Stephanie L. Harper (7 Poems)

To the Dead White-Throated Sparrow

in my driveway: Would you at least do me the courtesy of an explanation?
What’s with your belly-mound-cenotaph arisen from the stony gloom spiel? And why
this exquisite bundle of yours, with its still-tender russets folded in the unbounded repose
of a napping cherub, as if you didn’t believe you were still reaching for the clouds?

I mean, was your plump little belly’s sky tribute supposed to un-stone the gloom
underfoot (as if your heavenward-splayed finger-knobs, all ruddy-bottomed
like a napping cherub, never knew their very purpose was reaching for the clouds)?
The spectacle of your tiny black lids pressed shut in sudden, brutal resignation to croaking

underfoot (even consecrated by such skyward-clasping, ruddy-bottomed branchlessness)
hardly passes for transubstantiation… Why package a fully-intact cadaver’s senselessness in
the spectacle of black-faced brutality’s sudden, penitent resignation to permanent blindness
for stealing a glimpse of the sun? Besides, adaptive hydrophobia á la iridescent feather-sheath

hardly passes for transubstantiation… Why package a fully-intact cadaver’s senselessness in
this exquisite bundle of yours, with its still-tender russets folded in the unbounded repose
of a dead sun-god, as if iridescence were expressly designed for stealing a glimpse of the afterlife
in my driveway? All right, buddy, just do me this one favor: Spare me, would you?



Tua Culpa

our initial investigation
of the crime scene yields

neglect brooked like a bland drape

affects trundled about year after year
no longer etching cleaner contours
into the plaster

from your once-whetted heart

a visage encrusted beyond analysis

you still dressed in the same makeshift
tourniquet that shored your darkening

you staying & staying
to curate this vintage collection

your stone-cold coffer
of emerald     sapphire     & amber
stares      gouged black

the evidence of porcelain faces

alone          is overwhelming



So     now that you’re officially undead

naturally     you find yourself wanting
to pose for posterity     which is why
you wade into the water waist-deep
to seep the sepia of your self-
preservation earthward & become
the substrate for ancient river-rocks
as the bottom-feeders whisker
your ankles     & swill your peculiar distillate

Once submerged you remember
to reflect no cognizance of the sunken
Paleolithic torture contraption
lashed to a Victorian-era marble-top end table
(upon whose unassuming protuberance
your hands palely arrange themselves)
the soggy fate of which may well have been sealed
by a rich soap manufacturer undergoing psychoanalysis

You also make certain to ignore the distant
shoreline extending from behind the crook of your back
like an afterthought
with its sallow winter yellows being quashed
in the evergreen titans’ spring-tinged fists

& take pains to refrain from frittering so much
as a nanosecond on scrutiny of the shadowless
clouds nesting on their robin-egg horizon
lest you should ruffle
your ruched     plaid dress—

after all you’ve learned by now
you can quibble ’til kingdom come
if needs must
once the digitally-simulated shutter has snapped



i’m no kind of Ishmael to expound
some great protagonist’s wayward saga

& haven’t the slightest inkling of other

women’s misfortunes, nor do i know
if i’m even justified in such grief over a life
squandered on an endless vigil’s cries of
who sees me now? & now? & now?

who, besides this mirror i face,
knows my bulging litany of failures,
my spurious assumption of a character i detest?

i was born lacking the power
to reason my way out of this gravitational
force i’ve abhorred since youth, & which
now condemns me to lug about my globed

to bear these adjuncts’ fleshy heft, as if I were
still umbilically moored to the gangway by my own
murdered albatross—

each a whale of white with its vacant eye
downcast like a faded damask rose.



Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Dear Bob: In one of my former incarnations
as a starving, family-less, twenty-something Grad
Student, well before the advent of emails & texting,
when handwritten sentiments on stationery were still
in vogue, I certainly sent my share of “Dear Bob Letters.”
The recipients thereof, on the whole a far cry from being
remotely “Bob-like,” included a number of real posers,
some of whom now strut & crow on Facebook like
the ancient, hoary roosters (read: cocks) they clearly are.
As for the others (more of them than you might imagine),
they’re all dead, several by their own hands, even—a stone-
cold statistic (the seeming synchronicity of which is tough
to ignore) I frequently grapple with, sorting through conjured,
a posteriori details & associated, surreal imagery by day, &
chasing after egotistical ghosts in my über-symbolic dreams
by night, always with the conviction that some message for me
yet lurks in the dry lakebeds & sunless recesses of the Nether,
a realm to which the tips of my toes & then some are no strangers.

The only window-treatment manning the threshold between
me & my secrets is a translucent-pink swath of chiffon,
which I’m afraid doesn’t leave much to the imagination—
so consider yourself warned, amico mio! Against the current
backdrop of imbecilic plutocrats, political sycophants,
& psychopaths bearing assault rifles, hardly to be tempered
by the incidental, decent soul, it would not take a discerning
eye long to know me better than I know myself, which is just
about the only thing I know anymore…

In attempting to locate myself, I’ve often looked to nature—
these days, it’s among the imposing Sequoias we boast here
in the Northwest, along with the showy cottonwoods, as fertile
as they are indiscriminate, stripping off their seed-fluff every
chance they get, a prospect that doesn’t seem to bother
the scrub jays deigning to my level for a squawk now & then
before ascending to a higher branch. Whatever folks might say
about birds of a feather, well, after a number of earnest stints
shadowing the local hens—the way they’d keep such vibrant
flourishes secured beneath their brown slickers, & their biting
commentary having seemed uniquely suited to the cold & rain—
I’ve yet to locate my flock, & the search has turned southeastward:
Taking a tip from the meadowlark, I veer for the high desert,
my flight path crossing the sagebrush-dotted, volcanic earth,
hoping I’ll soon look down & see you floating
in a sea of ten gallon hats, just beyond the convection
columns braced against the electric blue sky.

I don’t suppose your self-claimed exile looks anything
like I’ve imagined? It’s not with a small twinge of jealousy
that I seek consolation in your brand of solitude on the other
side of that horizon line; as exile, it would seem to me,
involves the condition of having at some point belonged
somewhere. Now, after a lifetime spent standing out in my field,
I’m not very handy at extrapolating any other kind of belonging,
& feel I ought to find out what I’ve been missing.

So, I’m heading out past the Cascades & the swaggering
sage grouses of the eastern uplands, reaching for that horizon—
green seeping to red, clouds feathering out, & no further from us
than one step beyond our any given station—where you can be
sure I’ll always be no more than a step away from you, & ever
your honest friend, Stephanie.




by Stephanie L. Harper and Robert Okaji

I may never know
the knowing of Pronghorns tiptoeing
along a chalky creek bed in the summer,

such as whether their ears and nostrils’ resignation
to the whine of a thousand tiny, pulsing thoraces,
is a sacrament they speak to hear water’s promise,

or if their parables thresh out the flies’ dreams
of insouciant trout lounging below
the once-swollen tributary’s surface.

And I may never touch that fragment
of light reflected in the owl’s glare at midnight,
preceding the swoop and dangle and the prey’s

last shiver of gratitude for the deafening
swoosh of muscle-dense darkness
feathering open the blood-tang

of truth. I realize my tongue has never yearned
for fresh kill’s savor, reveled in the rumination
of stinging nettle, nor parsed any profitable notion

from pond scum, but the raw and opened
have revealed themselves to me: padlocked
tears stinging my cheek, the razor

glance of uncertainty; so, perhaps, knowing
the sunburned vertigo of my father’s absence
is all the high desert knowing I’ll ever need.




by Stephanie L. Harper and Robert Okaji

I remember what I cannot say
in the moment before
I somehow say something else,

but like a river reversing course
seeps its brackish warmth
into crisp mountain runoff channels,

my backdraft, too,
to stifle the resident cutthroats
along with their prey.

Nothing will remain safe for long
from the toxic sediments I bear
upstream, resisting

the current’s translucent
promise to rush me past the crest
of undulant reeds between
the salt marsh and open sea;

for no twist in the shoreline,
nor cloudburst’s surge could un-speak
the daylight

from its collapse
into the ocean’s black throat.


Stephanie L. Harper’s poems appear in Slippery Elm, Harbinger Asylum, The Ibis Head Review, Panoply, Hellscape, Isacoustic*, Rat’s Ass Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, This Being Done (June 2018), is currently available for preorder purchase from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with her husband, two teen children, and a cattle dog named Sydney.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on Daniel Paul Marshall and commented:
    Pleased to finally have Stephanie on board, with her characteristic syntactic deftness on display in verses fat with complex scansion, thick with the sodden energies of so many images, these saturate you words & meaning. & as if that weren’t treat enough, there are 2 poems collaborated on with Bob Okaji of O at the Edges, which really just makes this very special stuff. Get reading, get face to face with a couple of corking poets.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Tim Miller says:

    Reblogged this on word and silence and commented:

    Some fantastic new poems from Stephanie L. Harper featured on Underfoot this week–

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kamiel Choi says:

    Great poems. As a non-native English speaker, I marvel at the richness of vocabulary and diction

    Liked by 1 person

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