Susan Rich: 7 poems

Edited by / Giorgia Pavlidou

Seattle poet SUSAN RICH is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy (Shortlisted for the Julie Suk Prize) and The Alchemist’s Kitchen (Finalist for the Washington State Book Award). She has been granted a Fulbright Fellowship, the PEN USA Award for Poetry, the Times (of London) Literary Supplement Award and a 4Culture Grant. Rich’s poems appear in Harvard Review, New England Review, Poetry Ireland, and World Literature Today among many other publications. She has two collections forthcoming: A Gallery of Postcards and Maps: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Press, 2022) and Blue Atlas (Red Hen Press, 2024).


And the light would tattoo itself across her mouth

like a flash of ink across a page.

The flames didn’t harm her, didn’t singe her lips

or her strong jaw. She ate fire for breakfast before

boarding the C train, before taking her seat

in her pink power suit, before drug store nylons which held her

like a sweet assassin or like the boss who asked her to stay

after the 5:48 train departed, the office the color of cicadas,

the world overturned to a place where she held

her breath, and lay across the desk like a lamb chop

or a slice of coconut cake. The boss’s breath coming faster now

until her mouth opened and she let the flames lift him away.

                           Originally published in Plume

Susan Rich

Try to Be Done Now with Words

Away with the language of weeping,
the angel of perfection can go hang herself

and burn her lilies of ambition, too.

Try to be done with the golden bees,
the envy of another’s sainted breathing.

Instead, embrace the outer orchard—

the well-water and garden hose—
our terrestrial music of shave and shower, muesli and tea.

Away from the temple, forget supplicants.
Sign on for this season’s must have boots.

What you want is what you have always wanted—

a blue fountain, Moroccan, with the Arabic
abjad, drink and belief. Double note of window

and world. Look past long tendrils of line-breaks

forget dactyls and old apples—
the symbolic yew. No more words!

Tomorrow you will revel in the songs of olive groves.

O brave mouth—and touch and scent—
send coherent messages through this body

like flares off a meteor shower.

You can become your own glass sponge—
move through this world—

silent, astonished, and undone.

Originally published in Tinderbox

Artists Travel Incognito

She loved to cook surreal meals with medieval recipes,
the ingredients, by necessity, improvised.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she clipped
hair from her red-headed guests and then served

their contributions in the next day’s buttery soup.
Culinary experimentation the artist called it

and carried on spreading homemade mustard along the edges
of her heels and then toes whenever conversation bored her.

In Carrington’s painting, Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen,
mischievous women bake miniature pies in a wine-colored salon.

Apparently, they’re good friends, who, cloaked in monastic robes,
share a resemblance with prehistoric birds. And perhaps it’s the playfulness

of their sun-glassed masks, or the friendly goose in bluestockings,
slightly off from the picture’s center of gravity but the festival atmosphere

is not unlike the human hours we covet in the House of Sky.
Instead of homemade pies you bring dark chocolate, dipped

in rosewater, and I offer Mexican almonds, pomegranate cheese.
Together we pick lines, sing them back and forth from favorite books

or we fill a box with instructions for invention,
write a story with a bird in it, unusual soup, a simple question—

then we set the kitchen timer, begin to work
our images half baked, half otherworldly.

And perhaps this friendship is a type of madness,
the lyric as rose-colored challis—but how else

to spend an afternoon than in rooms of imagination and surprise?
Like the bird women in the kitchen, we need our braided lives.

              Originally published in Plume


Every Clock is Made of Foxes

At midnight, the harvest moon bothers my sleep
and I wake ready for my early class in Java and Swift—

the exact second when this barking fox
under my bunk shows her cubs, dimpled

and smelling of cherries with sour cream.
Unanswered, the telephone wings circles

around us, sending messages of apology
to the wisteria vine which does answer.

The mother fox warns of a cyber attack,
calling me in a secret name known

only to the Idaho potatoes which look out
of so many eyes they become academics.

The clock drops minutes and cries after them,
the calendar tears a page from the ocean:

Reward for Lost Time. I search the sands
of the hourglass for a Tuesday gone late August,

track down two presidential terms.
The flip phone blinks again and the foxes

murmur their timeless faces to the moon.
I must change my life.

Originally published in Crannog (Ireland)

Secret Agent

             for Leonora Carrington

A long-armed monkey lurks by the far
edge of the table, a kind of night watchman
half-hidden behind lace tablecloths,

his tail an upside-down question mark.

Naked–of course–and disinclined
to join the party.I think of your life this way—observer of

other realms—holed-up like a secret agent—
with the oddest of binoculars—
your gaze that of professor or undertaker.

How you hated your coming out party—
you said it was like your father selling a product—

and not one he believed in.
How the teachers complained—often—
Leonora does not collaborate well.

Wild animal, the headmistress hissed

as you left her wallpapered rooms
for the next.

You could recall with distaste
weekends of flowing cocktails, offered
by strangers with odd shaped heads—

the food laid out as some anemic image

of the afterlife. You’d disappeared by then—
self-appointed linguist at the local zoo,
each day meeting with Lesula monkeys, African hyenas,

to learn their languages, to paint their gorgeous minds.

Originally published in Plume      


                           after Remedios Varo

insert straws into fruits and flowers,

drink the lifeblood of a watermelon,
a tomato, a five-petaled rose.

Their faces appear as expressionless

as businessmen
about to go under; their new suits

woven from subsidized chaffs of wheat,

are already frayed at the knees.
From underneath twin bowler hats,

flash enormous golden ear wings.

Perhaps they are listening to a botanist’s
lament for the dying or the rap of lemon thyme.

Perhaps we’ve arrived too late to save the world’s

gardens. Still, we will stage protests
in alliance with the waves of grain.

Underneath the vampires’ barstools

two pet roosters laze about, their combs and wattles
luminous— their speckled collars

hand-carved from the finest melon skins.



The Self

harmonizes when the world is quiet

takes early morning walks
along the curve of Puget Sound,

eavesdrops on bald eagles and eight-wheelers—

sometimes plays around.
No tax collector can find her

no private detective uncover her film-noir face.

The self wants only what she wants:
a hint of wasabi under the tongue

an outlaw’s truth, a tumultuous embrace.

The self offers herself by the hour,
watches old musicals, whodunits—

only travels by train.

When the rain halts her solo
a double-note brings her home again.

She’s a cameo of grit and glee

at home in lunar visions—
a grey plumed hat, a cinematic sheen.

Originally published in Mantis

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