Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pushcart Nomination

I just got nominated for the next Pushcart Prize and am very excited, honored and pleased. Of course being nominated is not the same is being chosen. But it IS still an honor!

The Pushcart Prize - Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. Hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in the pages of our annual collections.

I was nominated by editors Amy Lawson-Cassady and John Beck of Coevolution2: Shivering through the Details (the MNP 2007 Anthology).

Here is the poem that was nominated (and is published in the above-mentioned anthology):

A Jungle of Light

As he is dying, my father furiously
paints. Instead of the small invisible strokes
he used earlier, precise as a photo, he splashes
light on the canvas with a wide brush,
bold and bright.

When he looks inside, he says, all is darkness
and vultures circling. But beside him,
still wet, a painted phoenix
circles the sun. It pulses with brilliance,
yellows, oranges, and reds.

Crouched over his easel, he paints
the sunroom he'd always wanted
but never had. Looks out from a jungle of light
and leaf to a succession of mountains gold on gold
on gold in the setting sun.

When he can't stand any more, he sits,
and when he can't sit, he paints lying
curled on his side. Water lilies, in another new painting,
each flame white, green and gold. Light defines
the leaves and liberates the water.

He paints a self-portrait, a bit of ink blue,
black, purple and plum. Drenching him with light,
a sun rises inside his heart. An absence of paint
creates the light. And the paint is absent;
it's missing, more and more.

Mary Stebbins Taitt
for Joseph Ciaranello (my father)

(Also Posted to No Polar Coordinates)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Jungle of Light

As he is dying, my father furiously

paints.  Instead of the small invisible strokes

he used earlier, precise as a photo, he splashes

light on the canvas with a wide brush,

bold and bright.


When he looks inside, he says, all is darkness

and vultures circling.  But beside him,

still wet, a painted phoenix

circles the sun.  It pulses with brilliance,

yellows, oranges, and reds.


Crouched over his easel, he paints

the sunroom he'd always wanted

but never had.  Looks out from a jungle of light

and leaf to a succession of mountains gold on gold

on gold in the setting sun.


When he can't stand any more, he sits,

and when he can't sit, he paints lying

curled on his side.  Water lilies, in another new painting,

each flame white, green and gold.  Light defines

the leaves and liberates the water. 


He paints a self-portrait, a bit of ink blue,

black, purple and plum.  Drenching him with light,

a sun rises inside his heart.  An absence of paint

creates the light.  And the paint is absent;

it's missing, more and more.








Mary Stebbins

for Joseph Ciaranello (my father)

Sent to Turtleink Tuesday, August 14, 2007

070814, 051118c

Blackbird at First Light

Turning toward the gorge, your lips

brush mine.  A kiss, or almost a kiss.  One.  The first.


In return, I kiss you twice.  Water falls.  Mist sprays.

Our lips touch.  Then touch and touch again. The thrill


wakes me. I pull the covers over my head, hunting

in the darkness for you.  In vain.  A blackbird


sings at the window.  Won't let me slip back to you.

In the next room, you sleep alone.  At breakfast, we meet


again.  Your lips and hands flutter eagerly. Beside you,

shivering in the heat, I'm glad.  Electricity


lingers on my lips.  On the window ledge, the blackbird

picks at and pushes something glittery:  perhaps


a scrap of dream, with its pattern of interwoven starbursts.

A bit of shattered sunrise.  You look


not at the bird but at me.  Your lips pause by my ear.

Almost close enough to kiss.







Mary Stebbins

For Keith, remembering Niagara

6A, 2/11/04; 5A, 12:20 AM; 4Vv, 10-3-02; 3D, 8-30-02; 2A, 7-14-02; lst, 7-2-02

(see 3F, different version?)

Sent to Turtleink Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jack Horner and Julia Child outside the Montana Museum of Natural History

Remember when you fed me the petrified eyelash

of a dinosaur?  Or so I thought.  An eyelash, I said, pointing,

to my omelette.  Birds have eyelashes, those feathered dinosaurs—

consider the ostrich, batting its thick translucent lids


and smiling coyly.  (Remember when you used to smile

at me like that?)  You insisted it was only the edge

of a bubble of oil.  Grease, I called it, and you were horrified. 


So you said, yummy grease, as if adding the word yummy

would make it okay.  Would make anything okay, now.


That eyelash reappeared in a stew, in a sandwich,

on my steak.  It grew and grew.  Not a coprolite, precisely,

not the imprint of a giant fern or the wing of a pterosaur, just that eyelash.

The tyrannosaur who lost it thrashes in my belly.


            And in the bed between us,

Shoving outward.


Mary Stebbins Taitt

Note on the poem:  Originally from a MNP assignment given by Patrick Lawler

070814, 070531, 060329a, 060328b Sent to Turtleink Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Madame Curie and Terri Schiavo Meet Jack Kevorkian

Madame Curie and Terri Schiavo Meet Jack Kevorkian

In my dream of Terri Schiavo, a redneck

walks through her room with a rifle and hunting dogs.

A small brown bird flutters in the grass. Its heart

falls out in my hand. But no, it's the telephone,

spewing words. Brain tumor. The bird lifts

from the grass—brain tumor—and flying low, disappears

into an ocean of grass. One little brown bird.

The hunter shoots anything that moves, but Terri Schiavo

doesn't move. The grass doesn't move

around her. I search the swamp and hemlocks for a stump

or log, a place to sit.

Once, Dante called to read me a poem.

In my dream of Terri Schiavo, the sun hangs orange

in the cage of her ribs and sings like Maya Angelou.

I was on my way out the door. Are you sitting down?

Dante asked. I sat. I sat for seven hours, his words echoing

in my head. I am Beatrice he said. I am Narcissus and you my pool,

my mirror. I am Dante, he said, and you

are the seven layers of hell. Before that,

he asked if I was sitting down.

No one asked me if I was sitting

when they said, brain tumor.

A woodpecker hammers a tree, drums

and drums. They let me stand, staring,

while they said, brain tumor.

Small, they said, and not malignant. Like my mother’s,

the same tumor

that took her memory, maybe her life.

In my dream of Terri Schiavo, bees have made

honey in her skull. Loud in the swamp around me,

peepers sing. A woodpecker hammers. Her brain is honeycomb,

honey seeps onto her tongue. In all that darkness

something sweet. The memory

of something sweet. Hazy in the hemlocks, the sun sinks.

The memory of flight. I think about morphine,

about making a will. About surgery and radiation.

Around me, the woods darken. Geese fly over. Or the memory

of nothing at all. No memory. In my dream of Terri Schiavo, her eyes

flicker and open. In those blank pools, she sees the sun

sizzling into the ocean. A geyser of steam erupts

in the newborn darkness. Around me, trees are dreaming

themselves a forest. There's a hole in their dream where I sit.

Mary Stebbins Taitt

070530b, 060401a, 060330a; sent to Turtle Ink Press 5/30/2007

Patty Hearst Dreams of Persephone Lost On Cadillac Mountain

Patty Hearst Dreams of Persephone Lost On Cadillac Mountain

A highway runs through your dream. Big semis, Harleys

rumble. Hell's Angel Harleys, and a little platoon

of matching yellow cars. They flit through the semis,

a flock of goldfinches, a school of fish.

You spot a deer standing at the edge

of the road and know it is about to die. It will be thrown

over the hood of a red car that will careen into the side

of an SUV and they will roll into the ditch at your feet.

Crumpled. You want to wave your arms to head off the deer,

but your arms are timbers from the mast of a ship.

The ship founders on rocks. Fog. You know now

you're dreaming because you wouldn't mix metaphors

awake. You're trapped in the dream, surrounded by Harleys

revving their engines, skulls grinning.

Soon, you will wake to bodyguards peeling redfruit

on the rocky coast or fall and fall through green water, tangled

in the limbs of drowned deer. Or throw a leg

over that Harley slowing to offer you a ride.

Mary Stebbins Taitt

From a MNP prompt by Pat Lawler, sent to Turtle Ink Press, 070531, 060329b, 060328b

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tangled Hair

Tangled Hair

With a certain desperation,
I eat, shower and dress
each morning, pretending
to be a real person, pretending
to have a job. If I start a poem or story
or begin work on a novel or painting
before I am dressed, I might be in my pajamas
when the real worker comes home.
He might think me lazy, shiftless.

My work seems so peripheral,
so unappreciated
in the larger world. No one cares
about the poetry, stories, or art
of an unknown artist.
My work sloughs onto the floor and vanishes
and I am left
an untidy housewife in an untidy house.

Thus, I dress, if I am stubborn or lucky,
and comb my hair
before I peer through the door
to see if the muse waits
with an apple
or poisoned apple
or shotgun
to tempt or slay me.

Sometimes, however, the muse is on me
before I rise.
She grabs me by the throat
and stuffs me with tenuous
but unshakable visions
and sits on my until, in pajamas
and tangled hair, I write
or paint

or exhaust myself into the impossible hours
trying to catch the ephemeral
the wraith of vision, held out
and snatched back. The muse teases,
hiding and reappearing.
I feel like a blacksmith
trying with a sledge hammer
to nail a moonbeam
to a gossamer strand.

Mary Stebbins Taitt
3/20/2007, 070320-1d
(3/20/2007) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 10, 2007


In the hospital bathroom, I come face to face with Marialita,

nagual woman. Thousands of her stare

from rainbow beveled edges. Wild hair, the forested tunnels

of her eyes. She beckons me

to remember. I remember her

lying in a poison-ivy swamp, looking

for the color red.

Looking for red

and being circled by a redbird: scarlet tanager.

With me inside her. Redbird.


The next week was orange.

A fox came.


with its muddy feet

looking at me, just as Marialita does.

Later, she looked at a man I'd never met

and I told him about the caboose in his back yard.

Red. His world leaked into my head

through Marialita, nagual woman.

No dreams,

these, except as I dream now,

as I dream my life away,

walking up hot stairs in the hospital.

On her belly, my mother lies waiting. She waits

for glue to dry in her broken vertebrae. Just mended.

No nagual woman I, no shaman,

but a helpless daughter.

She will take my hands,

but only if I do not offer healing.

She wants to die.

Tanagers, foxes, and cabooses are tiny magics.

They don't make me holy. Or powerful enough to heal.

When I touch, when I lay on my hands

on someone, healing, they ask for more.

Or smile and say simply: thank you.

I want much more; I want a miracle. People die:

my father, my friend Judy, my sister-in-law, Diane.

My mother calls across the veils to my father

and I hear him answer.

Marialita bleeds. Her red, red blood

pools in my finger tips. I know it can't stop

my mother from slipping away.

Mary Stebbins Taitt

For Margaret

For Poetry Thursday theme Red

(A significant revision of a three-year-old poem)

070310-3a; 2c, 5/19/2004; 1c, 5-10-04

earlier version sent to The American Poetry Review, 5-20-04, rejected


In the clamorous dark:  roar of water, endless green rush,

and your smile.  Damp but not dampened, in pearls of spray. 


Our drowsy boat nods 

in the shallows.  Even at night, gulls sail through cloaks of mist, flashing


sudden white and speckled wings.  With one hand, you steady the skiff,

with the other, reach for me


as I step to the centerboard.  Eddies whirl

around us.  The little boat trembles.  You let rough hemp


slide through your hands.  Release the skiff

into the froth.  Steer us into the current.


A tumbled moon sails over the water.  Faint light caresses

your face.  Your hands


slip into my shadowed places

Clouds race.  Water plunges. 


My breath.  Your hands.  We surge

downstream, laughing.  Wild ride. 


Splash of water,

taste of sea.








Mary Stebbins Taitt

for Keith Taitt

070309-2a; 1c, 11-10-02, 1st, at Niagara

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Body Knows

Forgive me for posting a brand new first draft for this week's Poetry Thursday Challenge, but this was my first opportunity to write on this topic. So I thought I'd post it anyway. Hope that's OK:

The Body Knows

Paths through the forest so faint
that the imagination only hints at perception. Twists
and turns through thickets of prickers, the safe berm between swamp
and marsh, the ridge then rising and falling away to the sides where
deer have beat a narrow path between the hemlocks. The body
knows. The body turns and glides, stepping so lightly among
tangles of lichens it almost seems to float. It knows where the cliff
drops away into darkness to rocks and water. Knows the quicksand
seepages. Where to step on rocks and hummocks to keep from sinking,
and where to find a log across the slough to the island-peninsula.

The pleasure of wind on skin, of night air, sharp, cool and full
of swamp smells, inflating city-tired lungs. Owlsong and coyote howl.
The body knows. Bare feet on still warm sand, water lapping
at the edge of toes and then up ankles and calves. The shock of immersion.
Long strokes out into the bay, the bump bump of night fish
and swimming turtles. The way the wind feels again on now wet skin,
icing into dryness. The way moonlight off the water feels on the retina
and in the heart, catching hungry there. The body knows the way hands feel,
and skin and lips, when late, late, late it returns home to the warm smell
of its lover between sweet sleepy sheets.

Mary Stebbins Taitt
1st draft 2-22-07

here is another poem I wrote earlier on this same topic: Almost Invisible (The Guide Replies)
I am certain of nothing but the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination- John Keats

Friday, February 09, 2007

Animal Nightmares (Backwards Worries)

Keith sleeps on the couch, legs twitching like a dog
running in a dream. I leap, perhaps unreasonably, from man to dog
to squirrel, to that squirrel hit in the road, thrashing with the pain of its death
throes. In hard rain. I remember thinking then that I didn’t want to die
like that, in broken agony, cold and wet, drowning in a downpour.
Alone. Let me die, I thought, quietly in my sleep when I’m in my nineties
or hundreds. Or let me live forever, warm and comfy, slipping directly
into heaven or nothingness without any of the pain or fear of dying.

I heard several stories about my mother’s death. She died
peacefully in her sleep, one nurse told me. Another described the death
rattle of her breathing. So sudden and unexpected, when shortly before,
they’d checked her and she was fine. Many years ago, my mother was rushed
to the hospital one morning, after lying awake for hours in pain and anguish.
If I had died, she said, they might have said I died peacefully in my sleep.

Keith sleeps on, his twitching subsided now. I had a dog once
that cried and yelped and twitched in his dreams and not with running.
Every time he fell asleep, his old owner beat him. We rescued him
from a stock truck on a cattle ranch. We don’t know who had locked
him there and left him
for over a week with no food or water, but we know that man’s inner heart.

A dementia patient, someone told me, loses the ability to communicate pain.
My mother seemed okay before she died. Fading, but not in pain.
“The dwindles,” perhaps. She had the dwindles once before, her doctor
thought. They start downhill, he said, and it’s like a snowball
gathering momentum. At the home, no one tried to stop it, until I insisted
on appetite stimulants, anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
We turned it around, the doctor said. Amazing.

Now, Keith sleeps alone on the couch, but I think how the kitties loved him,
how they used to lie on and around him, in relaxed abandon or asleep.
Little symphonies of snores and purring. My mother always said
she wasn’t worried about dying. Fred’s father wasn’t, either. He drowned
in a sailing accident, and my colicky baby, who never slept, slept
on Fred’s shoulder for hours at the wake. When I offered to take her,
he simply shook his head.

I wasn’t there when my mother died. I didn’t know she was dying, not
then, not so soon. Though when I last visited her, she told me
how she’d just seen her parents, how they were coming back
for her soon. Maybe they were there with her when she died. Maybe
one of the nurses or aides held her hand. They did that, in the commons.
They held her hand.

Mary Stebbins Taitt
For Margaret, 070209e, first, Friday, February 09, 2007

I just wrote this poem today, and worked on it all day so far--it's 1:45 PM and I started before 8. Literally. It's about change(s). Death is a pretty big change. I feel as if I should talk about it, if I am going to submit the link, but poems make a quiet place in my heart when I spend this much time on them. It's a new poem, so it's probably not done, and I am not ready for critical feedback yet. The pain of my mother's recent death is too tied up in this poem for me to be ready to attack it critically. You could say hello though, if you'd like. That would be nice.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Retreat of Darkness

Retreat of Darkness

Above the right ear, the first bite,

sends fingers of darkness across the sphere.

A plague of forgetfulness. I call my mother,

tell her, Look out! The eclipse is caught

center stage in her living-room window. All evening,

the threatened snow holds off. I run in and out

with binoculars, crunching frozen leaves, follow

the progress of the penumbra across the shining, fading

face. From the comfort of her couch, my mother watches, too,

her rising and shrinking dimmed by lights.

When fully occluded, the moon bleeds.

Drizzles luminous tears. The last

edge of darkness hangs on the moon's face

over its left ear, merges degree by degree

with the surrounding night. Slowly evaporates.

Over her right ear, my mother's brain tumor

has grown large as a lemon. Next week, the surgery.

Dancing from foot to foot, I blow the warmth of my breath

into icy hands, and wait until the shadow passes

completely and the moon is bright and whole again.

~ ~ ~

Mary Stebbins

For Margaret

070117c, 3A, 3-5-04; 2A, 11-9-03; 1F, 11-8-03, 1st

earlier draft sent to sent to Women Artist's Datebook 12/03, not accepted

earlier draft sent to Talking River Review 3/4/04, not accepted

P365-07P Project 365 2007 Poetry entry for today

My mother died yesterday.

(c)Mary Stebbins Taitt January 17, 2007

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Breath rises white in white


through falling snow

breath your breath


with mine joining

your fingers melt

flakes six sides merge

into one pearl

one droplet

clings to another


down branches bending bowing dipping bobbing


flakes cling to your skin

wind licks

your damp lips

I crawl into the winter

warmth of your arms.

~ ~ ~

Mary Stebbins, for Keith 3A, 070103, 2A, 11-16-03; 1st, 11-15-03 (First scanned and revised poem on Tabitha)