Catherine Fletcher ~ Four Poems

Laws of Gravity

I toss an apple in the air to ensure grav­i­ty is still pulling,
ignor­ing that you told me apples are forbidden.

The roots of my garden’s trees grow toward Earth’s center.
Four times a day, tides ebb and swell.

The neigh­bors still groom their fine fes­cue lawns.
I con­tin­ue to make gro­cery lists.

You greet me, soliloquizing,
as if breath­ing hadn’t become dangerous.

I con­sult Newton’s law of grav­i­ta­tion—                                                    
while you remind me how ter­ri­ble I am at math—

and note he nev­er explained the force’s agency.
The moon remains in orbit.

Radio plays the same songs as in my school uni­form days,
but cashiers call me Ma’am. Numbers on cal­en­dars keep climbing—
and the news’s pan­dem­ic death toll.
You advise me to select a satel­lite FM channel,

dis­miss wild weath­er threats to grass­lands and crop yields.
You extoll water futures, pri­vate space travel,
as if plan­ets were Black Friday specials,
as if you could pri­va­tize escape velocity.

When I was young,

an hour last­ed much longer.
I stretched myself into infra­son­ic waves,
crashed into holes, and shared sto­ries with talk­ing fish.
I fol­lowed streams to the cen­ters of spi­ral galaxies.

Now, here I am—vibrating in B flat—as you enu­mer­ate the fruits of your algo­rithm trees.

This pho­to of an extinct rhi­no is not a rhino.

I say:
Your bowler hat has begun to slip.

As you try to interrupt,
three apples fall
from the heavens

and land at my feet.



In 8 BC, August was renamed in hon­or of Augustus Caesar, born Gaius Octavius and des­ig­nat­ed leader after Julius Caesar was slain.  Octavius is a patronymic sur­name, derived from the Latin root for 8, and some­times giv­en as a first name to an 8th daugh­ter or son.  8 is the num­ber of the month char­ac­ter­ized by the dog days of sum­mer and the begin­ning of the Mid-Atlantic hur­ri­cane season.

8 is the num­ber assigned to gales on the Beaufort scale, winds with speeds of 34–40 knots, a term derived from count­ing the knots in a line unspooled from a ship’s reel.

My dad tried to teach me the figure‑8 knot and oth­er marine knots whose names I’ve now forgotten.

As a child, I had a Magic 8 Ball, a black sphere in which an orac­u­lar die float­ed in blue liq­uid.  I shook it and asked it to pre­dict my future: Better not tell you now, it would advise.  I decid­ed it was a stu­pid game after I got that answer again and again.

On Sunday after­noons, I used to play Crazy 8s and oth­er games with my grandma.

Geometry was nev­er a friend of mine, though even I remem­ber that an octa­gon is an 8‑sided fig­ure. The Octagon was once an insane asy­lum on Roosevelt Island, but is now fan­cy con­dos with views of Manhattan and the East River.

All octo­pus­es have 8 arms.  They are mas­ters of cam­ou­flage and can change both the col­or and tex­ture of their skin. Marine biol­o­gists recent­ly dis­cov­ered a con­clave of octo­pus dens off the east­ern coast of Australia, dis­prov­ing long-held notions that these crea­tures are loners.

Eight Arms to Hold You was the orig­i­nal title of The Beatles’ movie Help!.  My fam­i­ly despised this film because, as a teenag­er, I often recit­ed its dia­logue to them. The antag­o­nists are a par­o­dy ver­sion of the Thugee cult, a fra­ter­ni­ty of ban­dits who ter­ror­ized India for sev­er­al hun­dred years.

Many Hindu god­dess­es have 8 arms, includ­ing Kali, the devi of death and time.  The Ogdoad were 8 Egyptian Old Kingdom deities wor­shipped in Hermopolis, the seat of ibis-head­ed Thoth whose Greek ana­log was Hermes, the divine her­ald and guide for the dead.

Some schol­ars think the shape of 8, look­ing like infin­i­ty upright, was derived from the Greek alphabet’s last let­ter, ω (omega). A Sunday school teacher I knew, pre­oc­cu­pied with the Book of Revelation, enjoyed quot­ing the 8th verse of its first chap­ter: I am the Alpha and the Omega. The begin­ning and the end, she declared.

The Omega‑8 is a MIDI sound machine.  MIDI was part of a wave of dig­i­tal tech which dis­placed ana­log for­mats. Our liv­ing room cab­i­nets are full of records and a few 8‑track tapes, along with brass can­dle­sticks, framed pho­tos of my broth­er and me as tod­dlers, and an old Kodak.

I used to make 8mm films.  I cut and spliced images I held in my hands.  Now most movies are dig­i­tal: bil­lions of bytes stored on whirring dri­ves.  A byte is 8 bits.

There are 88 con­stel­la­tions vis­i­ble in the north­ern sky. On sum­mer nights I used to stand in our yard and search for the shape of the Big Dipper beyond the trees.

Neptune is the 8th plan­et in our solar sys­tem, named for the Roman god of the sea, an ice giant marked by a great, dark spot. Neptune is also an avenue near Coney Island, a sea­side amuse­ment park in Brooklyn known for its roller coast­er, The Cyclone.

The fig­ure 8 is among the shapes I used to draw in the sand at Virginia Beach.  On my lit­tle legs, I chased crash­ing waves up and down the strand, try­ing to pre­vent my murals and cas­tles from col­laps­ing into salt and foam.

8—the num­ber of months you’ve been gone.


The Sea’s Due

At the shore­line, surf gush­es through cordgrass.
Dragonflies flit.                   Sky swells
with sunlight.

floc­cus clouds          shift­ing shapes are
sea, pro­ject­ed

Breezes strum black needlerush into whis­pers, rising.
An egret stands watch                             atop a storm-stripped pine
over sands fit for nei­ther foot­prints nor keel, yet

an emp­ty skiff, the tide’s haul, lit­ters the marsh.

clouds   shapes shift­ing      create
the sea’s storms

Beyond break­ing waves                 rip­ples sequin a halo
encir­cling a man                 tugged and torn
face down

above eel­grass.                                    Crabs swim to feast.

shift­ing shapes              clouds are sea
trans­formed      waters whistling into a storm

He, pos­sessed by urges to tres­pass, to hunt
was swal­lowed                          no human witness.

The land dare not claim him now
as the clouds murmur—

nev­er bring a corpse ashore
do not deny the sea its due

—and, sun-baked and dis­tend­ed with for­get­ting, the man drifts further.


The Unburied Crow

This gold­ing green.          Sunlight splits through canopies


My broth­ers                          they guard this roost
from the bushy-tails                            who tear up
and down the thin­ning branches

from you and your heavy footfalls
carv­ing hatch­es                  angles
in the brown­ing grass­es.                You stum­ble       homing
daugh­ter.             You pre­tend to be
dis­tract­ed                     by the bur­row the hop­pers left          climb­ing vines

while I                     beneath the prickle-leaf
my feath­ers         dark as storms           lie
caught-caught-caught                     and wrecked
by the season’s last tempest.

They and you refuse to look upon me.

My broth­ers       in deep beats glide
from perch                            to perch                    to ground
with open mouths.                            And I see
though my black eyes have turned cloudy
your face              is her                        sad face                 the one I once knew.

You hack the bush­es      into cubes            how you humans like
your lines-lines-lines                 and fences                 thinking
you can con­strain             our cycles             our peregrinations.

Beneath the wan­ing crescent
beneath the dawn ris­ing                   I lay
tail stripped                           disintegrating
into soil and straw                              my kin
unmourn­ing                          while into cold blue         you stare.
Her call-call-call                                     no longer comes.

My shroud spreads          transmuting
in dark­ness we
instead of air                        become earth.

Flight begins      and ends               with falling.


Catherine Fletcher is a poet and a play­wright. Recent work has appeared in The Inflectionist Review, The Hopper, Kissing Dynamite, Hopkins Review, Burning House Press, and the con­cert series Concept Lab. She was a TWP Science and Religion Fellow at Arizona State University from 2016–18. She also served as Director of Poetry Programs at the New York-based orga­ni­za­tion, City Lore. She lives in Virginia, USA.