Donna Lewis Cowan

Five Poems from Between Gods


It is what you wanted: to be emptied
and filled. Still it surprised you how

easily you came undone, how simply light
laid down where your mind so long

forwarded its furies, the stilled heart
that planned ahead, rationed, failed.

Now it is ahead of you, the trigger
of a need you didn’t plan for, titanium-lit

in the dark skeleton, crystallized by voltage.
You imagine it keeping you within bounds

like cruise control, binding the inevitable
heart-race in its endless loop –

or is its job to keep up, not decide? –
making your life linear, as if your desires

were riding the scales programmed
in code, to be bucked off at any time.

You think you were saved for a reason,
even found Ararat on a map

so the degrees of latitude and longitude
could help you believe. That is not our world,

we would be the ones left behind.
With its fish-bone creases your scar

resembles a fossil: the evidence that closes
the case, but which further evidence can erase.


She bundles in speechless layers of white,
each curve an afterthought.  Her hem
bobbing at her ankles, she holds a shaft of wheat,
an ear of corn, between thin-boned fingers.

She will not raise eyelids, skirts, issues.

Her last cry may be from the belly of a volcano.
She pleases gods.

Her mind wears a scarlet alphabet,
spells out all the names, the midnight harvests,
her body closes with a ring.

She may marry late.
She may never marry.

The lion always comes before her.

Night upon night,
that stiff position
is pinned in the stars.

The Painter

He divided her into eight equal parts
as any artist would, into architecture

and scale. Everything grew from the face,
descended into a pattern of pores.

He spent an hour in yellow, stirring
her eyelids into fire-consciousness.

He wanted to make her see something
outside the picture or beyond

his grey cracked window, hazardously
painted shut. He studied her, surfaced

the drowned anxieties of her skin,
the infant wrinkles. When she spoke

he could feel the image slip
from its solid monument

into division and when her voice
stopped he could assemble the pieces

again, the way a man would see her
without ever knowing her, as if beauty

was a need he could make.


In my basket they lay sober,
unlit: the unwinding scrolls
of newly-wired fuses.

I plant them in rows, grooming
the soil about the wooden embryos.

Surveyors of a broken sun,
they hum like untuned metal strings.


Spring, and their bodies snap
like sprung traps.

They hail revolution in the grass,
leaves lapping into dizzy,
strumming arms.  Wide-eyed,
they swell hearts like wings.


It was a proud, metal winter,
stinging early March with stiff winds
and drunken rips of rain.

The farmers set out torches
to keep the groves from freezing.

We grazed our fingers
over your burrowing hoods,
pressing petals into their crowns,
warming you until the sun could.


Spring, and I watch you from my chair,
streaming electric, gathering gravity
around you like permanent planets.

I imagine the thread of your roots
wrapping this garden up tight –

each segment in the darkness
a maze
of one world finding another.

Cleaning Lincoln Logs

The impossible task:
making our leftovers
clean enough for a daughter.

In my hands the dust
patterns like animal tracks,
crosses the abbreviated grooves
worn away by over-love,

the stress of building
and knocking down the structure
too easily, too often.

You empty the scratches
where you etched
letters, initials –

before you knew
how the world
could whittle away
each masterpiece.

Drying in the sun,
they are still alive –

the rings of a hundred years
are captured, translated
into new time.  Later

in the red imaginations
of our bodies we build
and burn the cabins;

we burn them
from the inside out.

Cherry Grove Collections is an imprint of WordTech Communications dedicated to the art of lyric poetry.  WordTech, one of the the largest poetry publishers in the United States, brings out approximately 50 titles per year under seven different imprints.  Reprinted by permission.

Donna Lewis Cowan is the author of Between Gods (Cherry Grove Collections, 2012). She attended the MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at George Mason University, and is an experienced technical writer and programmer, as well as a mother and poet. She blogs at