Andrena Zawinski









At the start you grew hooked to me,
took shape as you should in the strange
possibility of permutations.

From my largest cell you did spring, dividing,
multiplying, drifting, shifting, burrowing in
the womb wall. You took shape. Head and tail,
buds of arm, leg, heartbeat, paddle hands,
webbed fingers and toes, my little ducky,
puppy asleep at the base of my spine,
turning on our cord connection, my body
making room for you, my heart growing larger
for you. You must hear this as I rock here
and you have turned to go live outside
my danger zone.

You inhabit me still. I loved you
before you were large enough to see,
loved you before you were even an idea.


–first appeared in “The Pittsburgh Post Gazette”





Girl with Umbrella


I look up from my local street map, and there she is.
She stops me there, this little girl dancing in the street.
Dancing, under an arc of rainbow the garden hose makes,
dancing and skipping in a balancing act atop her invisible
high wire, teetering, red umbrella turned inside out,
held high above her head, its dog-eared spokes dripping
wildly with this, this of which she was born into,

to be a child, all glee under an arch of water, ecstatic
in the sheer abandon of what children must be doing
all over the world at fire hydrants wrenched open,
or under downpours of rain, whole waterfalls upon them,
their eyes squinting and smiling, steps skittish and impish,
faces tilted upward toward the sun.

And when I stop for her, she looks at me, then head bent,
closes her eyes, backs away, and in a curtsy motions me
to pass by, for me to pass through, both of us now
part of the same small moment of poetry.


–appeared in “Runes”, A Review of Poetry





Driving the Laurels


“…all the bright clouds and clusters,
beasts and heroes,
glittering singers and isolated thinkers
at pasture.”

–from Gerald Stern’s Cow Worship





Driving the Laurels, I wind the regular route to a week of work
before leaving one coast behind for another, Pennsylvania
greening past Somerset. Driving this road where the deer leapt
and fell, legs tucked under, head forest bent, as if to have tried
a last time to lift itself up for one more look back, I drive
these mountains laden with words to fill classrooms I inhabit
in this string of last days east, in my hands these gifts:

Kenyon’s peonies and Sandburg’s fog, some of Harjo’s horses,
one tidy wheelbarrow from Williams. Driving the Laurels past
a store that says Open that never is, a roadside sign peddling
gravel and clean fill instead of corn, detour roping an Elks Hall
and Amish draped in black behind bare windows, I drive fast
trying to catch some AM news above the static between hills,
past the silo a funnel cloud lifted last year then dropped down.

I drive fast past willows at the pond’s edge, past forsythia
in the patches, johnny-jump-ups nosing through the berm. I work
the week in rural America, cut my way through untamed flowers
to coax from children a long look at what they hold here:
these cows at pasture, their udders fat and heavy with what
we need, and those spring peepers–the high-pitched chorus
they will bring when night rolls down to greet the creek grass.


–Comstock Review award winner





Weather Report from Seaside Hotel


Now through night’s caressing grip
Earth and all her oceans slip…Auden, “Nocturne”

I’m fading tonight, even more quickly than this sky
going dark as cinder, while a roughneck boy with his dog
is fired up on the beach, leapfrogging driftwood and rocks.

I wonder whether they will later lay themselves down
on a gritty bed of sand, flattening their history of footprints,

whether they will curl into each other and rest, whether
their mutual dreams will revisit the raucous of day
detailing the simplicity of feet, of paws kicking up sand.

And just outside the window, the drunken lovers return,
are at it again, stumbling in on too much wine and new raw.

And the waves are roaring in across the way, predictable
how no one will sleep deeply through this night’s grip
with the boom and bang of sea on sand at high tide.

Someday I will return to to this blustery place, settle in,
protected from the whip of wind, when I may dream to be

a child running carefree along the beach with a dog,
mastering the simple formula of wild, but for now
I make watch of this spread of sky for signs of storm,

veiled behind a thin curtain of fog, shadows dancing
in the uncertainty of what cannot be forecast.


–first appeared in “California Quarterly” 35:1





I Thought We Would Survive It All


“…You want the final drink.
The one before you can’t remember.
The one that makes you believe
there is no pain.”

–Georgeann Eskievich Rettberg
Sept. 1, 1952 – Mar. 24, 2003





I thought we would survive it all,
from duck and cover under classroom desks
in Pittsburgh practicing for the H-bomb
to a polio epidemic and the Cold War,
even our parents’ double shifts in darkness
with summer sweat on the necks,
winter ice on the hands. And we did survive
those friends we lost to jungle and desert wars,
bad trips, bar scenes, all the false promises
we could not then comprehend.

I thought we did survive,
across town from each other as girls on tiptoes
at kitchen sinks cranking open spigots to wash
the dopey perfume of our fathers’ whiskey
down the drain those Sunday mornings
we hauled trays to our Kings of Polka,
cups of black coffee teetering against glasses
of tomato juice topped by raw eggs jiggling
at their rims. And our mothers yelling
to let-them-sleep-it-off, as they left
their invisible fingerprints in houses they cleaned
and polished, hearts broken on Saturday nights
that cheated them, beset by what they called
women troubles they said as girls
we could never understand.

We survived the long waits as good daughters
easily amused by fireflies sparking dusk,
our chins cradled in our tiny hands,
arms propped up on boney elbows, waiting
for crab apples we caught in our skirt hems
to be turned into pies oozing over with sweet,
before starving ourselves thin courting
the cruel beast of beauty, force-fed
what we would not digest.

We survived as steelworkers’ daughters
the hard toe of the sooty boot, the strap
clutched in drunken fists, fighting off their snakes
with the anger of our bloody fingers.
We survived hard living and long deathbeds
in the charcoal smoke of Pittsburgh
spreading between the front gate
and walk to the furnace, the cough choking
the ash inside them. We even survived
being sent off for respectable teaching jobs
into classrooms swollen with Ritalin babies,
their furbies, beanies, and lolitot fashions,
bruised eyes squinting at each day’s conundrums,
camouflaged by grins of cartoon proportions.

We survived our retreats with mad poets
and bad fortune tellers, the instructions
on how to survive coming of age with our thighs
breathing the fire of hands, survived
Pollyanna predictions for our lousy lovers,
bad dancers, and other assorted lost causes,
whiskey perfuming their breath.

But you would not survive that last drink,
the one before you can’t remember.
It is not easy to survive. It is not easy
to be left behind to make meaning
of a gun sloppy in your mouth, to imagine
the swift click of the trigger, explosion,
silence, dead week’s stay on the morgue slab
flagged with a toe tag, your body
misshapen and gaunt, a pornography of living,
everyone averting their eyes.

Today the moody air, like these words,
seems tentative and muggy and gray,
seeking out a harbor, some safety
where this storm of you can buffer
then pass like nights that break on the ease
of incoming dawn. Today I survive,
wedding the fragrance of myrrh to a flicker of light,
fingering beads on an old catechism rosary.

You would call this an altar of memory
constructed for you, as I try to make
some meaning from this like furnace fire,
like whiskey energy, with you on my mind
yelling and singing, moving to the step
of a Saturday night polka, your voice
in perfect pitch with the band.


–first appeared in “Paterson” Literary Review #3














photos at:





Andrena Zawinski’s book of poetry, Something About from Blue Light Press in San Francisco, received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Her Traveling in Reflected Light from Pig Iron Press in Youngstown, won a Kenneth Patchen Prize in Poetry. She runs a women’s poetry salon and is editor of their anthology, Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down from Scarlet Tanager Books. Zawinski is a teacher of creative writing and poetry.


She is also Features Editor at

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