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3 Poems by Judy Wilson


Perplexed, he stares at her
standing stunted in his row
yellowed needles dropping
on the ground around his feet.
He thought he took good care of her.

When she’s felled he’ll see
the heartwood
rings of age, thinned by drought
and find a core of rotting passion
that gave its sap to scarred carvings—
hearts, initials, disease.

He’ll never know
the depths her taproot sought
anchored in mud
to satisfy an evergreen need
breathing his poison
branches reaching, ending
in terminal buds.

But he’ll feel the loss
when the roots are pulled free
and the shade’s replaced
by heat and weeds
when the breeze echoes through
the gap in his windbreak.


Into the Fall

In the July heat of Virginia
standing beneath the shade of eighty-year-old oaks
eating a dab of this, gob of that, from some forty dishes
—at least—
set proudly on long splintering tables covered
with cheap yellow tablecloths
on the grounds of Fountain Creek Baptist
after dedicating the stained glass window
to mother’s memory,

      he looked fine

face tan, the dimples charming
standing solid in his grey Sunday suit
white shirt, burgundy tie.
How many hands did he have to shake

between bites of barbecue
chicken muddle

Who could have guessed that by fall
he would smooth roll-on deodorant
seriously over his pink shaven face
and that I would not laugh?
That he would mistake the phone bill
for the electric bill, happy
that the cost had gone down?

How could I have known—
watching him with the other deacons
walking the aisle between the pews
passing the collection plate
while the pianist
full of grace
hit wrong notes—
that a few months later
I would be sitting half the country away
saying into the phone
Well, hide his keys?

That by winter a Good Samaritan
would stop along the dark country road
at quarter to midnight while the sleet came down
lift him back to his dizzy, dizzy bare feet
and walk him across that acre of yard
in his t-shirt and boxers
his legs crooked and skinny
back to the warmth of the house
back to the woman sleeping inside?

Forgive us, Father, for we know not
what to do with you.


I Ain’t No Sylvia Browne

Look here now, look there:

He raises his head—from what?
          The ground?
                             Shoulder of the road?

A wash of light illuminates his furrowed brow, his cheeks, his sepia lips
His clenched jaw gives up its cough, sputtering—blood seeping color
into the shadows—the grays—flecking his uniform—
his neck all sinewy, his eyes all goddamn—


I fight the covers to get to him—what? how?—stop this now—see the blood sputtering down the chin—the lips quiver—the jaw spasm
I’m running through a dark house, grabbing tissues, towels, pillows, cell phones—
a hundred cell phones—spilling out of my arms
I stoop to recover one, then another, then three more fall

I tweet:
Fix this, fix it, goddamnit.

The wake sets in, me awake
Stills my runaway heart into the pillows
Fear skinwalking on past, across my belly, my sweaty thighs
—not this day, not that—
and yet I’ve pissed the bed.

This is not to be the day—

The SUV’ll run over his remains on the interstate
          —see body twist and turn, learn and learn, twist and turn
They’ll tase one of their own—Minnesota’s finest—affix gold star
          —see body stiffen and fall, jerk, jerk, jerk, shrivel the balls
They’ll take care of the fag—take the sugar out his tank—insert smiley face
          —surprise! surprise! surprise!
Drag him down the road in his own handcuffs—key, key, whose got the key?
          —what a tough little fuck—my oh my.
Empty a glock up the ass of my baby boy—Trooper #—uh-uh, wait—

Not this day, not that.

On this day, as the last, and the two decades past—

I will walk the halls with phone to ear—
his voice will play its sharps, its flats on my heart
reassuring me that he is—

He. Is.

All sepia lips
And disciplined
And soulful
And loved

Less is not possible.
Fuck a dream.


Judy Wilson is originally from Virginia. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in numerous literary journals. She has received a number of writing awards including the Southern Literary Festival Award for Best Short Fiction, the Joan Johnson Writing Award, the Henfield Foundation’s Transatlantic Review Award, and a Truman Capote Fellowship. Her book Trespass and other stories was published in 2011. She is also the founder and editor of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art & Thought. She lives and writes in Minnesota, sparing time to teach at Southwest Minnesota State University.