craggy,
you were the Old Man in the Mountain,
personified. How sad you might be
to know it collapsed,
as we all must.
Nothing gold can stay.

you came to me direct.
I never had to chase you.
Through feet of snow, your feet,
steady, slow,
always walked toward me.
You were true,

plain as rough-hewn stones stacked
in improbable balancing-acts
that tumble and are ever rebuilt—
but this was not always the way, my friend.

Everybody thinks you were born an old man,

brows as puffy and white
as a snow-bright farmer’s field,
eyes as clear as the farmer’s talk, ayuh,
a twinkle of slyness wrinkling
the edges of your words. The yellow
of the wood you walked, and wrote about,
seems rare to the casual reader,
more accustomed
to stars like clear direction,
and snow as depthless wisdom.

There was a time though, you poet,
before your investigation of the plain,
before your investment
in speech as clear and pointed
as a January icicle,
when you were not the icon you became.

There was a time
you flamed
with the sick-pit love of youth,
a time you wallowed in muck,
stuck, a brown-eyed calf,
mooing and moping into quite a predicament.
I tried to throw my life away,
you told your interviewer (a rather
delicate declaration
from the prince of plain-speaking),
having disappeared for a week
in the wilds of the Great Dismal Swamp,
all for love, all for the pain
of unrequited love.
Some riverboat ruffians found you,
invited you aboard, saved you, then,
scared you sufficiently
into going home;
the practical poet you were to become
already shining through.
How fortunate for the world

and for me, too,
who found enough comfort
in the safety of your rhythm
to read on
and let you open me
with metaphor.

You were sure,
steady, traveling on for miles.
And I could come with you.

You stacked the stones,
restored the order, even
if you didn’t know why
and thought maybe it was pointless.
I’ll tell you now, Robert,
wherever you are—it wasn’t pointless.
You kept me safe inside that metaphor.
I’m glad you grew up, glad
you chose a path
that led you out of the swamp.
Because, for me, it was you

that made all the difference.

How to Wait for Death

Stand at the foot of a blue-blanket bed.
Play with a hangnail.
Flick. Flick.
Your mother is moaning.
It rises and falls.
This is a prayer.
You know every word.

Your hangnail hurts.
Flick it again. Press the hard skin
down into the sore.

Your brother’s tight shoulders.
His jaw muscles squirm.
His wife rests a hand on your arm.

Press your pain harder.
There’s a task you must do.
It glints at the edge of awareness.

The light in the room.
The yellow lampshade.
The dust in the sunbeam
is rising and falling, like the words
of a prayer or
a moan or a song.
The rattle of heat ducts.
The movement of limbs beneath
faded blue blankets. The pain in your finger.
Hurt it again.

Your mother is whispering.
Your brother leans in.
His wife grips your arm
as the second hand sweeps
the porcelain clock.

A white china kitten.
It’s pink ball of yarn.
It’s collar and leash,
a gold chain.

There are words in your mouth.
They rise and they fall.
They are dust motes
or spells.
They are prayers. They are hexes.
They roll on your tongue and they knock
at your teeth
like a kitten that bats
at a ball. They have played there
for years. They have wiggled
and squirmed like
muscles that tense
in a jaw.

There’s a task you must do.
Set the clock? Sweep the floor?
Your hangnail hurts. Press it down.
Press it hard.
When you press on a hurt it gets numb.

Your mother is weeping.
Your brother is turning his eyes to the clock,
his wife’s hand is tighter
there’s blood in your mouth.
The kitten is gleaming.
The seconds are sweeping.
There’s a task you must do
in the blue blanket room
in the dust in the beam
that rises and falls
with the rattle of heat ducts
and the movement of limbs–
press them down.
Press them harder.


Jennifer Maloney is a past president of Just Poets, Inc, an 18-year-old poetry organization based in Rochester, NY.  She is the co-editor of Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film, an anthology of work from poets across the globe, published by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publishing, 2021, available on Amazon and at Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore 439 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY. Find Jennifer’s work in Anti-Heroin Chic, The Whorticulturalist, Ghost City Review, MemoryHouse Magazine and many other print and online journals; she has also been anthologized in several places, notably including SHIFT: a publication of MTSU Write, and the Poets Speak (While We Still Can) anthology series from Jules Poetry Playhouse and Beatlick Press.