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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

New Poems: "Summer Swallows," "August," "Tabula Rasa"

Updated: May 31, 2022

Three of my poems are included in The Poet's Winter 2020 "Childhood" anthology. Here they are:

Summer Swallows

When the sickle has finished its work,

we swoop over the sweet-cut timothy

to see what prizes we can find.

What was hidden is now revealed:

a clutch of unhatched pheasant eggs,

smooth as washed sea stones;

golf balls; a long-lost frisbee;

a baby rabbit sliced in half by the blade;

a box turtle plodding through the grass

like a soldier in a ravaged land.

Grasshoppers leap at our approach.

Cabbage whites dance about our heads.

We share the field with crows, hawks,

blackbirds: an army of opportunists.

The hot June sun bakes overhead.

School is out and we are free – free!

The turtle’s little legs swim in the air,

seeking ground. We consider taking it

as a pet but instead paint a cross

on its back and send it on its way.


As we ate in silence the meal

she had made for us, my mother

stalked the sweltering kitchen,

swatter in hand, killing flies.

Outside, the cicadas’ song

rose and fell like the tide.

It was too hot to move, to speak.

Too hot even for the flies,

which sought shelter inside.

They were everywhere –

swirling about the bulb overhead,

batting themselves mindlessly

against the brittle window pane,

buzzing past our ears like engines.

My mother dispatched them

with machine-like efficiency:

a whoosh through the air

like a sparrow fleeing a bush,

then a sharp whack on the stove,

on the sink, on the sill, on us.

“Hold still,” she’d say,

and before we could protest

down came the swatter

hard upon our shoulder.

“Got it,” she’d say.

She rarely missed.

She had plenty of practice

with an endless supply

to slip in doors we left open

or through slits in screens

my father never managed to fix.

Broken black bodies lay scattered

across the room as on a battlefield.

Some when struck fell on the table,

which my mother quickly gathered

into a tissue to toss in the toilet.

“For God’s sake,” my father’d say,

holding up his fork in disdain,

and my mother would laugh, lightly,

like a breeze through the window,

then move on to the next.

Tabula Rasa

I’d been reading Locke in my room,

trying to sense of it for a paper due,

when suddenly the day went dark

and a distant rumble drew my eyes

to a line of storm clouds advancing

from the west, blotting out the sun.

Lightning flashed – the window shook.

Homework forgotten, I watched the show.

Something there is about a storm

that seizes the mind and thrills the heart:

the lashing rain, the electric sky –

the wind that roars like the sea.

Afterward I ran out into the newborn light

that revealed the world fresh and dripping

like a naked child raised from the font.

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