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Catherine Staples

Catherine Staples is the author of two poetry collections: The Rattling Window (Ashland Poetry Press, 2013) and Never a Note Forfeit (Seven Kitchens Press, 2011). She is the recipient of the New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varjouan Award and Southern Poetry Review’s Guy Owen Prize. Staples teaches at Villanova University and lives in Devon, Pennsylvania.

By This Poet


Dear Henry,

Henry Thoreau who has been at his fathers since the death of his brother was ill & threatened with lockjaw! his brothers disease.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like Achilles smearing his face with soot,
shearing his hair at the news of Patroclus’s death,
you, too, took a step to the world of the dead
when your brother died. Bewildered,
your jaw and limbs stiffened with his.
Then it ended—like floodwaters, it subsided.
You were alive. His memory, a bright
vein of quartz looping through granite,
a glinting diagonal, unsullied and intact
within you. Oblique, flashing—
you leapt
the Emersons’ back stairs, two at a time,
rat-a-tat of a stick on a railing, children
like capes in your wake, you found the first
huckleberries, tamed the woodchuck. Borrowed
the ax, built the cabin, played your brother’s flute.
You drew the oars, then let them go.
Dear invisible, dear true,
with every endeavor, you held him close.
You swallowed the long winter—
and his lost vigor flew through you.


As in green, vert, a royal demesne     
stocked with deer. Invert as in tipped
as a snow globe, going nowhere in circles
but not lost, not bereft as the wood
without deer, waiting for the white antlered
buck, or his does, or any slim yearling
to step along the berm, return. Vertigo
as in whirling round, swimming in the head,
unanchored by the long spring,
the horse cantering, the meadow dropping
like an elevator into the earth, falling
like Persephone through a crevice, a swiveling
crack, a loose screw, a lost way. Disordered
as in death lasts, my brother’s not coming back.
The spin of it continuous as in looking down
from height, and then it stops, the spinning
just slows, a chariot wheel stilled in grass.
The world is the same, but it isn’t. The tipped
views of trees when hanging from your knees.
The deer in twos and threes watching.

If the Room Spoke Back

The Old Manse, Concord, MA

Would anyone hear it—
the hearth mouthing the language
of flames in summer, small


rips of wind in still air? Would anyone
passing through these rooms--
wheel on their heels, return


to the slim something in air,
not knowing that wallpaper,
desk chair, and andirons all conspired


to tell the house’s book of hours,
her glossy minutes, the infant’s
long fingers, the cousin’s penciled


sketches on the bedroom wall?
Some days simple as grains of rice,
others wider than the children’s


palms spanned on the wavy glass
as they watched things happen.
Even the damselfly alighted


on the sill’s edge is rapt,
wings closed, her iridescent blue
darkening like a storm


as if she too knew the history,
the militia on the bridge,
the children at the windows,


the smoke and thunder of guns.
The children’s father in the field
deciding. Their mother’s voice


in waves, over the turned
earth, calling him in.
The minutemen


who didn’t especially intend
for all of this to begin,
the children at the glass waiting.