Kathleen Flenniken ~ Five Poems

Five-Paragraph Essay on Time

More than once, but only a few times,
I set an alarm for 5 a.m.
and blew off my high school essays
to watch TV. It rang
and I left my warm bed to shiver
at the desk in the liv­ing room window.

Nervous about fin­ish­ing, no chance to revise,
I dou­ble-spaced sen­tences in blue pen
that start­ed their arguments
like bod­ies jump­ing out of build­ings on fire.

The scene out­side when I lift­ed my head
shift­ed from my dark reflection
to a pen­cil sketch of a street and front yard,
framed in my moth­er’s proud bay window
in our oth­er­wise plain-faced house.

The loops of my words leaned like they meant
what they said. I’d look up to catch a light blink on,
beams of a pass­ing car, sycamore tree,
child­hood swing snapped in two
like dan­gling duck feet,
then plunge again into my evidence—
essay and morn­ing emerging
like bean sprouts in a milk carton.
And then, out of nowhere:

a car smashed through the bay window
where I wrote and watched the dawn.
The crash came 50 years later,
no one was home,
but I sit at the cen­ter of destruction,
writ­ing and run­ning out of time.


From a line by Stephen Dobyns

As a stone has a sense of its hardness,
you sense the hard­ness of the mountain

block­ing your light. Strike
the moun­tain with your mind

and hear a clang
like box­cars bump­ing in the rail yard at night.

You guard against feelings
but can’t stop curtains

from flut­ter­ing in the breeze,
brush the fat cheek of an apple

with your thumb and blame your thumb.
The moun­tain is hard even

in a coat of qui­et­ing snow.
Your boot prints

to the orchard, woods, field, shed,
and back to the house

hard­en to ice before they melt.


Cocktail Party—New York City
    photograph from The Americans by Robert Frank

Madam, your ears are set high, well-placed

like box seats at the Met,

mak­ing room for your smile

and your smile mak­ing room for more lipstick.

Your jaw, attached by a sprung hinge,

would make a fine nutcracker.

Lines in your fore­head insinuate

a bill of sale nota­rized and filed

by a team of lawyers. Your eyes ride

your straight flared nose like Caesar

his gold­en char­i­ot. Somewhere

a bunch of grapes awaits your arrival.


If You’re Planting English Peas

you’ll need a sil­vered pic­nic table
      built from wind­fall lumber,

an oak tree, dap­pled shade,
      and the gen­tle pop and cas­cade of peas

released into crock­ery bowls
      while moth­er, aunts, and grandmother

ask and answer about this and that
      ruined neigh­bor or two-tim­ing organist

who ran off with the minister—all essential
      to the sweet­ness of heir­loom English peas.


My Brain Says to my Heart

I’m the trav­el­er in the family
while you cram the house
like one of those hoard­ers on TV

stum­bling between stacks of pan­cake mix
and Christmas shit still in tags.
There’s no place left to sleep but the car.

Get in
and the doors thunk closed
on a clean so qui­et our ears begin to ring.

Dials light up when I turn the key.
I say Time to toss a match and gun the engine.
You cry and crane your neck, Go back.


Kathleen Flenniken has pub­lished three poet­ry col­lec­tions, most recent­ly Post Romantic (University of Washington Press, 2020). Her work appears in I Sing the Salmon Home (Empty Bowl), Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open your World (Norton), and Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry (Mountaineers). She served as the 2012–2014 Washington State Poet Laureate.