Judy Brackett ~ Poems

My Mother’s Song & Dance

The pho­to, creased & torn, fad­ed, tells the story
of my moth­er who sits on the porch steps,
one of the babies on her lap.

She’s wear­ing red wedge san­dals, a flow­ery cotton
house dress & an apron (she nev­er wore pants).
Behind her, a corn broom leans against the railing.

She’s laugh­ing or maybe singing, one hand raised
as if to say, Hello, here I am, Verna, & here’s my daughter.
My moth­er liked cow­boy music & a nice waltz.

I won­der if her singing voice was like mine: earnest,
not pret­ty, not tune­ful, but hap­py sometimes.
Her music was the hus­tle & bus­tle of children.

I’ll nev­er sing the sad­dest songs she lived.
When she was young, she went dancing
with her friend Edith at the Grange Hall,

mak­ing up fan­cy steps that every­one copied,
she try­ing to avoid, try­ing to catch, the glance
of Edith’s tall, black-haired brother.

She must have felt a light-heartedness
I can only imag­ine, appre­hen­sion, too, & frisson
of fear. She often said, I’d rather dance than eat.

Now she stands, swings the baby to her hip,
picks up the broom & goes inside to try to sweep
clean the dark­est cor­ners of the house.

I nev­er heard her sing,
I nev­er saw her dance.


Not the End of the World

The earth is not flat
No ends, no endings,
no true edges
on this bumpy sphere
No falling over the rim

into some bor­der­less void
Walk toward the plains horizon
as it slides ever far away
Sail toward that dark stripe between sea
and sky and watch the stripe roll on before you

The lilac buds flo­rets while yesterday’s
blos­soms turn brown
The tur­tle lays eggs
and trun­dles away from her young
The far side of summer

yel­lows in the dog-days air
The far reach of win­ter brings
cro­cus, daf­fodil, snow­drop anemone
When is the moment between
falcon’s rise and fiery buckle

Where is the pause
between growth and death
Don’t we begin to die
at the wet thresh­old of our lives
Wade your way toward love

for­ev­er after or toward the end
of what should have been love
and you’ll only find your­self alone
back where you began


On the Silk Road

August, 1998, late afternoon
Xia He, Gansu Province, the Tibetan Plateau, China

Stupa-dot­ted hillsides,
crum­bling, cen­turies-old monasteries,
small white­washed houses,
beau­ti­ful rud­dy-cheeked children,
and a gag­gle of coral-robed lamas and monks
from all over China…

At the side of the road, kneeling
women sidle along field rows,
soles of their feet black, leathery.

As we wan­der down the mar­ket lane,
there’s much smil­ing, nod­ding, gesturing.
The mug­gy air smells of dirt, of smog

and smoke, of sweet strange blossoms.
We mar­vel at pyra­mids of ears of corn
and lus­cious-look­ing water­mel­ons but

know bet­ter than to eat these DDT-ed foods.
We pause to watch the den­tist pull two teeth
from the bloody mouth of a sto­ic young man.

Piled around him on dirty rags are pliers,
picks, scis­sors, string, heaps of teeth.
In the next space, a man sleeps atop

a four-foot-high hill of car­pets. A woman
(wife? sis­ter? moth­er?) rush­es over and slaps
him awake as we study a rug hanging

over a chair. The knife mak­er in his Mao cap,
eyes squint­ing, hunch­es over his grinder,
sparks fly­ing. A skin­ny dog rests its head

on an anvil. At the far end of town, six girls
spread arm­loads of grain on the road, beat it
with sticks, step back as a cart pass­es over,

and bend down to gath­er seeds. We discuss
the mys­tery of dis­card­ed shoes, dozens,
maybe hundreds—cheap plas­tic or rubber,

black, most­ly just the soles—that litter
walk­ways, ditch­es, paths to the stupas.
The stream flow­ing through town is clotted

with garbage—rusty tin cans, more shoes,
plas­tic bags float­ing like soapsuds.
This evening, the stream banks are dotted

with monks, bare feet, shaved heads—
scores of monks, a maroon gar­den of them,
play­ing flutes, long-bar­reled horns, a few violins.

A man dri­ves past on a rat­tle­trap trac­tor, chased
by a bar­rel-size pig that seems bent on collision.
The dri­ver stands, throws his hands to the heavens,

shouts, then sings—part warn­ing, part prayer.
The pig scram­bles away. A moment of silence—
then peals of laugh­ter, and the monks pick up
the tune, fill­ing the twi­light with music.


The Sea

The sea at sun­set on Poipu Beach gives up salty warmth,
smooth glass and coral shards, seashells cradling songs
from dis­tant shores, and a fish skele­ton, perhaps
a trig­ger­fish, its gold scales and humuhumu-long-name

still tum­bling in the foam. Sea cucum­bers pass
from one bronze boy’s hand to another’s;
glossy black chick­ens bur­ble and peck at the sand;
a green sea tur­tle pulls her­self onto the spit,

head nod­ding, eyes squint­ing at camera
flash­es. A lit­tle girl sits a cou­ple of yards away,
watch­ing, motion­less, arms hug­ging legs,
chin rest­ing on knees, bare­ly breathing.

And spent waves, fire­lit by the dying sun,
lap up our foot­prints, our castles.


Soccer Dog

Breezy, misty air, sog­gy field,
whoops and wild kicks,
run­ny noses, run­ning red-cheeked
chil­dren, 5- and 6‑year-olds
obliv­i­ous of wet grass or run­ny noses.
Aussie pup on the side­lines breaks
from her hal­ter, tears into the game
and every­thing stops
for an instant.
There’s a bub­ble of quiet—
coach­es holler, kids giggle,
hop up, chase and spin,
pup yips and runs,
forth and back and forth again,
black-and-white dog,
black-and-white ball.
Pup cuts into a jum­ble of skin­ny legs,
noses the ball, heads it into the net,
and trots off the field.
Anarchy, joy, hullabaloo!

Later that night, under
the black-and-white sky, a woman walks
through the park, wondering
at the light­ness in the air, whiffs of laughter
and yips, and her old gold­en dog
sprints onto the field and rolls in the grass.


The Speed of Firelight

When the girl asks “When is Papa com­ing home?”
they’re sit­ting in the glid­er, watching
the live­ly night—the orangey, smoke-shrouded
cres­cent moon, the light­ning bolts that threaten
to set more Jeffreys and lodge­poles and aspens
ablaze. No deer tonight, no fox­es, no owl’s
lone­some call. Thunder rolls around them, quieting
even the crick­ets. The girl counts elephants
after each jaggedy flash. She is not afraid.
The woman pulls her clos­er and begins
in her wist­ful, sto­ry­telling voice—

Maybe some blue-moon time. Or maybe
when the cows come home, swinging
their ropy tails behind them, or
maybe on the Twelfth of Never, or
maybe when Methuselah celebrates
his nine hun­dred sev­en­ti­eth birthday—
no cake, no can­dles for that old man. No, I’m
guess­ing your papa will show up some indigo
night. No fires, no light­ning, just roll in
at the speed of firelight.”

The girl tastes smoke, rubs her eyes. “Methuselah,”
she says, and counts more ele­phants. She asks again,
“When is Papa com­ing home?” The woman sighs
and says, “Oh, not tonight, Missy. Go call in the dogs,
and let’s have black­ber­ries and a nice bath.”


Judy Brackett was born in Nebraska, moved to California as a child, and has lived in a small town in the California foothills of the north­ern Sierra Nevada for many years. Her poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in California Fire & Water, Epoch, The Maine Review, Commonweal, Midwest Review, Catamaran, The Midwest Quarterly, Subtropics, Cultural Weekly, Crab Orchard Review, The Inflectionist Review, and else­where. She has taught cre­ative writ­ing and English lit­er­a­ture and com­po­si­tion at Sierra College. She is a mem­ber of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her poet­ry chap­book, Flat Water: Nebraska Poems, was pub­lished by Finishing Line Press in 2019.