Katharyn Howd Machan

Professor, Writing
School: School of Humanities and Sciences

Title

Poetry (a selection)

Hazel Tells LaVerne

last night
im cleanin out my
howard johnsons ladies room
when all of a sudden
up pops this frog
musta come from the sewer
swimmin aroun an tryin ta
climb up the sida the bowl
so i goes ta flushm down
but sohelpmegod he starts talkin
bout a golden ball
an how i can be a princess
me a princess
well my mouth drops
all the way to the floor
an he says
kiss me just kiss me
once on the nose
well i screams
ya little green pervert
am i hitsm with my mop
an has ta flush
the toilet down three times
me
a princess

                               [published in The Bedford Introduction to Literature]

Gingerbread

The Forest

Among crisp windows of pressed sugar,
licorice-button knobs, sweet drawers,
curving walls of honeyed ginger

she needed Gretel to make him grow,
that splendid boy with stone-filled pockets,
lingering fingers’ crusty crumbs.

Obedient Gretel cooked golden-plump
roosters, curried dumplings, shaped
spicy cutlets into deep-fried hearts,

smeared thighs with currant jelly.
Stuffing, stew broth, soups, pate:
every possible piece of flesh

magicked to succulence at her touch
in that dark kitchen’s perpetual heat
and Gretel dreaming of feathers--Oh!

and those bones she cunningly hid,
away from the stirring, away from the pot,
washed and patted beneath her apron,

safe from the Witch’s spider gaze
and appetite for a male grown large,
made ready for her by his sister.

Hansel

I remember the Witch.
Skinny fingers, eyes peering into mine,
pale-bellied insects at dawn.
Oh, she was queen of all                                                                                
my early hungers: sugar
milktongue, touch of silken honey,
every sweet my mouth could call for                                                                                                                    

and all with open door.

She knew I wanted more:                                                                                                      
hidden jewels like cherry gumdrops,
pearls of purest white; against
those warm brown gingerbread walls,
what could I do but hunger?
The chicken bone, my silent tongue--

all play in time’s sure cunning.
If not for Gretel’s jealous hands,
I would have burned in her
dark oven, found the fire
evening brings: taste, taste
of stained-glass candy
answered prayers, desire’s wings.                

Gretel

Why Hansel, Hansel, Hansel?
I wanted to eat, too,
gravies spiced with savory dill,
slices of beef with the fat still on,
rounds and curls and wands of pasta
warm and white with butter and cream.
Behind the shadowed cobweb cupboards

I knew rainbow gumdrops gleamed                                                                                      
embedded in hard walls like jewels   
I’d fingered in my father’s dreams.
Dark chocolate stuffed with hazelnuts,
syruped squash so soft and dripping
it melted to gold on a spoon.
The witch kissed me three times

a day, making sure my mouth
was free of foods I carried steaming
to the boy in the small black cage.
No blood for me, no milk, no sausage!
Just a few leaves of rampion, wilted,
my apron strings grown long and longer,
my hands cold bone, my chin a knife,

my eyes a kitchen oven’s deepest coals.

Witch

Eat
this house.
This honeycomb splendor,
these eaves
where gumdrop spiders spin.
I have boiled
dark caramel,
set rosy mints
just so.
On frosty panes
of sugarspun
you can write
your names
over and over and over
again in full moon’s
syrup light.

Sweet children,
all my days
I mix and stir
the shapes of dreams
night steals from me
alone:
hot stars, perfect
licorice crescents,
cinnamon jewels aglow.
If I could swallow them
my eyes would turn                                                                                                               
to toad gaze,
spring’s free song.
Instead it’s you
whose tongues must flicker
in and out with delight.

This fire spits.
My iron spoon
grows heavy,
sears my flesh.
Can you count
the candied cherries
lined up in a row?
Taste them now
and the crystal drops
I pretend are tears.
Grow fat.
Uncage your fears
of who I really am.
Just once call me
Pure Dark Mother
before the oven slams.

                             [winner of the Luna Negra Poetry Prize]

Leda’s Sister and the Geese

All the boys always wanted her, so
it was no surprise about the swan-
man, god, whatever he was. That day

I was stuck at home, as usual, while
she got to moon around the lake
supposedly picking lilies for dye. Think I

would have let some pair of wings catch me,
bury me under the weight of the sky?
She came home whimpering, whined out

the whole story, said she was “sore afraid”
she’d got pregnant. Hunh. “Sore”
I’ll bet, the size she described, and

pregnant figures: no guess who’ll get
to help her with the kid or, Hera forbid,
more than one (twins run in our damned

family). “Never you mind, dear,” Mother said.
“Your sister will take on your chores.”
Sure. As though I wasn’t already doing

twice as many of my own. So now
I clean, I spin, I weave, I bake,
fling crusts to feed these birds I wish

to Hades every day; while she sits smug
in a wicker chair, and eats sweetmeats,
and combs and combs that ratty golden hair.

                               [published in Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry]

Tess Clarion: Redwing, 1888

I might have found a house, a home,
even a barn or weathered shed
with open door to welcome me
in full-cut frock, my belly huge
and ready. Too many miles alone—
what choice had I?—the horse fatigued,
the flivver jolting this way, that,

and suddenly a tiny inner
kick that loosed birth’s waters warm
and certain. She was my second; I knew
the clench and pull. No time to hunt
for bed or rush-strewn floor: I clambered
down to roadside pasture, hoping
for a level place of moss and grass,

my petticoats for rags. How long
I pushed—the swells of breathlessness
and breath—who knows? A cloud-whorled sky
and patient grazing horse in harness
the only witnesses to blood
and cord and sharp beginning cry
as tiny dark-haired daughter met

the light and rose to breast in my
glad hands. We lay in summer’s lap
adrowse, sun shifting gloom to gleam,
sweet clover at my elbow, pain
a shared commitment, bodies’ bond.
I think a redwing called, I think
the nearby stream sang both our names—

but memory’s a trickster when
a woman’s merged with God and given
love the shape of life. I knew
my husband still awaited me
the next town over, anxious for
my help, his hip so badly bruised
he could not walk nor ride; but I

let time take her and me along
in goldswept journey lying there,
breeze like softest feathers astir,
our foreheads’ sweat a halo. Angel
I mused, her mouth my mouth, her hands
such small curved stars. We’ll always share
deep summer’s voice, and wings to soar

through air.

                              [Winner of the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize]

The Beets Poem

Beets: now there’s a subject.
Dark red, rounded, hard as--
well, hard as beets.

I know a woman
who grew a garden last summer,
planted it with nothing
but lettuce and beets.
The lettuce didn’t grow
but she had plenty of slugs
and beets, plenty of beets.
Now whenever anyone visits her
she takes them down cellar,
says, “See my beets?”
And there they are, pickled,
row after row of dark red jars
no one will ever open.

Someone else I know
always asks for beets, no matter
what kind of restaurant we’re in.
Even at the beach
he’ll go up to the hot dog stand.
“Got any beets?” he’ll say.
And when the man at the grill
just stares at him, he sighs
and turns away, and spends
half an hour just gazing at the waves.

I know what you’re thinking.
Why don’t I introduce these friends,
have them both to dinner
one night, serve vegetarian?
It’s not so easy.
Remember, beets is our subject,
and beets is what I hate about them both. 

                                 [published in Hanging Loose]

            for Eric

Potatoes

It’s the way he slices
clean potatoes, boiled just
soft enough to fry in oil
with salt and onions:
she’s known a dozen men
who can’t compare. They might
add pepper, garlic, even
splashes of paprika red
as midnight lace; but none
have had his fine musician’s
hands, the flick of wrist
that works the spatula
in perfect time, preventing burn.
He knows the kitchen
of her dreams, all right,
and fills it up
with simple spices he’s aware
will flower in her mouth.
When he carries her
the polished platter, heaped
with feast for eye and tongue,
how she sings in praise of fragrant
food as good as winter sleep,
his love waiting at the table
for her to raise the fork and eat.

                                [published in Buckle &]

The Professor Is Paid to Read His Poems

After the punch supposed to come from green
Hawaiian Isles, the cookies without taste,
the questions about what his couplets mean
and shouldn't poets treat nuclear waste,
he turns at last to see his sponsor smile
and hand him what his soul's endured this for:
the envelope which he must wait a while
to open, nay, must seem now to ignore.
It's common knowledge that a poet's needs
are few--a pen, a glass of wine or two--
and like an air fern his whole being feeds
on atmosphere, beyond what cash can do.
He plays the game of paying pay no mind--
then later finds the check was left unsigned.

                            [published in Callapooya Collage]