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Sandra McPherson

1943–

Raised in California, Sandra McPherson received her B.A. at San Jose University and studied at the graduate level with Elizabeth Bishop and David Wagoner at the University of Washington. Her poetry collections include, A Visit to Civilization (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), The Edge Effect (1996), The Spaces Between Birds (1996), The God of Indeterminancy (1993), and The Year of Our Birth (1978), which was nominated for the National Book Award. She has also published nine chapbooks, including Beauty in Use (1997). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Yale Review, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Southern Review and TriQuarterly.

Sandra McPherson's honors include two grants from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, three National Endowment of the Arts fellowships, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has taught at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and the Art of the Wild Conference. Her poetry was also featured in the PBS special, The Language of Life, hosted by Bill Moyers. She currently teaches English at the University of California at Davis.

Sandra McPherson
Photo credit: Henry Carlile

By This Poet

2

Poppies

Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember
How I found them in a vein beside the railroad,
A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold
While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot.

I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed.
I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly
Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me
No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened

To the light. They were bright as any orange grove.
I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut
With no roots to grip, like laboratory frogs' legs twitching
Or like red beheaded hens still hopping on sheer nerves.

On the third afternoon one bud tore off its green glove
And burst out brazen as Baby New Year.
Two other poppies dropped their petals, leaving four
Scribbly yellow streamers on a purple-brimmed and green

Conical cadaver like a New Year's hat.
I'd meant to celebrate with them, but they seemed
So suddenly tired, these aging ladies in crocheted
Shawl leaves. They'd once been golden as the streets

Of heaven, now they were as hollow.
They couldn't pull together for a last good-bye.
I had outlived them and had only their letters to read,
Fallen around the vase, saying they were sorry.

Driving in Circles with the Blind

I have enough retablos of visions, ex-votos of rescues,
for a shrine in a corner of my home
to pray for release from the mind's mad portraitist--
Wendy's sick green angel of the asylum,
William's fisherman curled up
in his own tackle box, Alice's hunched figure outlined
with scraping fingernail through blue gouache.

I've seen how lunacy spells people, hello
in a möbius monologue, a post-tribulationist
vaudeville act of God. One night when I was about
to furl into sleep and fathom some new low
dream of fear (blind cave cricket dream
would do it), not knowing whether by morning
jangles would be re-wound, or backbone built, 

I heard a knock at the door, I rose from bed,
and hesitated until the rap said who it was, 
then I unlocked all brass latches to the night
and my own flesh and blood. 
A long white limousine blinded the street.
But who does she know who owns anything?
They pooled and rented it because

I was the mother her friends wanted to meet.
The door to it stood wide and, inside,
two strange faces phosphoresced--
from some cold arson of the mind?
Even though they could not see me,
they implored me to ride with them. 
I left home barefoot, bowed into the limousine. 

The driver began to move us swiftly over the ground. 
One rider's name was Ronnie. He called the young woman ÕÓOs.
Os is not her real name. Os is her simple name,
oneness, oddness, own-ness.
Os is her owl name, her night name.
She desires O0000OOOO
small circles. Can she feel this large one,

this tire-tread round of miles we begin?
She has a circular face
and pretty, dark corkscrews of curls.
She craves circles drawn in the foundling-skin
palm of her hand--a wispy, sprouted wand
pruned for use in pagan ceremony. She rubs
the round bevel of the watch crystal on my wrist.

A hoop, a loop, a noose, they're all her thing.
Then she slides forward, drops to her knees 
in front of me, her arms encircle my waist,
she calls it Mother, she names it Sis.
Ronnie, everyone knows, will speechify
full speed, filibuster all he understands
is missing. Neither he nor Os

can walk. Anymore. They both love wheels
and feel them fasten on like flesh.
They want to take their wheelchairs to 
Hawaii and my daughter to fix them.
But we are just circling a dark school,
Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High, 
owl-calls over its empty track, the invisible

percussion of its tennis courts, its uncheering 
football fields. We are driving around the dark
estate of public knowledge.
In our mobile asylum
one echolalic delights another, lingers
in the shell of mimic music,
appeals to me to impersonate them both.

The more we say what each other says,
the more we vow we're different.
But aren't we all--or aren't they, at least--
God's creatures? God's creatures know 
the OOOÖÖOOOOõõõOOOO
00000ÔÔÔÔÒÒÒÒÒOOõõõõ
OOOOØØØØØOOOO

OOOOOOOOÕÕooooooooooo
000000000000000000000
oooo°°°°°°°°OOOOO
OOOOòòòòòòòøø°/oo°/oo°/oo°/oo°/oo°/oo°/oo
oo, all the Os that open up the night sky
(in or out of the mind)
and pattern it with awe.

So far I can ask the coachman
to slow to a stop, if I choose; I can open the door
to re-enter the world solid as a consonant.
But God's creatures put their spin
on it. And life by life
God's brood is lifted out where each one rents,
the point on the arc, the warp on the bend. 

May each have an oasis. A moat. A moon phasing in.
A mother in mind. Release.
May each have a prayer, even if on waking
they go out to touch their dream's circumference 
and find it too mean but at least real,
a wheelbarrow, a roller skate, a shopping cart, 
a one-speed bike, on the sidewalk, at the curb,

ready to go forward, idling, a little way. . .

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