T H I R T Y – T W O

I’m surprised to see you;
after the lifetimes this stretched-out skin
—this hive-of-busysadangry-bees mind
—these over-firing neurons
—these pulled-too-tight and SNAP! strands DNA
have seen.

Thirty-two.
In eight more years, I will be exactly twice the age as my eldest daughter
—or, “her daughter is half her age;”
she’s
“too young to look that old;”
“a baby with a baby;”
…infantilized constantly.

Told I’m too young to feel this tired.
But newborn children must sleep for seventeen hours
and maybe it’s because the world is too little and too much,
all at once such a wondrous blur but I saw a colour in nature I’d never seen before and it made me hyperventilate
and there’s a train building up speed five miles away and sometimes I think about laying on the tracks, just to see just to see
and a jet-engine is roaring and I think how often does an airplane crash into bedrooms at night
and is it always a moment of sad, desperately sobbed prayers answered or
does everybody feel the world moving in their veins?

Thirty-two,
who even are you?

A ghost
A child
A mother
A sister
A sister
A sister-
in-arms.

Thirty-two;
I’m surprised to see you.

But I wouldn’t run towards you, hopeful,
if I didn’t believe every year of you has been worth it,
and the next eight, or thirty-two, or (if I’m lucky) sixty,
will be as beautiful
as Just This:

Thirty-two,
I see you.

Taken at Carden’s Cove in Marathon, Ontario on the coast of Lake Superior on the poet’s birthday, July 17, 2022.

National Poetry Month, blog entry; heart/garden, poem

In an effort to return to the root of my passion in poetry, I’ll be revisiting an old poem to enter into National Poetry Month; I’ve never been one to discipline myself into an agreement to do 30 poems for 30 days and so it seemed more appropriate instead to flip back in my notebook, of all the poems written from Saturday’s Sirens poetry salons, and find something that resonated with me still. I think the power in poetry is not only in the power or relief you find in writing the first draft, but also in how it sits with you, weeks or months or years later. Sometimes this is like visiting with an old friend for coffee and not skipping a beat, other times this is like meeting a stranger and somehow feeling as though you’ve known them for decades. This poem, particularly, was written on my birthday, July 17th, last year, and brought me back not only to the joyous summertime salon, but of warmer days and sunshine, while Northern Ontario spring still sits trapped beneath snow. So here’s to finding a safe place carved into the ice caverns of my heart, as I await warmer days again.

heart/garden

there is a room carved out of my heart,
a dark cave with scarlet-and-purpled walls;
there is an echo of a beat-beat
that vibrates with safe words:
passwords to my innermost soul
that whisper gateways to a place where there is

no anxiety
no lingering sadness
that drips from cavern walls
and forms stalagmites of regression.

in one of these rooms, there is a low swinging light:
a teetering stalactite,
which wards away the dark thoughts.
they can’t invade, they have no place here
in this room of scarlet
and burgundy and gold.

flowers grow in the arteries of this heart-room,
tree trunks make the ventricles;
and hollowed out inside, there is a safe place;
a secret garden of my heart-mind,
where moss grows over the places
where enemies once stayed.

here, even bitter memories
that carry the tang of copper,
that are as biting as a paper-cut,
become sweet,
eventually.
here, everything is in bloom again:

like spring,
where I lay on the soft moss
of my fallen worries
and put myself to sleep amongst the rubble
and wake to renew, repair,
resurrection.

there is a room carved out of my heart,
where everything is a garden.

© Maxine L. Peseke, July 2021/April 2022



A Fairytale

There is a toxicity that seeps into my spirit–
something already broken by you–
a thief in the night that robs me of sleep
until my nightguard reminds me:

you should not invade my dreams
as you do my daily thoughts.

And yet, during the day, I analyze old messages,
carve a path through past conversations
to see if I can find where those toxic toadstools
released their spores and told me:

“you deserved all this cruelty”
“you will never be enough”

These words are wolf-snarl in the back of my mind.

This is how I always envisioned you when we were children–
but you were never a child, always more beast–
a rabid wolf with teeth bared, saliva dripping
as you spat in my face.

There is no soothe for this kind of burn
and still I seek repair;

I dump buckets of water on a burning house
that strangely resembles our childhood home:
where the wolf lured Red Riding Hood
and told her she was always alone

but fairy tales were never real there

if they were, maybe I would stop trying
to find your most redeeming qualities.

And here is the irony:
if you were anybody else,
I wouldn’t keep following those toadstools
to the wolf’s house;

but we were borne of the same womb,
so even with your teeth bared,
don’t I owe you my survival
and my life?

Didn’t Little Red always owe the wolf
everything for leading her home?

© Maxine L. Peseke, July 2021

Untitled; a poem dedicated to the 215 and still counting children lost to residential schools across Canada

Orange shirts stand guard at the gates:
sentries on either side protecting
the children lost to residential school travesty;
the sun-bright orange shines
like a miracle, rooted amidst tragedy.

A sacred fire burns with tobacco offerings —
peace mixes with the perfume of petrichor;
Summer Solstice is here,
but following a sticky-sweet heat wave,
the clouds grieve and the wind rages

for the unmarked graves of children.

(but is this mine to grieve?)

Elsewhere, I imagine drums beckon thunder with the rain,
and ribbon skirts and jingle dresses flash like lightning;
nature grieves in sync
with First Nations peoples —
and of course: this is their land first.

Their cries bring a miraculous movement
across a country; a so-called sovereign land
built on the bones of babies
whose culture and language
was beaten and raped from their bodies.

(but is this mine to grieve?)

This is the tragedy: that it took too-many years
for children’s souls to escape their dirt-prisons;
the miracle is in the sun-bright orange shirts,
the powerful grief of nature: that raging wind
which calls the children home again.

And the sky opens: the lightning flashes, the thunder crashes;
every sound above is a child crying —
a parent, sister, brother, friend… sighing
a breath of hopeful miraculous relief
that their children will finally be free.

(we should all be grieving.)

Children watch fireworks over the Kebesquasheshing River in Chapleau;
Canada Day 2021

© Maxine L. Peseke, June 2021
with special thanks to Megan Moses for supplying her insight, kind corrections, and experience while raising her children to be strong in their culture, and for being such a dear friend.

Down the River

after Mary Oliver’s “Crossing the Swamp”

Here is the bend:
in the whispering trees
in the babbling water
where cattails cackle
with secrets
untold.

Here is the river:
where oar
breaks water
makes a stir
of ripples
sharing gossip with geese
busy-ness of beaver dam
carries on
and on.

Here is life:
undisturbed
and always disturbed
by growing
and going
moving against current
where river
is never
the same
letting the current
take me away
where I am
apart–

a part
of something always changing
always moving
rising
falling
ebbing
flowing
freezing
thawing

going–

around the bend again
where dead tree
finds life
dried reed
is resuscitated
wet
and glistening
and the cat-tails yowl
and tortoise sneers
and water sings
with its breathing chorus.

Here I am;
around the
river
bend.

© Maxine L. Peseke

Triage

There is a ghost that claws
beneath my skin–
it grips at my lungs until I
forget to breathe,
and holds onto my heart ’til
there is no beat;

there is a ghost that crawls
through every inner room,
puts red tags on all of my things;
tells me I am failing,
falling,
crashing,
as I try to triage every little thing.

But that laundry basket is green
maybe black:
stationary
unmoving
it’s not going anywhere
and I can wear clothes out of a basket
for another week.

Last night’s dinner dishes
are yellow tagged:
they can wait until today’s dinner
is cooking.

Child’s plea to play:
red
red
red like love
like life-blood
like you can put the chores away,
red like you can soak in this moment and this day.

Red like your life depends on it
Yellow like the chimney needs to be cleaned
Green like the laundry basket

Tag it black:
if it is unmoving,
if it can wait another day,
if it never mattered anyway.

© Maxine L. Peseke, October 2020

New Moon

I have been
in flux — a wild, wild mess
of uncertainty

inside storm-battered,
shuttered mind,
a house fire sparks; alight.

There has been nowhere
for the smoke to escape
but somehow this house
still stands.

Eyes tired, worn like
storm-battered shutters,
covering windows of a
tired soul.

I have been in this smoking house
too long.

There is a cold snap in the air outside,
but I still throw the windows open
to the new moon/no moon in the sky.

I count the stars,
name new constellations,
call them “HOPE”

And I leave the windows open at night;

I will repaint my shutters in the daylight.

© Maxine L. Peseke, September 2020

third eye // heart

“I am alive and well, I release what doesn’t belong to me…”

i wear my heart
like a third eye —
it rests on my forehead, sees the world
too close, too much, too all-at-once

and it belongs to breaking;
repeats a mantra to come back together again,
but still whispers a combatant confession:
i have seen/felt too much to release.

“I am alive and well, I am loved, supported, and in control…”

…and still– not.
head too controlled
by third eye heart;
heart too overwhelmed
by moving world

and belly: quakes in response
aches in response
to third eye and heart combined;

asks head: why are you wearing your heart like that?

heart whispers back: so i can see.
and head feels.
and belly quakes/aches/breaks.

a body in thirds, centred;
heart as third eye:
imbalance.

© Maxine L. Peseke, November 21, 2020

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga
stands on my street corner,
collecting autumn fog in her bag,
where she hides the moon;

She plays hide-and-seek with the crows
in the old graveyard across the street,
coaxes my storm-battered shutters
to open to the crisp fall air;

And the crows sing
a funeral dirge,
calling me back everyday;
I have always been attracted to melancholy. 

I have always played this same game
of hide-and-seek-again from fear,
from feelings,

But when Baba Yaga catches my eye,
I see a change
shining back.

Still, I wonder:
“Old crone, do you bring Death?”

She answers, “No, not I,”
though Death is there
at my doorstep
Everyday

When I open my window
to the street
where Baba Yaga
sits atop her gravestone throne.

And yet, 
this witch,
with her circling crows:
harbingers of bad omens,
brings Hope

but maybe not for today.

“Tomorrow,” she says,
“when I release the moon
from my bag
and fall’s fog becomes winter frost
and when spring blooms

Then you can name the stars Hope again.”

Baba Yaga
stands on my street corner
collecting autumn fog
in her bag

And I’m still waiting
for her to
give the moon back.

Protestant Burial Ground, Chapleau Ontario;
photograph by Maxine L. Peseke, 2020.

© Maxine L. Peseke, September 2020

Lydia + The Cradle

Poet’s note:
Every October, there is a bittersweetness in the air. To quote L.M. Montgomery, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” October is the marking of my secondborn daughter’s birth, but it is also a marker of remembrance: as the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15th), I felt stirred to share two particular poems of mine. I am #oneinfour and will not be quiet about my experiences, both hopeful (as in Lydia) and mournful (as in The Cradle). I am glad to live in a world where there are Octobers, and where I am not alone.
Thank you for reading. — Maxine

Lydia

There is an empty pit in my womb
that cries out for the existence of you.
Hoping this is not a test, but truth instead
and even though we could never afford you
and ends are hard enough to connect;

I still feel you, in the deepest part of my womb,
feel your heart beating between mine,
crying out with that old, familiar song:
I love you, I love you, I love you;
Lydia.

You already had a name,
Daddy already saying “she” and “her”
as if he knew, and craving to hold you, just as I did.
Lydia, you already had a name.
Lydia, a place reserved in our hearts.
Lydia, never doubt you were wanted…

But Mommy and Daddy couldn’t afford you
and we never intended to be rid of you.
Though this empty pit in my womb is all for the best
and just so you know, in your non-existence;
I cried at the first sign that you were gone.
Mourning you in the same fashion mothers mourn miscarriages.

Because Lydia, we loved you before we even knew for sure.
Lydia, this empty womb waits for you.
Lydia, Lydia Lydia; our joy was in a waltz with fear
but we had such hope for you:
A dream for our little family, my little dear.

and Mommy’s been here before,
but there was never hope waiting
There was never solidity, never the want,
there was never you: our baby.
Lydia, wait for me until we’re ready.

The test is now negative,
guilt replacing you in my empty womb

But Lydia, I’ll wait for you.

The Cradle

This body was not carved correctly for a baby

That’s what I tell myself when you fell from my womb
cradle dropping bloodied chunks of my uterine lining
when I turned my stomach inside, outside, inside again
(I tried to hold you in)

While my tree linings swung cradle
from thin branch to thin branch
only to crash, to fall, cradle and all;
and I tried to hold you in,
tried to carve my failing womb into a cradle to house you

And she fell from the womb too soon
my womb, my body, unwilling to hold her in
while my mind was so desperate
to carve tree branches
into something sturdy

but my womb was made up of something brittle inside
and then tree branches snapped, then the cradle falls

And I wonder what my innards are carved from—
whole pieces of the child that was beginning to stain my underthings
Tree branches so brittle, this cradle might have been carved from bone
and I’d give up my ribcage just to hold you in
I’d give up my whole life just to know my body was carved correctly
to make a cradle for the baby I miscarried

I’d become a carpenter just to cut down that tree
before it falls, before cradle comes crashing down, baby and all
and this was all happening inside of me, so I wonder:
weren’t we carved from the same tree
wasn’t my body strong enough to carve a cradle rather than a casket

Weren’t you strong enough to sleep through it all;
Baby, sleep, don’t cry,
don’t fall.

© Maxine L. Peseke, 2015

Lydia is previously published in Swimming with Elephants Publications’ Catching Calliope Winter 2015 edition and The Cradle is previously published in Parade, Swimming with Elephants Publications’ 2018 anthology.

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.