—“One should avoid fungus in poetry, as a rule.”

Rat, in Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly


First was the scent of dirt, damp clay,

then the honeysuckle-drenched taste

of nectar pulled from the blossoms—

the single drop on a small green knob


later the briar-patched path rising over

the hill, a zigzag way to take to school

where we shaped our mouths

to oohs and ahs, drilling vowels


home to the rising heat of summer

and always clouds, piling up

like mushrooms, thunderheads—

nimbocumulus in the book of words


all the butterflies rising higher

as we chased them down

and the sounds of stories

rising all around, Rat and Mole


and small lights bobbing briefly

in the grass, the trees whose leaves

were opposite or alternate? the guide

taught us to ask, toothed or smooth?


a way to question our way

to the name of what brought shade

in the great catalogues of names

stored in the bookcase,


falling in love with words

tethering the world rising

like a balloon by the riverbank

to the shapes our mouths made.



Robin Chapman is the author of ten books of poetry, including Six True Things, which received the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2017 Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, and The Only Home We Know (Tebot Bach, 2019). She is recipient of the 2010 Helen Howe Poetry Award from Appalachia. Her poems have appeared recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, About Place Journal, Terrain, and Unearthed.

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