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Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish was born in Hobart, Oklahoma. She received a BA and an MFA in English from the University of Texas - Permian Basin and a PhD in English from the University of Oklahoma. Mish is the author of What I Learned at the War (Lamar University Press, 2015) and Work Is Love Made Visible: Collected Family Photographs and Poetry (West End Press/University of New Mexico Press, 2009), winner of the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. In 2019, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Mish currently serves as the poet laureate of Oklahoma.

By This Poet



Nervous-system tracings of rivers before dams—
to map watercourses is to diagram human hands
running in fingers to deltas. Neosho, Kaw,
Cimarron, Verdigris, Arkansas, Chickaskia.
Flood flow in spring, summer languid. Call
their names—conjure those whose language
they carry. Memory exists in nerves, lives in
rivers like silver-scaled great-horned serpent,
basilisk who admonishes our failures. Metaphor
reminds us that humans subsisted along rivers
immemorial. Recall, then, those dead metaphors,
breathe them back to life—river of time, river
of memory, river of life, river of blood, river of
song, river of death. River of contempt. Not the
same river, not the same woman—Heraclitus’
axiom along cattail-encumbered bank. Honor
rivers’ meanders, their currents our late-night
reveries that roar, crawl along, rush downstream,
and overflow, leaving mica scales behind. How
rivers sometimes get lost. How we all get lost.


Momma sent me to bring daddy home for dinner,
but I wouldn’t open the heavy glass door
until I heard him Shoot the Moon!
So I pressed my ear against the
black-painted windows of Smith's domino parlor
listening for my father's voice to rise
above the rapid fire click clack of six
simultaneous games of moon.

I thought the game must have been named
for the small ivory dots I was not yet old enough—
could not count fast enough—
to join in the game with the men, when,
after last suppers at family reunions, they
gathered ‘round an old folding table set up
under a broad cottonwood and played
far into the night, long after the real moon
dropped like a quarter into the velvet pocket
of the western horizon.

Sometimes I would fall asleep under the table
mesmerized by my grandpa's worn black socks
bunched up around his swollen ankles.
Near dawn, my father, smelling of cigarettes and beer,
carried me to my bed where I dreamed of a domino train,
its horn trumpeting Moooooonnn to the stars.

Near Spring Equinox

A ruby crocus near the porch sends up
hope—winter of sorrow is waning
the dire moon of almost-spring rises
full with promise of renewal,
shaming twinkling city lights in its splendor.

I search for my faith, wonder where
I lost it, find it in deep cinnamon
mud smushing up between my toes.
Across a spent field, a lake in shadow
serenades curvature of earth.
As if on cue, a comet streaks
across somber roiling river of sky.