Jeanne Wagner










Doctor Frankenstein on Love


I gave him everything I love.

The high forehead,

which looks so endearing on babies,

on his face

became a frightening cliff-drop

of skull,

and the vacant eyes,

with their hint of lethal hurt,

were the same cornflower-blue irises

I plucked

from the beggared sockets

of the dead.


I thought we could live again,

like memory,

that we would rise from unrequited


as only bodies carefully stitched

from remnants can.


But he lurches like an old film


and dreams in a language

not his own;

sometimes just the white amnesia

of a flower

makes him weep.



First appeared in Rhino









I know a poet

who scribbles his lines

on the margin of other people’s poems.

I can see him now,

pouring out his syllables

like a new species of fish into someone else’s

small  coherent stream.


Hint of trespass here,

dash of crossbreeding there,

a little chemistry,  a little Frankenstein.


He skirts their margins as if he’s casing the joint.

He’s infiltrator, alien, burglar, spy—breathing in the air

they breathe,

but with a different rhythm.


The mystery is how he mimics their meander,

their glide,

the watery glint of their scales.

At his best

he’s both inside and outside their verse,

a word that says it’s turning.


Because he likes to play with metaphor,

he’ll squeeze

onto the margin of their bed,

fighting for a piece of the pillow, a swath

of vacant sheet,

till he’s close enough

to steal

not just their dreams but the current

that surrounds them.




Ars Poetica


Sometimes I think of Shelley’s heart,

which was finally buried,

but there was that hour on the beach

when his friends worked, so inexpertly,

to build a funeral pyre:

struggling with the wind

and the wrong kind of kindling,

with the wet disinterment of his body

from the waves;

suffering from the stench

and the smoke,

and the way, even after his body

was consumed by fire,

that horrible sac of the heart still held out,

engorged on heat,

scorching the hand that reached out for it,

refusing to burn.



First appeared in Ars Poetica







Summer Interior

     by Edward Hopper


Why didn’t I paint a scene sun-kindled

and warm as the title, not this room


where she sits, posed like a conundrum,

her body forced into incongruent angles


of shame and desire: the awkward cant

of her back as it stretches from the floor


to the bed, her face forced downward,

hidden by a cap of pelt-black hair she ties


each day in a tight-fisted knot on the top

of her head? Her blouse a palette of icy


milk and mauve shadow, shown against

a pulled-off sheet that’s somehow


glaciated down to the floor, where she poses

as if she’s divided into hemispheres: one


where the neck of her blouse casts a shady

vee inside the cleft of her breasts; the


other where a dark delta meets the bare

landscape of her thighs. Though she aches


in all the places where this posturing pulls

her body awry, she knows it’s a gesture of love.


Her skin glowing with the same ghostly light,

as all my inconsolable houses.



First appeared in In the Body of Our Lives , Sixteen Rivers Press







The Conjurer


He sweeps in,

elegant in his tailored black tuxedo.

Slowly, languidly,

he begins pulling off his gloves,

the fingers of one hand

nipping at the tips of the other,

tugging upwards on empty folds

of dove soft suede,

until each slender hand awakens

in a slow striptease.


He holds them up,

one naked side at a time.

We imagine how they sleep alone,

outside the hollows of their sleeves,

limber as gymnasts

in their secret reaching.


He has smuggled desire,

like contraband, in his special clothes:

his jacket tailored like a shoplifter’s coat,

cards stuck in his cuffs, scarves

stuffed in the lining

of his sleeves.


We wait for his sleight of hand,

that lie we always need,

when longings, like spellbound doves,

flutter out of his chest into spot-lit air,

or the rabbit emerges,

still stunned,

from the silky engineering

of his hat.



First appeared in The MacGuffin









I want skin like a tapestry

pierced by a long needle

plying a coarse, pitiless thread.

Skin with a tattoo etched in the soft yields

of forearm, torso and groin.

I want to see colors sewn like seeds.

Dyes of carbon and ash

for the combative reds and cyanine blues.

A configured stain,

bright as blood berries,

sluicing up and down my throat

with each swallow.

I want the braggadocio of pain,

of arm-flexed slogans.

I want totems and amulets,

snakes and roses.

Make them runic and strident,

showy and ribald

and chic.













Jeanne Wagner is the recipient of several national awards, including 2013 Saranac Review Prize and the 2013 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award. Her poems have appeared in Mississippi Review, Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is on the editorial board of California Quarterly She has five collections of poetry, the most recent, In the Body of Our Lives, was released by Sixteen Rivers press in 2011.

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