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Joyce Schmid

A Ceremony of Lessons

Why are we called

to motherhood

without a seminary

teaching how

to be a sun

and not a storm,

to bathe our children every night

in holy water,

to prepare their sacrament

with reverence,

to bear with strength

the sacred burden

of our love?


I used to fill myself with all the sweetest food, until

I grew so big it frightened me.

I’m hungry,


Who’d believe

I was a five-pound preemie

incubated like a hatchling,

air so pure it could have blinded me,

the milk of many mothers

keeping me alive?

My hunger’s not a metaphor. At most,

a simile:

as hungry

as a hummingbird almost erased by frenzy of desire—

as hungry

as a glorious white pelican, tail tilted up,

head in the lake to satisfy three stomachs.

Words were found and I did eat them.

As we near the end

I turn again to you.

Will you still lie with me,

surround my hunger

with the truth of bodies,

wordless as the flight of birds?


Note: Italicized lines are from Jeremiah 15:16, KJV; and Archibald MacLeish

Celebration of Life

My sister has evaporated from the slide show

like an old perfume.

Picture after picture flashes by—

girl hiding braces with a tight-lipped smile—

bride in white with stephanotis—

bride in blue, a crown of roses sparked with baby’s breath—

old woman wilted on an old man’s shoulder, giving in.

Enter my foolish ghost, I acquiesce...

and Nothingness becomes its own caress.

Has she discovered

only Nothingness?

Her name was Dolly Gordon.

Now her name

is scouring the shrubbery for her, the clouds.

Not finding her, it wastes away.

She is a blossom dried and pressed,

flaking into stardust

spreading out into the Nothing

and the Everything,

contained in all the living flowers.


Note: Italicized lines are from a poem by Dolly Garter Gordon, published in 1060’s.

My spirit so high it was all over the heavens

--Li Po

My mother used to lose me purposely

when I was two, to see if I could find my way

among the shelves and knees,

the empty dresses swaying over me.

Last night—again—

that murky nightmare—

driving home from Oakland—

dark—roads tangled—

grimy fog—dead signals—

signs obscured—my car

careening into badlands—

That’s when I usually wake up.

But this time,

I was in your slipstream,

following your lead—

your silver Honda


in the halo of my headlights,

trailing star-shine.

“And the gold of that land is good....”

Genesis 2:12

There was still snow in Innsbruck,

early April, you and I new-married,

sitting on a lift-chair, swinging low

above the cold and rocky Eden

of those early days.

So many mountains and so many lakes,

so many meadows overlaid with snow,

so many cities with their freeways,

castles jutting out of history,

and supermarkets selling winter strawberries.

We’ve seen the nakedness

of Eden—bare-boughed trees recuperating

from their fruit, collapsing floors,

exploding pipes, torn circuits, trip-wires arcing fire.

The knowledge baffles us.

But this is Garden—Garden—

all of it—

the Eden of our lives.

There is no wisdom to be found in Eden,

just this strange geography of grace

and you and I.


Joyce Schmid's poems have appeared in Bridport Prize Anthology 2023, New Ohio Review, The Hudson Review, Five Points, Literary Imagination, Poetry Daily, and other journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, "Natural Science", is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press.


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