person Stephanie L Harper, four poems

Stephanie L. Harper has recently relocated from Hillsboro, OR to Indianapolis, IN to pursue her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Butler University. Harper is author of the chapbooks This Being Done and The Death’s-Head’s Testament. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slippery Elm, The High Window, Panoply, Isacoustic*, Underfoot Poetry, Eclectica, Cathexis Northwest, and elsewhere.


Insomniac’s Fugue

with lines from Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge”

surging the body awake at night
this sleepless penitence singing the present

is measures composed in the dark
blood of ancestors & victims
repeating their chronicles
awake wenn es dunkelt
when it darkens ein Mann
er schenkt uns ein Grab in der Luft
he gives us a grave in the sky
in the sky

is a wake of white
milked from nuts wir trinken
sie mittags und morgens
the daylight we drink
with illusory vanilla
notes of cinder tongues
proclaiming Life:
Schwarze Milch der Frühe
daybreak’s black milk

is an ardent robin intoning
counterpoint to the now
looping orchestral
theme song of Doctor Who
from temporal lobe hallucinations
the teenage daughter’s recent binge incites
slinking through the gloom downstairs
echoing ghostly

is a dream of the son with autism simulating in song
his longing after “falling in love”—

is an anthem                 is a meaning                 is my hope
someday to know what it means for him
learning to warble so
his crystal baritenor bell repeating
what he hears perfectly when
they say that falling in love is wonderful
wonderful in every way so they say

is why my body is lying awake
in the milk-white pall of the lonely
moon’s illusory east to west trace stippling
cinder sheets through egg-shell staves
es blitzen die Sterne the stars’ twinkles
composing the vanilla night

is the earth’s harbor ein Grab
in der Erde for the cursed
dust out of the fallow seasons’
ashes the body tries to deny
der Tod ist ein Meister death is
a dominion like the song
my daughter keeps playing over & over
immortalizing the chronicles
of an ancient Time Lord’s Life

is this Life composed
of too many switched-off signals
repeating for hours in the dark
blood surging me awake
counterpoint to my not-dreaming-now

is the wistful song that breaks in the dark
hours before illusory sweet daylight
of cinder wir trinken und trinken
daybreak’s black milk we drink
our tongues proclaiming Life

is vanilla-white

is blood surging

is this sleepless penitence
surging my body awake
in the darkest hours of night

is the noble robin awake—     awake—     awake—     awake—



What is the terminal velocity of a squirrel?
my son once asked

(only the gods know what
precipitated his inquiry),

no doubt hoping
for a literal response;

but i couldn’t help

whether the fall that fails
to attenuate its consequent

landing, misses the mark,
or strikes true?

While certain Rodentia have
inherited the uncanny

fortune of built-in
arm-to-ankle extensions,

evolution withholds
such membranous solutions

to our own, inborn
predilection for doom.

What profit is to be
won of our climbing—

of so much inching along
the highest branches until

they can no longer bear
our weight—

much less of our retreats,
our blunderings, our plummets?

Does the sole, stepping
forth, create the target,

or obliterate its imprinted
eons from the forest loam?

Terminal is an attitude,
i wish i’d known enough to tell him,

having little to do with velocity,
& much to do with trajectory.



I know how you tried to befuddle me
with that ten-legged head of yours—

how you thought you’d streak by
& ink me blind, but I see

how it is: I mean, once your penetrating-
obsidian eyes shone the ocean alive,

that cute little stunt of tucking back
your longest tentacles, as if you could

pass for being one of the girls, almost
like innocuous, trifling, bipedal me,

was glaringly obvious. I know your beak
was really poised from the start to strike—

to crack open my sternum, take
my breath into your breath, & feast

on the still-thudding muscle inside me—
because motoring between my mere

two legs, primed to be torpedoed
by your mantle, until I tauten

like a caecum gorged on tiger prawns,
is the same jet-propulsion as yours

worked in reverse…


Self-Portrait as Ellipsis…

In a perpetual state of waiting
for the inevitable to come to pass,
my toe taps its refrain like the telltale
heart beneath the floorboards. I know
I’ll be unearthed, eventually, it’s just
a matter of time before my unassailable
beats broadcasting their rhythm from
beneath your feet—droning, insistent,
speaking to you in a voice you never stop
hearing, though it isn’t clear whether
it’s your ears, or a whole other part of you
perceiving it—impels your answer.


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