May 052016

Denise LowDenise Low


xxxxxxx(Kenneth Lee Irby, 30 July 2015)

You no longer “care” for anything to eat
except sweet brandy

xxxxxxA last bottle,
xxxxxxyes, I bought it,
xxxxxxand I’m not sorry

You sip
slumped sideways on the sofa
xxxxxxbracket of spine tilting
fever-red cheeks
xxxxxxthe marionette lines barely
xxxxxxXXXxxholding you up

long-sleeved denim shirt
xxxxxxover skin so thin
blue veins shine
xxxxxxXXXxxbones jut the collar

xxxxxxsoon will come the morphine angel


Like a fool I bring
Japanese fairy tales—
xxxxxxmy father’s book
xxxxxxrich slick mildewy paper

Your overgrown thumbnail slits pages open

Through your hands tumble bright
xxxxxxred foxes
xxxxxxyellow-lantern moons

You tell me your mother’s last words
xxxxxx“Are the plants watered?”

And you breathe to me,
yes the breath labored,
xxxxxx“This is, as they say, a last gasp”


A round moon rises overhead

The bloody mud knot of your heart
xxxxxxloosens jagged dithyrambs.

For good-bye I lay hands
on your blanket-swaddled chest
xxxxxxfeel it, that swell
measure unspindling


Eskimo Curlew, 1891

xxxxxxxAfter a photograph by Terry Evans
xxxxxxx“I ask the curlew for cinnamon-barred feathers”

“Eskimo Curlew”
crossed legs Arctic blue, bound.

“Field Columbian Museum.
Shot over Emporia, Kansas.”

Tender down molds
the throat. The sharp-spear

beak pierces vanilla-white
wood-fiber backdrop.

A wisp of shadow
half-moons the body:

curve of lunar eclipse, folded wing,
curve of expired breath.

Past tense before I was born:
“They nested in Arctic tundra,”

says my dead father’s
Field Guide to the Birds,

the voice: “an oft repeated, soft,
mellow, though clear whistle”

or “the wind whistling
through a ship’s rigging.”

“Flocks migrated through the Plains”
when he was a young man holding

his Peterson’s and sighting “under-
wings conspicuously cinnamon buff.”


Labels from The Field Museum:  Cardinals

xxxxxxxxAfter photographs by Terry Evans

9 July 1881
xxxxxBush on this day: collector
xxxxxat Blue Island, Cook Co.
one female buff-
xxxxxand tangerine-feathered

December 11, 1883
xxxxxwithin the specimen drawer
xxxxxone iridescent crimson male
neck twisted to uncertain sight

September 16, 1893
Museum founded
to house collections assembled

25 February 1907
Mound City, Ill.
♀ female still plump
xxxxxpeach streaks across sky-gray breast

Unmarked date:
Wright at Dane Co., Ill.
another ♂ male
xxxxxwith the finest head crest

♀ female fell from nest
at Orrington and Garrett Ave.:
desiccated, ashy brown,
xxxxxa solid ghost collapsed

December 27, 1913
♂ male caught at Salamonia, Indiana
now a pressed faded feather rose

Indecipherable dates:
47 Cardinalis cardinalis specimens
xxxxxeyes sightless behind
xxxxxwhite-cotton eye sockets

July 2002
xxxxx“The loss of these living
things is tempered
by a quiet tenderness”

—Denise Low

Denise Low, 2nd Kansas Poet Laureate, is award-winning author of 25 books of prose and poetry, including The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Delaware Survival (forthcoming from Univesity of Nebraska Press), Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mountain Press); Mélange Block (poetry, Red Mountain Press); Ghost Stories (Woodley Press, a Ks. Notable Book; The Circle -Best Native American Books); and Natural Theologies: Essays (The Backwaters Press). Low is past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She blogs, reviews, and co-publishes Mammoth Publications. She teaches professional workshops nationally as well as classes for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Her MFA is from Wichita State University and PhD is from the University of Kansas. She has British Isles, German, Delaware (Lenape/Munsee), and Cherokee heritage.




  2 Responses to “Labels from the Field Museum: Poems — Denise Low”

  1. Denise, Regarding “Watermarks” – simultaneously a paean to a poet’s humanity and lament for his loss – your language lyric and wrenching and perfectly appropriate to the memory of your respected fellow sculptor of words. No better memorial than such memorable, lovely and loving lines.

  2. These poems are so tangible, I could feel my breath ebbing. Beautiful.

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