HomeAboutMastheadJoin POW ListserveDonateArchive
Mary Jo Firth Gillet


Itch, Scratch

                    -after Stephen Dunn


From everywhere and all-at-once,

from somewhere beneath the moon,

came the deep-sea fish that needed

to see, came the not-yet-flying squirrel

eyeing the two-far limb, came whale

and dolphin and bigger brains,

hair before razor, less fur more skin,

the opposable thumb, and fingers

for rings, for triggers, and of course

the triggerfish, though not in that order,


came bate-and-switch, lure and gulp,

the alligator snapping turtle,

came dog and god and much later

The Spanish Inquisition not-for-the-inquisitive,

came the rack and correct truths

and a need to stretch the truth,


and then a taller world

upright posture before posturing—

came anger and angst and absinthe,

wastelines fat and thin, fancier hair and skin,

hook and eye in search of closure, exposure,

came style and stink and thus the harpoon,

and soon demigods and demitasse,

swagger and soiree, clipper ship and film clip,

and (without order) pit bulls, tar pits, cherry pits and pitfalls,

bells to sound joy, danger, and then


a complex of fears, because with neurons

come neurosis, bats in our belfry,

a lift from Zoloft, and learning to embrace

your beard of bees, your May your mayhem,

the hive of days honeycombed

with sweetness and stings.


Dear Departed Reverend Grandfathers,

there’s no way to explain my wallowing

 in fields of burdock, golden rod, yarrow,

the lure of rocks that hide slime-pathed slugs,

 pillbugs, dewy leaves that prism sunlight

into muted stained-glass Sundays I still carry,

 close as a pocket, familiar as a tongue,

my child eyes and ears infused with spectacle,

 thin voices singing as hands pantomimed,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,


 a wish to hold, to shape the world

as we passed that brass collection plate

 up and down the pews of the few who knew

beyond the shadow of a doubt what was what,

 poems proffering wine and wafer, mouths little O’s

closing on metaphor— site and sound beyond sense—

 the sheer pressing opulence of cattail, cane,

chicory, the blood love of my children,

 the deep sweet oblivion of skin on skin.

invisible as Venus in daytime.


 Grandfathers, where are you in this restless

flurry of taught-ribbed leaves turning in the wind,

 quackgrass, timothy, bulrush, rising in

roadside and field?  In the irrepressible green,

 somewhere beyond my own embroideries,

what thin strand in chlorophyll and red cell,

 in amoeba and sperm whale, in the complex

turnings of unseen meiosis, gamete, straining

 for replication, threads through all

like the drawstring of an enormous bag?


                    -from Soluble Fish