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The Poetry of Gillian Kessler

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

Calles and Vistas

I'm keeping this marine layer

haze, whirring lawn mowers,

men in white tees and jeans,

lamination of sweat and barbed wire.

I’m keeping the miles and miles you walked in

hot desert sun to shine like sea glass, tend swathes of grass, peach roses pruned,

bougainvillea lines stucco walls.

I’m keeping the jaunty polka

blaring from an old truck

beneath the rotting billboard,

long to intuit conversations

without straining to hear.

Hands on shoulders.

A dusty gold road,

maybe Panama.

We went there once.

The air was eucalyptic.

I’m keeping schema

starring tiny hummingbirds,

potted palms, windmills in rows and

rusted camellias

dying on dusty leaves.

A pool net can catch just about anything:

toy boats toppled, darkening avocadoes, maudlin notes,

what maybe was. The blow-up dolphin lies

beached on her side, gates locked tight. These manicured roads with their stolen names: Avenida Pico and Vista Hermosa,

Via del Rey and El Camino Real.


Calling them in from the sun

The river rising, an orange

dog runs through the makeshift

marsh after a young mallard --

I enter my body of wild

chives and white lilacs, taste

buds purified drums blown blue

with flax, sweet grass, forgiveness

that’s not accusatory, her

echo heavy in an upturned palm.

The creek could be road, daughter

heron in a gold velvet hat,

son sage grouse, fast and close to earth.

Husband not bird at all but something

like the trees, the surety of seasons.

Do you have your compass? Do you wear

it locked around your neck?

The monsters have settled and

I held Lyra, not yet two days.

There is nothing and everything

under the bed. I can't keep up

with wildflowers. We buried

his placenta beneath the cherry tree

eight years ago, defrosted poppy

in a metal bowl, guarded

muscle in my hands. All I want

is this branch of starlight, bloom

girl in red chair, head still,

held in Aspen’s silent shudder –

they grow into families.

Out of mist she rises,

the way woodsmoke rises

then disappears.


Grasping for clouds, sun in your throat

I’m thinking about swell, a barrio,

bedraggled. Glass in an alley

alluring like making babies. Wife rhymes with strife

but husband rhymes with before, barefoot

and brazen, yucca and chaparral, sage

and hip hop. The skin doctor sears a piece off

my foot, earthen. The word in Spanish for jellyfish

is medusa, my daughter

reminded me because I never call things

what they are, only what I want

them to remove

from my past. I forgot the word champinion,

mushroom, and I see all these little

heroic fungi waving their caps in the June

dusk. Dusk made its way to my list twice.

Accustomed now: trees turned profile,

sky cobalt like my seraphic mind.

She just actualized an island -

imagine lichen languid in the damp

Northwest spring. I see sister and sister

is the sea. She once held a baby

bird in lean cupped hands at Bonny Doon,

wore a purple blanket like a field of stars,

a patch of night, the only cape that could

enclose her completely. I pretended

the waterfall on the cliff face was my shower,

invited Azure to the party, the little locust.

My boyfriend shouted of pestilence, saw us

slick with raw ravine, ragged and relentless.

I pushed past the spark and held earth.

The rest is deluge, suffering.


Gillian Kessler is a poet and teacher who lives in Missoula, Montana. Her book of poems, Lemons and Cement, is available for purchase. Please contact if you are interested in buying a copy. Check out Gillian's writing prompts and interview on our website.

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