Julie Fisher ~ Hogweed and Other Poems


His unbuck­ling of belt
Her buck­ling of knees
Buckles around my horse’s girth
His clever bloat
The slow slip of saddle
that some­times top­ples me
How easy I fall
to land in a field among
lace of Queen Anne
to look up at fur­ry horse-bel­ly clouds

My mouth is a buckle
rust­ed into place

I saw my mother’s knees buckle
I was rid­ing in the field
of Queen
hoof­ing over her white face
with her bin­di speck
prov­ing she wasn’t hogweed
her tox­ic imposter
when I heard my mother’s knees
Such a crack they made
the crack of new leather
my sad­dle its first time out

He gave a snort, my horse, so much as to say
I do not rec­og­nize this danger
Then he bucked
and into
the Queen’s face with its
lace umbel of fear he galloped
I knew myself des­tined to fall
but mane-buck­led fin­gers held tight

I heard my father’s belt buck­le one last time
as hooves flew me over the body of the Queen
one queen after another
His belt buck­le one last time
air­borne as a gal­lop before the fall.


The Lesson

First, he suffers
the strings, his body
torn by steel wind­ings. Soon he slips
inside his fid­dle. Wise,
his teacher does not warn him:
that he’ll have to hang on to the sound post
as to a rafter, swing his spirit,
risk the fall.
That he’ll be pro­voked by the stick,
like a wild animal;
dashed against the blocks, trapped
between two walls of fire.
To be heard, he’ll have to be willing
to burn. To breathe
through the f‑holes
until he is ready to surrender
to the flames.

Beloved, his teacher nev­er hints
that this—to perish—is the only way,
nev­er breathes
a word. The boy first, then the man, has to learn
these things for himself,
that he is tinder,
his teacher.



We were all in our places:
you, in your front row seat; he, with me upstairs;
all of us, ready for the piano masterclass.
We all knew where we belonged in that Saturday house,
it nev­er var­ied week to week:
the chil­dren, your stu­dents, fil­ing in,
pre­fer­ring to play kick­ball in the street,
any child­hood game but this,
of sharps, flats, accidentals.

Adagio cantabile, sec­ond movement,
Grande Sonate Pathétique.

Some poor soul would limp your keyboard,
your bent body near­ly tip­ping its chair.
Beethoven didn’t mean it like this, you’d say.
Play it like it’s a mem­o­ry, the most pre­cious of your life.
Bored, my lit­tle sis­ter sat on the stairs
while, a land­ing away, he breathed thun­der near my ear
as Beethoven began his week­ly turn in the grave.

But one Saturday my sis­ter saved me. A rush to the ER,
every­one in our liv­ing room, all the children,
your piano stu­dents, waiting
for the mas­ter­class to resume
once the for­eign object was removed from her nostril
and she could breathe again.

Children only, no par­ents allowed at your masterclass.
A parent’s effect on a child’s music could be dam­ag­ing, you said.
You some­times talked of this over Friday night dinners
when the smell of my burn­ing hair mingled
with the char of chops on our plates. You spoke of the children,
your stu­dents, whether they had futures, any hope
of mak­ing music.

My frizzy hair came from him. You ironed it straight every Friday
in prepa­ra­tion for the mas­ter­class while he caught the 7:05 into the city.
Your comb cut through my hair: the per­fect division.
You com­mut­ed me from curly to straight, until
the weight of it hung longer, heav­ier on my shoulders.

My bang-straight hair spilled on to my pillow,
black on white, more beau­ti­ful than your keyboard,
he said.

Beethoven could not have meant it like this.

The night she saved me, I looked across the table at my sister,
her nose bruise-dark beneath its ban­dage. The shad­ow of my hair
filled my plate and I ate it, ravenous.

After din­ner you went to the piano yourself,
played the move­ment like none of your students,
your chil­dren, ever could,
this piece beyond our grasp.
You played it like, pre­cious or not,
it was the only mem­o­ry you had.

I would inher­it your piano, but I would nev­er practice.
I would nev­er get any bet­ter. The notes,
the sharps, the flats,
were no acci­den­tals to me.

I would bang until I felt you
turn­ing in your grave.
I wouldn’t stop bang­ing even when I heard you beg.
I wouldn’t stop until I was sure,
until I could hon­est­ly say,
This is my music.
This is exact­ly how I mean it.


A Pink Dress

It is about a pink dress.
About the drape of one leg over anoth­er on a bar stool, two hands clasping
an icy Campari.
It is about the ear of a man and what he hears.
The mouth of that woman and what she says.
Her throat: that silk road­way along which her words, drenched with bit­ters, race north.

The ear of anoth­er man who flew over Scotland became enlarged, so that this
was all there was of him.
This, the only part of him to bury after his Bristol Beaufighter was bombed,
the organ into which he crawled after he’d heard your words spo­ken to a lover.
Into that pink ear he crawled, curv­ing, incurv­ing like the down-going spi­ral of his Beau
as it van­ished into water.

Above Scotland he saw the trawlers off the coast.
The loose net I threw into the sea caught a fin of his grief.
You trawled in these waters, Mother,
a skilled throw­er of nets.
Not much you do not want comes up and there­fore goes to waste.
I will not go out with you on the coast of Scotland and stand in some
1945 wind to com­mem­o­rate the end, when you, in Brooklyn, saw so little
of the war.

You, at your toy piano, your Polish moth­er, my grand­moth­er, Esther,
sev­en days a week in a sweat shop,
sew­er of seams, dress­es ladies like you’d become would wear uptown, downtown,
on Flatbush Avenue, on Coney Island.

The hem of your pink dress, though cut and raised through the years,
is still a tidal wave rolling across the world.


Three-legged Table

Still that boy
you sit at the table
between your
one-legged father and
Lehar-lov­ing mother
dancers once
lid­ded by grey London with its
stodgy fare
What dance can they do
with three real legs and one

You sit at their table
eat­ing their pasts
scarf­ing your fish and chips from
yesterday’s headlines
while hands across mouths they eat
only fear and rage
survivor’s guilt
their teeth
the grind­ing foot­steps of
You ever careful
not to tip the table
for fear
you’ll lose
a sin­gle morsel

The splen­dor on the greasy news
did you ever wonder
what it was
A war offering
a casualty
It couldn’t be
a dance so it must have been
the thing they fear most

piled so high
you couldn’t imag­ine ever fin­ish­ing it


Julie Esther Fisher’s sto­ries and poet­ry appear or are forth­com­ing in Alaska Quarterly Review, Chicago Quarterly Review New World Writing, Prime Number Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Bridge Eight, William and Mary Review, Other Voices, On the Seawall, and Sky Island Journal. Winner of sev­er­al awards, includ­ing Grand Prize Recipient of the 2022 Stories That Need to be Told Anthology, and Sunspot Lit’s Rigel Award, she has twice been nom­i­nat­ed for the Pushcart. Her novel­la in sto­ries, Love is a Crooked Stick, is about to go out on sub­mis­sion. Currently, she is immers­ing her­self in writ­ing poet­ry. A grate­ful recip­i­ent of a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, she grew up in London and today lives amidst sev­er­al hun­dred acres of wild con­served land in Massachusetts, where she indulges her pas­sion for nature and gar­den­ing. Visit her at julieestherfisher.com