The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac By Mary Oliver

Photo Credit: Peter G W Jones

Photo Credit: Peter G W Jones


Why should I have been surprised?

Hunters walk the forest

without a sound.

The hunter, strapped to his rifle,

the fox on his feet of silk,

the serpent on his empire of muscles –

all move in a stillness,

hungry, careful, intent.

Just as the cancer

Entered the forest of my body,

without a sound.


The question is,

what will it be like

after the last day?

Will I float

into the sky

or will I fray

within the earth or a river –

remembering nothing?

How desperate I would be

If I couldn’t remember

the sun rising, if I couldn’t

remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t

even remember, beloved,

your beloved name.


I know, you never intended to be in this world.

But you are in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.

Bless the eyes and the listening ears.

Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.

Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.

Or not.

I am speaking from the fortunate platform

of many years,

none of which, I think, I ever wasted.

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,

And remind you of Keats,

So single of purpose and thinking, for a while,

He had a lifetime.


Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,

all the fragile blue flowers in bloom

in the shrubs in the yard next door had

tumbled from the shrubs and lay

wrinkled and fading in the grass. But

this morning the shrubs were full of

the blue flowers again. There wasn’t

a single one on the grass. How, I

wondered, did they roll or crawl back

to the shrubs and then back up to

the branches, that fiercely wanting,

as we all do, just a little more of


Dawn by Erica Sternin

Photo Credit:  Catherine Singleton

Photo Credit:
Catherine Singleton

In the firstlight, a lone honeybee stumbles

across the dew-laden grass

like a drunken husband returning home far too late.

A breeze with glass sharpened edges naughtily scoots

beneath the evergreens’ weighted skirts, nipping the juicy places

Where musty apple scents are offered like an eager lover.

Gilded leaves whisper, gossiping like neon raindrops as they fall, and

Chipping wrens flick-tail from branch to twig like gray popcorn,

never seeing the green-eyed cat in the musty dimness below.

Like a diver on the high board, trembling … breathless…

The moment is poised…

And finally, decisively, one strong golden shaft of sunlight pries its way between the

Unshaven legs of the fir trees, and another morning is broken.

Geologic Time by Erica Sternin

The gardener’s middle aged, hummingbird mind

Cannot encompass Geologic Time.

She tosses the speckled stone from her seedbed.

The little red stone was Earth’s first daughter;

Volcanic ejecta,

Bouldered into a stream,

And scoured by her lover.

Intercourse pulverized her,

For an Age they carved a canyon.

Here now, palmed briefly, she’s tossed to the verge.

The brief joy of flight recalls her pyroclastic beginnings,

The giddiness of being bladed by a glacier

From her river-lover’s bed

To this hillside.

The gardener, tweezing threadlike roots,

Fine as the hairs on her own damp chin,

Feels a sudden vertigo.

Her head drops to a loamy pillow.

And as she takes her final breath

She notes the coital tang

Of water and minerals at the root zone.

And the speckled stone squats

Motionless at the side of the garden.

Homecoming by Erica Sternin

Today I arise from 646 days

Of ash and immolation, a survivor.

And today I’ve donned a shimmering, verdant robe,

Which is embroidered with strawberries,

And peonies, and joy.

My heartbeats roar like a humming bird,

Drum like a flicker,


The Survivor’s Job is to Scream by Erica Sternin

Let the body speak, make meaning of suffering,

“For whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,”

Doctor King wrote from his prison.

The surgeon cuts flesh and muscle.

And, while unconscious,

The body registers a life threatening event.

Pathology report dated 10/17/2011:

Received a fresh, labeled, right breast…”

(It was my breast).

“sectioned into twenty-three slices.

The nipple is in slice eleven.”

(My nipple!)

“Final diagnosis positive

For metastatic carcinoma”*

Now, let us begin calling the spirit into the body.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Let the body speak;

The survivor’s job is to scream.