May 212012

I met Emily Pulfer-Terino on the jet to Chicago for the AWP Conference last, a comical, sleepy morning meeting made somewhat impossible by my grumpy desire not to talk to ANYONE. Later, at the conference, we re-met with CONTEXT and it came out that she is a poet. Actually, a lovely poet who teaches at a girls’ private school in Massachusetts and has to do amusing things like chaperone dances. Emily Pulfer-Terino can build a beautiful line. Watch the verbs and verbals. Everything is moving, shifting, pelting, fraying in these poems.

this heaving air, the sound of air inborn
as effort. And what washes up, limp, inside-
out, jellyfish, empty skate, cartilage

Meditate upon the gorgeous concision of these lines. Think about the powerful rhetoric of lists and series and the dense concreteness of the words. Watch the way the grammar and drama of the sentences surges beyond the line to the next and the next.



The Vineyard

November wind persuades the dunes
You’ve brought me to. Dunes thin and swell.
Near, gray trees strain. Your friends
build houses and couple here;

I prefer mountains. But your heart
pelts against your ribs. You trudge
at wind and turn, grinning
over your shoulder at me. Constant here,

this heaving air, the sound of air inborn
as effort. And what washes up, limp, inside-
out, jellyfish, empty skate, cartilage
fraying. And there’s your dog,

who into the pluming water follows tossed planks,
again pleased and flapping, again,
salted by seaspume. Even in this
constant reshaping of ground by wind, of wave

by wind, with these cold shocks
of beachwinter numbing the skin,
how isolate each breathing thing must be.
Scents of wet wood, aged fish wed

these drowsy ions. I hate it here.
The way you clasp against this afternoon
into me, our two breaths chalking one,
your face a mortifying pink.



Yarrow, she says, wading through the weeds
beside the mountain road, will purify the blood.

Gathering plants to make tinctures and balms,
serious and thinner now, my friend is learning

how to heal. Red clover lowers fever, quiets
frantic nerves. Stinging nettle soothes the skin,

the pain of aging joints. Saint John’s wart, common
yellow flower, homely as a pillowcase, soothes the pain

of life itself. Well, pain has made a pagan of my friend.
At twenty-two, she has already learned to celebrate

death: friends, her father. Alone in her sugar shack home
up here, grown sinewy and stern, she studies the natural world

as if the names of living things, repeated, were a spell to undo loss.
She gives me what she gathers—hawthorn blossom, elder,

comfrey—to seal in jars with stones and alcohol. We’re pulled over
here forever. The sun, once heavy gold with heat, is growing tired

over us, pale white light of evening setting in. Soon, she’ll stop
and we’ll start to enjoy what we always do together: at her place,

sepia sounds of guitar steeping from the record player, outside,
lake water steadying slowly under lowered sun. And we enjoy

the wine she makes: dandelion, lemon mint. Tasting of flowers
and of fire. Strong wine, and good, it puts us under fast.

 — Emily Pulfer-Terino


Emily Pulfer-Terino grew up in Western Massachusetts, where she lives and teaches English at Miss Hall’s School, a boarding school for girls. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. More of her work is published or forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Stone Canoe, The Louisville Review, The Alembic, Oberon, and other journals and anthologies.


  One Response to “Of Flowers & Of Fire: Poems — Emily Pulfer-Terino”

  1. Very nice. I like the line: “Well, pain has made my friend a pagan.” The cadence is awesome and then to associate paganism with learning how to celebrate is great too.

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