Mary Kay Rummel was Poet Laureate of Ventura County, California from 2014-16.
Her seventh book of poetry, The Lifeline Trembles, won the 2014 Blue Light Poetry Prize and was published by Blue Light Press. Other books included What’s Left is the Singing (Blue Light Press), The Illuminations (WordTech, Cherry Grove Editions), This Body She’s Entered (New Rivers Press) and Love in the End (Bright Hill Press). Mary Kay is a six time Pushcart nominee. Recent journal publications include Miramar, Askew, Packinghouse Review, Pirene’s Fountain and Nimrod. She has read her poems and performed them with musicians in many venues in the United States, Ireland and England. She teaches part time at California State University, Channel Islands and divides her time between Ventura and Minneapolis.

Ars Poetica

After Jackson Wheeler

Because my mother's mother carried her Irish language
across a stormy Atlantic to St. Paul

Because my great grandfather who lived to be 100
sang in Irish as he bounced us on his bony leg

Because on the front porch of my grandmother's house
the cousins, all named Mary,
learned 100 names for green from rebel songs

Because I lived sixty years before I learned my mother's father
died drunk under the hooves of a horse he was driving

Because my cousin, Sheriff O'Connell, who took bribes
from Chicago gangsters, gave money to my widowed grandmother

Because when I read about him in St. Paul histories
I thought saint not sinner

Because my father's tiny mother came from Galway
with a family too full of priests and nuns

Because she loved to talk in the way of Irish women
over tea and toast at small tables

Because I grew up in the quotidian music of women's murmuring
close to the ground where the world begins

Because men were either silent or overbearing
I lived my girl's life with Ann of Green Gables and Little Women

the bus plying the Old Fort Road to school
became my Bridge at San Luis Rey

Because art and music were in the church
I thought beauty belonged to God

Because roots of my young astonishment
cling to my inner life like the pine cone-growing
even after fire, living scales

Because in the convent we were told to be silent
I picked up a pen

Because of my heart's homelessness

Because a poem waits for me to see it-
the way Monet's last painting
his exact pink and red primroses
waited for his uncurtained vision

Because love will not let go

Because words un-write as they are written
un-speak as they are spoken

Because my granddaughters
listen to my tales of trolls and beanstalks-
their eyes pools where words sink and grow
the way I once listened to the old ones

I do not want to die without writing
my watery unwritten universe.

from The Lifeline Trembles (Blue Light Press, 2014)



If by truth you mean hands
shaping the vertebrae of stars

If by hands you mean oak branches
scratching the moon's face

If by branches you mean that sickle moon
lying on its side as if asking

If by moon you mean pillow, expectant
as we, fingers laced, walk dim streets

If by pillow you mean feather words
the breath of fasting lovers

If by words you mean answers
where the moon tilts on its side
like a burning blade

If by answer you mean bruised trees,
clouds, lights of a far-off city, or the way
your finger slides into my closed fist

trembling the lifeline, the way
your palms resurrect my breasts.

from The Lifeline Trembles (Blue Light Press, 2014)


The Gift

In golden midsummer cotton grass
I hunch behind a wind-dwarfed pine
to watch a female moose and her calf
high step from forest to shore.

She lifts her head, long ears twitch
as she inhales inhabitants of a wind
that blows my way so I stay hidden
in my human smell.

Mother and calf bend to drink.
The water, rusty with iron, lies still,
between clumps of reeds.

Liquid rainbows yield to lapping tongues,
flow in under velvet to become
marsh light in the eye of the moose.

I see the cotton grass let go.
Gathering, rising—the spirit of each waterhole
deserts its body to ghost over the marsh

like Christ on a church wall ascending.
I know salvation is not the blood of the lamb
but in the blood of a woman when her rivers flow.

In a room golden with morning and moose light
my children emerge from my dark waters.
I give them the river wide after thawing.

published in ASKEW

The Roaring

St. Paul Zoo, 1955

A tide of noise, animal screams
beat against my head,
rocked the popcorn wagon,
swallowed whole the fountain
spraying its water wildly up.

Seals barked in their pool.
Monkeys combed and combed
stopping to pick out nits.
I breathed in familiar must,
wet fur, urine, bleach.
I thought I was safe,
When the roar rose up again
full-throated, gnawing, scarlet.

When my brothers called,
Let's find the lion!
running to the far corner
that held his cage,
I refused, wanting nothing
of muscled litheness pacing
a tiny, hosed-down space,
raw meat scattered on the floor.

These days I drag a chain
of no's and not yet's,
but when my vision wavers
with distance, a drastic music
heard as through a wind tunnel,
if I could bellow yes like that
lion wave of blood-red fury,
my heart knows I would.

published in Miramar


Mary Kay Rummel



© 2016 Mary Kay Rummel


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