Penelope Scambly Schott’s publishing credits include a novel, four chapbooks and six full-length books of poetry. Schott has received the 2004 Turning Point Poetry Prize, the Orphic Prize, and a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her most recent book, the verse biography A Is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, won the 2008 Oregon Book Award for poetry. She resides in Portland, Oregon, where she writes, paints and hikes. The following poems are featured here with the poet’s permission.
FLYING EAST FOR MY GRANDSON’S BIRTH
from May the Generations Die in the Right Order, Main Street Rag, publisher
And I’m sailing in high silver over Pendleton and Bozeman
as you journey the last hard inches toward the sill of the pubis.
At 33,000 feet, the outside temperature, according to the screen
and these frost flowers blooming here on the window by my seat,
is minus 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Council Bluffs and the rectangular plains marking buffalo bones
in late snow. Now the thick MIssissippi twists like an umbilical,
and the cord, coiled through generations, tightens my groin.
Push, they told me, and what else could I do, my back cracking
over the rim of the world?
At the darkening edge of the continent,
she is breathing and sweating. Let somebody’s cool hand
sweep damp hair from her forehead.
As I pass over Cincinnati, she is opening in waves and scarlet
birth blood is flowing through us all. East now of Pittsburgh
she is riding her moment of I can’t do this any more, the body
almost inverting itself, and clouds rushing under my wings,
until the lift and gasp in the moving air.
Sometimes we call this
Child, I will tell you every glorious thing I know:
We are made out of dirt and water. Someday your hands
will have freckles and lines. Many cherished people
have lived and died before you.
Oh, and child, one thing more:
this earth invents us and consorts with us willingly
only because we tell stories.
from May the Generations Die in the Right Order
The white-faced cattle turning aside
their wide heads–
the afternoons are long catastrophes,
each sunset breakable.
Behind white railings of porches,
no one descends the steps.
during and during and during,
my cheek wrinkles
on a cool pillowcase.
The peace of pain: to expect nothing
and get it,
until all I recall about comfort
is a flock of birds
on the one flat spot in the ocean.
THE BIRDS OF SORROW
from Baiting the Void, Dream Horse Press, publisher
Stand too long in tall grass,
and they will build their nests
in your uncombed hair.
With small twigs,
they will pick, pick at your scalp until
they unweave your cap of misgivings,
and give you up to pure despair.
A thousand sorrows
swoop and hover over bent grass.
For every clump of grass,
there are many sorrows
and each sorrow
is named sorrow or bunch-grass
or flyaway-grass or broken thing.
Winds rise until your eyes burn.
black eyes of a meadowlark,
slit eyes of a barred owl,
shut and open,
open and shut.
Around you in frozen grasses
the feathers fall, unpreened.
You may say shroud
or yes, white birds,
come peck my eyes blind.
EXTRA INNINGS WITHOUT MY MOTHER
from Baiting the Void
The spotted backs of your hands, smooth
as the palm of a catcher’s mitt, thump
of a called strike. We are two teammates
in an old game: the game of getting old.
How restful this scuffed field, the sagging
scoreboard. I need never be glamorous
of spiffy or sophisticated, never get rich.
I need only become your orphan up here
in the bleachers like the crotch of a tree,
peanut skins drifting to the dugout roof.
When I try to describe how safe I’ll be,
I remember the white backs of her hands,
her slim fingers, towers of golden rings,
two strikes against me, my rough slide
home. Now I am stacking the top half
of a peanut shell, lid of a sarcophagus
expectant in the great museum, empty,
though inlaid with topaz.