Sofia M. Starnes
Poet and Editor, Poet Laureate of Virginia, 2012-2014
Poetry Selections

In this page you will find some poems from my published collections. You may also click the following link to watch a video reading of my poems, prepared in February 2011 at the request of the Huffington Post:

www.youtube.com/watch

~~~


The Soul’s Landscape


Ah, what the soul gives for shape –
to be handled head-first

at the temples, to be cumbered
with cotton, white puffs

from plantations in heat; what it gives,
for the flick, flick elastic

on wrists, loose-leaf palms it befriends,
at its youngest – for the sake

of all this, and this place.
Love me now with your

hands (says the soul, half-exploring its
landscape), better me

with embodiment; come, angle the ribs
where they beach into

longing; come, finger the oval description
of death, smallest hope

for cessation. When the room is redundant
of space, and its walls

wish for closure, thumb my corners
up, inward, wade your lips

through the ridge where they meet,
to allow recollection.

I must love with the tissue and the gloss
that embody: cellule, elegy,

ghost, danger, languish... all those words
out of context for souls,

God-forsaken, whiplash of the neck –
Interim

is a word I would use the most cautiously;
how precarious its hum,

ear to earth, plumbing earth, earthwise.


From The Soul's Landscape (a chapbook, Aldrich Poetry Prize, 2001); reprinted in A Commerce of Moments (Pavement Saw Press, 2003).


~~~


Shadows of Innocence

Purewhite, paperwhites,
odor of petals on the wicker-stand on which

we lean.
Deathwhite, dogwood white, hybrid

shadows behind the screened porch...
We have been cautioned not

to invade the white square off the house,
where the dead live.

Why did you bring the bulbs
indoors this year? Fresh spring-

whites are for old slabs with their prone angels.
Remember the dotted hearts in our earliest

missals, their venial lesson, scent
of onion skin. We learned

from them never to flirt with a fragrance,
for the sake of our faithfulness.

Blameless lily-white,
how it escapes us, as white always does,

with the merest gesture: a finger
smudge on the slick envelope, thin trickle

on the swab where a nail
ripped, velvet eye-shade against the tissue,

powdery death.
Remember the white cassock our priest wore

in summer heat, like a returning santo?
It dropped its length on stubby

feet, into our muddy garden.


From A Commerce of Moments (Editor's Prize, Transcontinental Poetry Award, Pavement Saw Press, 2003); first appeared in Pavement Saw Magazine.

~~~


The Armoire

                  Save your people... save your heritage...
                                        The Book of Psalms


White lint and grey cloth, or moth on moth,
the closet opens

its overlap of living
things on things thought lifeless.

The cuff that idled around her wrist, the clicking
belt and sandals, slim

chevron straps and Cuban-heels, a little
awkward, a little dreamy...

chotis in the night.
They danced to this, then sidled back to the clear

divide, their throats alive,
their trinkets lifeless: earbobs

and brooch, the button-wink on his left lapel
their handsthe clasp

of a sequin purse, slick paper lanterns.
                                    Dense as a thicket,

this armoire mix,
my mother's blonde day in chantilly, the shape

of slippers and the shape of dawn,
slipping.

In the bedside drawers, her rosaries.
                                    It comes to this: to save

a people is to save their things.
            Don't, don't tremble. Listen to me—

Listen to her amble beyond the door, coffer
of ashes under her arm

and no one stops her.
                        Listen to the wish-wind mazing

the wall, where she nods, smiling.
                                    Her longing levers

on lifeless things: she leaves them for us.
                        The closet heaves: sleeve-

lengths, wave-lengths, Aves in seeds, biding.
Flax-spoils of skin blow on the beads

no, never lifeless.


From Fully Into Ashes (Wings Press, April 2011); first appeared in the Notre Dame Review.


~~~


Provinces

Imagine a province with nothing you've
ownedshepherds and rucksacks,

mustard and figs, fence-
posts and pastures, valley of death.

            Picture cedars and slingshots, a pocket
of beans, knotted sandals

further downhill, the pink of a lamb no one seeks.
In this story (and others) they

tell us of thesean inn and a portico,
temple and dome: upheavals... the hazardous

eyes of a boy close to swine,
hung jury of a father in drapery robes,

the red
ring he surrenders.

            And the stories have more
of the unknown: a river that licks what is other-

wise dry, the flap of a fishtail
in stone, always food, always given.

                                  What is it about psalms
that converts them to tales of our weeds,

the brown chicory pulled from our drives,
our blank corrals?             What holds


thingsconsolation, or garden, or hope?
What returns, blowing over the twilight-gold

pollen we bear to our tombs? Ache for angels?
            We have left a dark Plymouth still idling,

our fog on its glass, a pure dent
in the backrestthe little we owned of a father,

a road, old communions.
            Seven times we will wash away grist

from the slabs, rub the name, clean-sleeve
over; seven times we'll hear, coming, the bleat

and the scuffle of lambkins.
            Seven times the custodian

or shepherdwill wait for us, sign for us,
one by one: Hija! My child...

            Are you lost? Are you tarrying?         


From Fully Into Ashes (Wings Press, April 2011); winner of the 2004 Christianity and Literature Poetry Prize; first appeared in Hotel Amerika.


~~~


One Food

Absolve us for not knowing
what to eat, how thickly to lay
honey on the bread,

how long to soak the slices.
These are customs children learn,
half-wakened in their homes,

their mamá bowed over the stone,
whole body stirring.
Before long, she wipes her hands

on cotton plied against her hip.
The children set their spoons where
light erupts,

bounces against each bowl,
and skims over bright steel as stippled
cross.

Absolve us for not watching
long enough—those rituals:
cup of water, pinch of sugar brittle fine,

the yeast exhaling clean brume
on the pane, wet blossoms on a paten,
the kitchen ladling, ladling quiet grace.

Come, mamá, knead once more,
once more reflect the customary
pressing with hand’s heel, folding,

urging up and outward on the slab.
The dough springs, earnest, to the rim.
Niños, do not stray too far—

Now, she pulls the aroma inward, fuzz
of infant mornings, gold grain
into heart at supper’s dusk.

Come, niños, to the table. It is time.
Sheaf of wheat she neatly braces,
breaking no familiar stalk.


From Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh (Whitebird Poetry Series Prize, Wings Press, 2008); first appeared as "The Meal" in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Pushcart Prize nominee.


~~~


The Corporal's Wedding

Tight, tightly willed this bliss: the foyer's hanging
basket and its moss, a garland banister, a silver clockface

ticking into glass. Here, promise and delay occur,
as in this wedding where the bridegroom slips, fumbles

the ring, and turns the day to segments, finger thin: a piece
to keep. He loves her, loving the birdcage presence

of their ribs, their momentary kisses.
Should they make haste—elusive bodies—steal away,

toss off her tulle, in a run? Will this distress her, discon-
certing?      (Nobody knows, as he, the creases crosses make,

the skins they bless.)         Tight, tightly
still: the moss that meets a bloodkin entourage, this boy

on twilight leave. The foyer locks its dark anemones;
once scars—lanterns, O heart!—now sentinels on knees.


From Love and the Afterlife (Franciscan University Press, 2012); first appeared in War, Literature, and the Arts.