"Our most sublime thoughts have their feet planted in clay; our best songs are body-songs."

—Stanley Kunitz

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Women of the Millenium

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Hemp on National Public Radio

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Anthologies:

PRACTICE OF PEACE; A HOW TO MANUAL

WRITTEN WITH A SPOON; A POET'S COOKBOOK

XY FILES; POEMS ON THE MALE EXPERIENCE

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Christine Hemp

Down the Boreen

Connamara winds blew cold that April,
and the goat wasn't giving milk. We threw
our coats around us, left the cat by the fire,
and walked down the boreen. The sea
was filled with whitecaps whinneying;

the waves pounded the barnacled shore.
It's so long ago now, I don't know
why you made us face
the weather — I can't be sure — but we
walked and talked against the wind,

heard it crying back, pretending nothing
was the matter. You kissed me gently,
and seals slithered to the sea.
Circling back, we came across
the old thatched cottage where no one

could live, you said. The wind hurried by,
and we peeked in the window that was cracked.
Sure enough, all the dishes were stacked
upon the shelf. A teapot and two cups
still waited on the table. They left,

you told me, without a backward look—
like everybody else who'd owned it. When they
tried to sleep, plates from the cupboards
crashed to the floor. Doors ached shut,
and keening seeped from under the eaves.

I shivered and drew back. Did you see
in my face what I could not— a future
where the banshees would come
to visit me? How could I have
believed it then, long before my flute

let loose those feverish reels —
before I learned how the tide can take
everything, leaving only the braided kelp?
I turned and followed the boreen back
to your house where the goat needed to be fed.

Light and Get Away

The directions on the box
of the fireworks we lit
every Fourth of July said
"LIGHT AND GET AWAY!"
My brother would tell me,
"Stand back!" and he'd
strike the match, hold
the fuse until he knew

it was burning hot, then
set it down quick,
and we'd run out to the
lawn while the patio
lit up the rest of the yard.
A spray of sparks and
wonder. A shank of light
extending up in the dark
night above Douglas firs
and sweet gum trees.

I wondered what
it would be like to light
and stay instead of get away.
The sparks flowering and
showering over me, the heat
so close it would move me
skyward. I stepped
toward the light until
my brother said stop.

Now I know what it is
to be so close you can't
get any closer: It's pure
heaven. Until the fire melts
your skin, and your heart
lies quivery and smoldering,
seared to the patio bricks.

Rapture

It was too flattering sweet
to be true. You didn't drink,
didn't gamble like your father,
who went broke, gained it
back, then lost it all

again: Fortunes, movies,
wives, and children. Drugs didn't
catch your fancy, nor did golf,
or those things men leave
their wives for.

The picture should have
warned me. That day you bought
the nineteenth century print
of a falconer lounging
on a settee, a dog at his feet.

Perched on his gauntlet —
a falcon in a leather hood.
The man stares at her in rapture.
In the far corner of the picture
a shapely wife is looking

wistfully through a doorway.
The ribbons in her hair
are limp, her face forlorn.
The whole room stretches
between the reclining falconer

and his lovely wife. Heavy
drapes. Persian rugs and crystal
lamps. The objects cannot shine
with what the husband holds
on his arm. The title

of the print, carved in stylish
script beneath the scene, says
The Heart's Misgivings.
"The Heart's Misgivings!" we laughed.
So distant from our hearts,

our love too strong to be taken
by a bird of prey. The joke was on
that silly couple. "Even if I got one,"
you said in afterthought,"I'd never
do it like before, those manic

years in Scotland on the moors.
You are my life now." "Of course,"
I said, and we kissed. I felt sorry
for the girl at the far edge
of the picture. How sad, I thought.