Today's poetry for today's world

Judith Skillman


Judith Skillman is the author of thirteen collections of poetry,

most recently The White Cypress, Cervena Barva Press, 2011.

She is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American

Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, and other

organizations.  Her work has appeared in Poetry, Field,

The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, The Midwest Quarterly,

and many other venues.  Skillman holds an M.A. in English

Literature from the University of Maryland, and lives in

Kennydale, Washington.  For more on her work, please visit





Click on the cover to buy The White Cypress.










It comes, Mother, complete

with a solid gold center.

Lifted from Canada,

dumb-thumbed, it comes

from your all-girl school

in the ghetto-lands.


Like the wind sweeping trees

of yellow leaves

in a Pacific storm, it’s

sworn to secrecy, weighs

almost nothing, doesn’t tell

its worth to strangers.


The black birds above the sky

could be leaves or coins,

the gusts swollen with water,

the mail truck passing,

flashing lights in early darkness.

Certain signals malinger


in the discs between my spine.

I call these pain for the way

they enter the hip

and the leg and refuse

to emigrate.  I know at the border

you paused for a look


at Niagara Falls.

Would pocket change

hold up in the new land?

Would father finish his degree,

leave his den, enter the silence

of numbers sent to earth


from the sun?  Would there be

children, and children’s children?

This coin fits your sunny disposition,

and the way, drunk after a bottle

of red wine—any kind will do—

your laughter brightens, its


tinned edge—is tin an element

in the periodic table?  I know

salt follows us wherever we go,

onions bring tears, a bit of oil

sizzling in the pan recalls

your ample breasts and full-


figured spirit.  What I didn’t know

then I know now—you were

not really a saint, rather crazed

with the same anxieties that rule

my days.  Mother, the original

loony, called to be less than,


equal to, more than, the task

at hand—I have underestimated

your wealth.  This gift—take it

while you limp among the living,

your balance gone, left ear

deaf to the sinister ones.


Their whispers, as always,

escaped your sense of smell

which was, as you said,

bad to nil, though you cooked

our feasts.  In them we tasted

your tongue and heart.


In the slivers of spice from Provence

or Montreal that greened

the fish we proclaimed the meal

good, we took to your kitchen

table the shadow lands of our need

for nurture, for relief from hunger


and pain. Mother,

though we never equated

our suffering with your pocketbook

we took all you offered

us as subsidy, we left you

with less than a silver dollar.




Published in Prairie Schooner;

The White Cypress, Cervena Barva Press (2011)




Click on the cover to buy The Never








They lie in separate rooms while the moon

spills its light across limbs of trees.

The fake owl poses in the yard next door—

those yellow eyes she saw and thought

it was a Great Horned Owl.  The never

comes in spurts, like wings across the kitchen

skylight cutting her off from him

during the day.  Never takes the form of sleep

at night.  It’s not that never belongs

to no one else.  Practically anyone

could be happy under the sentence of moon

on gravel, moon on frost, moonlight

on fake owl perched in a willow.

Perhaps the moon is birch wood, she thinks,

and it was part of the never before this never.

Maybe the wings are obsidian and covered

the skylight when a piece of the Kuiper Belt

exploded above their house.  Inside she feels

a bit like never.  Likes the sound of mingling

with folks that might live there.  Likes the fake owl,

who never asks who.




Published in FIELD.                  


Click on the cover to buy Heat Lightning.   







You walked up Tabletop Mountain

And found a skull.  A coyote, dog,

Or wolf—you are not sure.


Perhaps a deer.  You run

Your finger along the teeth:

Yellowed ivories glowing,


Molars’ compacted surfaces.

Not a single one missing—the animal

Died young.  For the skeletal grin


You feel wistful, even as a man.

Is there a secret you missed

Along the way, a better kind of life


Lived among the ruins of nature

Rather than this entrapment

Where you fight your way through


Each urban day, return to the well-kept

House at night?  You walked up Tabletop,

Looked far out where the shape-shifting


Begins again between brother

And sister mountains twisting

Sharp peaks southwest,


Blued by the moon raising its single horn

In the east.  When you picked up

The skull it walked with you, breathed


Through eye sockets wide open

As with the sudden shocked surprise of—

You are not sure which—


Being dead or carried in your hand.





Published in Pedestal Magazine and reprinted in the anthology

Many Trails to the Summit, Rose Alley Press, David Horowitz, Editor




Click on the cover to buy Circe's Island




Writer's Tip: “. . . In paying attention to what one is drawn to, the writer comes

closer to the elusive nature of association; the subconscious, Jungian archetypes;

and all manner of “good stuff,” for lack of a better term, that leads to a strong poem.”


--from The Writing Life, Centrum Experience Magazine, edited by Jordan Hartt




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