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Elise Paschen

Elise Paschen is the author of four poetry collections, most recently The Night Life (Red Hen Press, 2017), Bestiary (Red Hen Press, 2009), Infidelities (Story Line Press, 1996), winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, and Houses: Coasts (Sycamore Press, 1985). Paschen served as executive director of the Poetry Society of America from 1988 until 2001 and cofounded the nationwide Poetry in Motion program. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in Chicago.

By This Poet

4

Acrobat

The night you were conceived
we balanced underneath a tent,

amazed at the air-marveler,
who, hand-over-hand, seized the stars,

then braved the line to carry home
a big-top souvenir umbrella.

Earth-bound a year, you dare
gravity, sliding from the couch

to table. Mornings, on tiptoe, 
stretching fingers, you grab 

Saturn, Venus and the moons 
raining down from the sky of ceiling.

Division Street

                         ". . . Prayer book and Mother, shot themselves last Sunday."
                                        Gwendolyn Brooks


The spire of Holy Name Cathedral rose like a prayer
above Chicago Avenue. I thumbed a leather-bound book
in catechism class, recited the Hail Mary. Fire and
devils blazed at night. The nuns told my mother
I had a calling. On Scott Street a man lay shot
dead in our alley. It was the Gold Coast.  They prided themselves
on sidewalks safe as shrines. I questioned God, the last
to leave the room. Riots flared in Cabrini-Green that Sunday.

After the Squall

In need of air, she unhinged every
window, revolving ones downstairs,
upstairs skylights, mid-floor French doors,
swept into the house the salt-brine,
the cricket chirp, the osprey whistle,
the sea-current, sound of the Sound,
but had not noticed the basement
bedroom window shielded by blinds,
screen-less. Later that night when they
returned home, lights illuminating
the downstairs hall, insects inhabited
the ground floor rooms. She carried handfuls
of creatures across a River Styx—
the katydids perched on lampshades,
beach tiger beetles shuttling across
floorboards, nursery web spiders splotching
the ceiling—trying to put back
the wild fury she had released.