Susan McLean


Death is a fickle lover. He was curt
when I came knocking on my father's grave--
not even a small crack opened in the dirt.
I rattled the locks on every door: the cave
of the crawl space under the house; the jar of pills
gleaming in darkness, like a pile of skulls;
the scarlet door of the razor in my skin;
the cold blue door of the water in the bay.
Galloping through furrowed fields, I'd pray
the lips of earth would open and let me in.
But the pills would not stay down; the gashes healed;
the water bore me up, as water does.
Weary at finding every exit sealed,
I opened the oven door, and there he was.


What did he think? That when he swaggered in
after the slaughter, sweaty, rank, and scarlet,
I'd welcome him--the man who'd killed my kin--
with kisses, just another heathen harlot?

I did, of course. One must be wary of
the foaming boar that's crashed into one's room.
I knelt and offered him my abject love,
cast off my robe, dabbed on my myrrh perfume.

His god gave him brute force, muscles of bronze,
a secret, and no sense. Mine gave me rare
green eyes, red lips, breasts whiter than a swan's--
and brains. Besides, I merely cut his hair.

I have my loyalties, as he has his.
Go ask your Judith what the difference is.


It's quiet now in St.-Paul-de-Mausole,
where tourists come to visit Van Gogh's room
and wonder why its peace could not console
his anguished mind. Here irises still bloom;
the hills roll on like waves; the olive trees
shimmer and ripple in the midday sun;
and cypresses point skyward, silent pleas,
like God's own finger or a loaded gun.

But on a dim church wall in that retreat
a scorpion poises, hiding in plain sight,
as still as cast bronze, elegant, infernal--
another refugee. The late-spring heat
made it seek sanctuary from the light,
for scorpions--like nightmares--are nocturnal.

The Wave

for Eric Markusen, 1946-2007

A tropic scene--thatched huts, some clumps of palms,
and people running from a towering wave--
haunted my childhood like the atom bombs
we heard about in school. Nothing could save
those people in the drawing in my book
from the crushing cliff of water. I could swim,
but I'd been swamped by smaller waves. One look,
and all hope of surviving it grew dim.

My colleague who researches genocide,
who picks through wreckage looking for an answer
to why the hatred sweeps in like a tide,
has learned he's facing pancreatic cancer.
Now it's his turn for sorrow, courage, fear,
watching the wall of water drawing near.


Susan McLean is an English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Her poems and translations of poetry from French and Latin have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Arion, Measure, Literary Imagination, The Lyric, and elsewhere. In 2004 she won a McKnight Artist Fellowship/Loft Award in Poetry. In 2006, her poetry chapbook, Holding Patterns, was published by Finishing Line Press.


Tiel Aisha Ansari
B. J. Buckley
Terese Coe
Carol Dorf
Jehanne Dubrow
Nicole Caruso Garcia
Ona Gritz
Kathryn Jacobs
Allison Joseph
Susan McLean
Marilyn Nelson
Janice D. Soderling
Shanna Powlus Wheeler
Marly Youmans

Jane Sutherland: I choose subjects that I cherish, or that spring from deep rooted feelings, or that come to me intuitively--dogs, roses, cranes, an iconic work of sculpture; and I concentrate on the details and slightest disparities in color, tone and textures in order to show how extraordinary are things we think we know and take for granted. The process of painting for me is connected to the physical properties of the subject as well as to its meanings, associations, and memories.
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