Photo courtesy of
Susan Kelly-DeWitt is the author of five poetry collections,
including A Camellia for Judy, Feather’s Hand, To a Small
Moth, The Book of Insects and a chapbook in the Pudding
House Greatest Hits series. Her poems have been widely published
in journals and anthologies, among them Poetry, New Letters,
Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Highway 99, A Literary
Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley and
Claiming the Spirit Within. Her awards include the
Bazzanella Award for Fiction from California State University,
Sacramento, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford
University and the Chicago Literary Award. Susan lives in
Sacramento and teaches in the University of California Extension
Here are two poems from Susan's 2005 Rattlechap, The Land
Dogwood, Spring, 2003
How to stay sane in such a heartbroken spring
when the dogwood blossoms fly apart, a shrapnel of white petals,
when bodies fester in a blistering dune far away
and bread has run out and oil fires smolder,
when the Archer shrouds his bowstring in a black cloud
and hundreds of flares mimic lethal night suns,
when lizards carry the only grains of news across vast deserts
and stories creep like ants out of the scorched gardens.
You open your eyes to the morning brilliance
and even the ordinary flowering of April seems like a lie
by men in command, who manipulate the repulsive puppet
strings of absolute power deep inside the earth,
just as you feared.
On Cypress Avenue I watch for the ghosts
of Wintu women with willow root baskets, pine nut
skirts, poles spread with the silver skins
and carmine flesh of drying salmon.
I spot them in a half-circle
along Churn Creek Road,
near a boarded-up deli.
They are watching a great-granddaughter
(1/16 on her father’s side)
pump unleaded into her battered pickup,
a sleek feather dangling—the power
of Eagle—from her rearview.
I wonder if their baskets still hold blackbird
feathers, salmon bones, a future.
These two poems are from Susan's 2007 Rattlechap, Cassiopeia
Above the Banyan Tree, about her childhood in Hawaii:
Cassiopeia was a “Nov-Dec
Pick” in Small Press Review, 2007
Gorgeous George in Honolulu
When it stormed we wrestled
gargantuan leaves, winds that pummeled
up from the Pacific, thrashing skies
that pinned things under.
Even the immense tendons
of banyans grunted, knuckled.
On a night like this my father fought
the Pontiac home in a torrent, triumphant after winning his bet—with two
gold-plated bobby pins, “Georgie pins” in his pocket, a gift from
Gorgeous George himself, a strand of the famous bleached blond hair
still tangled in each of them.
Red Smith said “Groucho Marx is prettier.”
But, in his pink satin robe with sequined epaulets, the Star Bulletin
called him “a hunk of peroxided beefcake.”
His antics irked the crowds: A show-off
with curly ringlets. A muscle-man with a prayer rug and valet. A chunky
Apollo who misted perfumed antiseptic into the ring before a match, “to
remove all germs, sweat and other obnoxious remnants.”
I remember the photo of George
at the beauty parlor, all wired up
into a permanent wave machine:
He looked like a golden tree of life
with electric branches.
for my mother
I have hibiscus in my blood,
the red needles of ohia.
Rain slants up a hill inside me,
the ocean wind rushes it
into a tangle of mountain breezes.
My right arm is a lizard,
the hand is five tongues
flicking. A sixth
invisible tongue is my pen.
My left arm remembers
those volcanoes at the beginning,
the goddess whose revenge
I have pahoehoe and aa
in my veins, under my skin.
Don’t ask me to dream
like some other born
to desert dryness
or a place where winter snows
on silently in the bones.