Judith Skillman

It swings back and forth at will, threatened by words,
by the sound of sudden doors slammed shut afterwards.

Suppose an argument, a phone call, my cheek held by words
against the little screen full of dirt and sweat. These words

do not fall away. They stay, they linger long after other words—
those soothing melodies of water, the gentle stew of words

mother simmered on her stove. And father, dead these long years,
still plies his wares as I struggle to remain apart from words.

How will I learn to hold the frame of childhood ruined by words?
Humid summers in the east, wrapped in white sheets, and words.

Once I was pure, unsoiled, before language, in my worlds
where a kiss, a touch, a note, or a feather tickled fanciful words.

There wind held sway, its innocent twists and turns, no words
patterned storms upon the land. My nerves fresh as a wordless word…


JUDITH SKILLMAN's recent book is House of Burnt Offerings, Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in J Journal, The Southern Review, Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. Her awards include a Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Currently she works on manuscript review: