Waking at Night


Such a short distance between genius

and shit. Take those elephant turds

Bruce Nauman (1991 Walker Art Center)

stacked in piles on the floor, soft cannon balls,

so appealing to some humans, something we can


all relate to.  In my claustrophobic little corner

(compared to the Milky Way) I am happy,

moon-devotée that I am with a rag of the ancient

floating first hand outside my window. Take

these lines written in the darkness around


my bed. I hope they don’t cross

over themselves creating rows like il-

legible barbed wire some French girls

stood behind at the end of a world war,

brunette and blond collaborators


whose hair was shorn, the sign for bedding up

with a Wehrmacht man who gave them cognac

and nylons they could sell on the black market.

The girls’–women’s– heads, skulls, spat upon,

cross-and-bones thin, reviled little female


christs. It’s just dizziness. It’ll pass. It’s just this

time of night and the room so small. There

are bad dreams and then it’s over and they/

we can go back to sleep again.

But why would anybody


take this shit from the elephant kings,

their balls.  Even the elephants were

astonished that their turds

were sold with their ivory.

Their leftovers.




We Missed the Boat

after Brave Irene by William Steig


Never compare yourself to another,

especially when she’s Irene Bobbin,

at the door to her mother’s little yellow

parlor with its pictures and mannequin.

“Bye! I’ll deliver the gown to the duchess.”


Mrs. Bobbin, a single mom, brimming

with exhaustion called from her bed,

“Don’t go, Irene. A storm’s in full swing.”

But Irene set off with gown in box,

into the darkening winter afternoon.


(You and I set out, too, on a mission.)


Even though the wind tore open

the box, even though the snow

was hip high, even though Irene

thought she was lost, maybe going

in circles, she struggled on.


(Did we quit too early?)


Somewhere past Farmer Bennett’s

pasture the wind was so strong it

blew away two tissue paper ghosts

that sheltered the beautiful pink,

sparkly dress. And the dress, too.


(What went wrong for us?)


Irene had a mission for sure.

She was focused on succeeding,

a matter of food for the cupboards,

wood for her mother’s cold stove,

and something for the pot on it.


(We could’ve tried harder, I guess.)


Irene‘s tasks doubled: now

she must find the lost gown.

Through gangly, primordial woods

where there’s no sense of direction,

she stumbled on, snow blind, from tree


to tree until her little legs protested

they could lift themselves no more.

But there! At wit’s end, there was

the dress, plastered to a tree,

decking the trunk out for a party.


(Maybe the Fates were against us.)


A sight indeed for sore eyes.

And not much farther on, an amber

window light spilled out over the snow.

The palace! Irene huddled before the door.

Like a snow sculpture, but she’d made it!


(And if she hadn’t? That happens, too.)


All good things followed: the Duchess’s

pleasure at the gown, the warm ballroom,

the delicious feast an absolute joy

for porridge-fed Irene. And best of all,

a purse full of money for her mom. The end.


(It almost hurts, others’ triumphs, they feel so good.)


by Sharon Chmielarz

Sharon Chmielarz has had eleven books of poetry published, the latest, “little eternities,” in Sept. 2017. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize seven times and five of her books runners-up for literary awards. Kirkus Reviews named her “The Widow’s House” one of the 100 best books in 2016. She was born in South Dakota but has spent her adult life in Minneapolis, MN.

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