Penelope Moffet








It isn’t sheva like the Queen

it’s shiva like the knife

one inmate sticks into another,

like the way your body

numbs and shakes itself awake

when a close friend dies.


Penelope Moffet








Grief as common as eggs,

a little overcooked, a little

rancid. Or slipping

raw from the shell

to puddle in a plate,

unappetizing and unwanted.


Grief as useless as a dog

tied to a post in the rain

when no one’s home

to slip off the leash

or slide a muzzle

over the complaining voice.


If she were here

she’d walk with me

among these tall mossed trees,

white air puffing from our lips

making us twins.

If she were here


not as that last mumbler

who recognized no one

but in her early elder years,

still vigorous and quick,

if that woman were here

this would not be a sorrow walk.




Moffet/SORROW WALK -2-




I did not know her

when she was a child.

I was just an egg,

one of many chances

waiting to be spilled

or hatched.


She pirouetted

in a private dream,

invented families

only she could see,

inhaled the color of the sky,

pulsed like a leaf in the wind.


She could be mischievous,

a giggler, wily brat

twisting elder brothers

to her will. Light spilled

from her, though

she often didn’t see it,


thought some defect in herself

deepened as she grew,

turned the dad who’d once protected

into what he’d saved her from,

nightmare made real

in those cramped rooms.




All morning mist’s been thick

upon the bay, foghorns

weaving music mostly

made of silence, pauses between

bleats and moans. Sunlight

presses down, turns pearl



Moffet/SORROW WALK -3-


horizon into cotton wool

too bright to stare at.

A yacht moored offshore

glimmers, vanishes again.

This house was built for quiet

but the fridge talks to itself,


the hot water heater grumbles

and whatever room you’re in

you hear odd ticks and thumps

happening down the hall.

Birds thud into windows

meant for meditative stares.


From the corner of my eye

I see her head shake in mock sadness.

Her lips have that sardonic lift,

bright eyes gaze straight at me.

Oh yes, she says, it’s awful,

just awful, what you put up with.




When I was small, the fairies

used to visit, leave me messages

in green and blue and pink.

Magic rabbits printed me quatrains.

Doors were held wide

for hordes of my transparent friends.


First listener to stories,

first reader of poems.

Hand roughened

by housework

smoothed tangled hair,

stroked until I purred.



Moffet/SORROW WALK -4-


In a house where a foot set wrong

might launch an avalanche

she was a willow bending

beneath snow drifts,

she was a boulder blocking

what could smother,


and she was still a girl

afraid the icy dark

would take away

deep greens and blues,

the sky and leaves

she breathed.




By the path through the forest

Douglas firs have toppled,

crocodile-skinned roots

caked with mud and stones,

beetles and voles mapping

earth, digging tunnels.


Fungus shaped like clamshells

striated with coffee and cream

extend their scalloped edges

from beneath tree trunks,

moss softens and dampens

hard wood.


Ebony-black or

chocolate and orange

slugs cruise the forest floor,

nibble moss and mushrooms.

Emerald stumps

watch from the shade.


She is ashes and bone-bits

scattered in the ocean,

she is laughter caught in memory,

more of her will go

when I go, taking

my eggs with me.



Penelope Moffet




Nothing stirs evening’s dark trees.

Green leaves

take in black light like water


like black water took a dolphin

slowly yesterday

just beyond the surf,


dark needle

stitching back and forth

the same patch of waves.


A human swimmer plunged in,

bobbed out

through the breakers


and the fin went down,

reemerged a quarter-mile south

farther out.




Starless night –

shadows on the dock

lean over rails above oiled seagrass

toward distant lights of island homes,

floodlamps on police and fishing boats

churning through the bay the pulpmills killed.

A woman and two girls

foot-weary from long walk.

Sisters – one light, one dark –

and their father’s second wife,

same age as the mother

who flees each house, each town, each life,

who before the bitter winter

calls her daughters north.






Moffet/SNAPS -2-

In summer

between two bays

on a round mountain

long ago thrust up,

covered now with scrub oak,

blackberries, tall slim weeds

with wild blond heads.

Three on a bench face the ocean,

lines of light and dark

laid lightly on waves.

Wind in their ears, gulls, motorboats.

Father, dark-haired daughter, and the new wife.

On the mountain’s other side

a white cross proclaims this piece of California

part of Spain. The girl

lives here among tall redwoods,

tidepools, ferns, sea lion song.

Pale mother and pale daughter

now together in the north.

The dark one lingers

near places she has loved.

Who’s the shadow daughter

inside the serene form?




She sends a snapshot – herself

and a fish as long

as she is tall, hook lodged

in mouth spread wide,

grins into the camera

held by unseen shipmate

on the fishing boat

where she’s found summer work.

Eyes alight.

Brown hair clasped back.

She likes this

trawling south Alaska coast.





Moffet/SNAPS -3-

Dark waterfall of hair

she leaned to brush

beneath a sycamore


In full sun

he basked

light glinting on his bald patch


face as still

as the marble woman

by the stagnant pond

where a striped cat

warily licked green water


One hand cradled her breast

one lightly touched

the v beneath carved robes


as she leaned to kiss him

he looked

he finally raised one hand













Penelope Moffet is the author of Keeping Still (Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, 1995) and has published poems in The Missouri Review, Columbia, The Broome Review, Permafrost and many other magazines.  She has received fellowships to a number of artists’ retreats, most recently Alderworks Alaska in Dyea, AK.  The poems in this submission are from a book manuscript, Caught Between, which is currently seeking a home.


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