Procne and Philomel

By Kate Kearns

In the kitchen the teapot’s round mouth
screams. Philomel is a perched bird
on the couch. She’d rather sit than eat,
and watch the trees gesture in the wind.
I can’t bring myself to sing –
it only makes me think of all the red.

I close my eyes and all I see is red,
and can barely force a whisper from my mouth.
It’s so quiet I hear my pulse sing
its ever-damnable cycle, quick as a bird’s.
A stifled voice persists on the wind –
who would have the audacity to eat?

Last night I dreamed I ate
an ice cream cone. My strong, red
tongue pulled dollops that wound,  
a sweet trail from my mouth.
In the tree, the bird was just a bird,
wholly content with its song.
I sit all day imagining I’m singing.
An a cappella diva, I eat
each syllable like a bird
cracking a seed. I can even read
music and thump rhythm with my mouth.
The sound shivers with the wind.
Every open door is a wound.
When we were young the songs
came naturally, easy in our mouths,
as thoughtless as the food we ate.
All our favorite trinkets were red.
The white flesh in the soup was only birds.

She thinks I break as easily as a bird.
The tapestry is in the trash, unwound,
a meaningless bundle of white and red.
I would still like to hear a nightingale sing.
Dear Sister, thank you for saving me. Now, eat,
don’t hold the burning fury in your mouth.
A bird is not a bird unless it sings.
There once was a boy eaten by the wind;
his name is a red penny in my mouth.





This is one of the twenty poems in my chapbook,

How to Love an Introvert.

Click here to order.

“From this little book’s opening poem, ‘Genesis,’ in which ‘the word insists upon itself,’ to its closing poem’s imperative, ‘Tell it like the scrape of the match before it’s burned up,’ How to Love an Introvert quietly celebrates the tidal cycles of human grief and resilient joy.   Kate Kearns creates a Maine landscape of human loves–mother, husband, daughter, father, sister—a register made in iambic waves as they touch her shore.”

Janet Sylvester, author of That Mulberry Wine, The Mark of Flesh, and Visitor at the Gate

“I look through those who look through me,” says the transparent speaker of “Window,” one of the twenty clear-eyed and lapidary lyrics in Kate Kearns’s debut chapbook, How to Love an Introvert.   As a lyric poet must, Kearns thinks in images.  She also feels on her pulses the subtlest insinuations between people and nature, from “the hollering sea” to “the curtain [that] moves a little with the draft.”   We recognize a devotion to, and kinship with, Elizabeth Bishop in these poems, made explicit in the superb homage, “Leaving Samambaia.”  But Bishop’s salutary influence undergoes an alchemical change, Kearns bringing her own brand of poignant intimacy to perceptions that are fresh, eccentric, and often beautiful.  And no one can hear the expert free-verse cadences in a poem like “In the Grey” without thinking, this poet’s ear is as fine and refined as her eye.

Steven Cramer, author of Goodbye to the Orchard and Clangings.


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