Susan Kelly-DeWitt


Photo courtesy of

Mike Kelly-DeWitt

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 program.



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.

Redding Town

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

liquefies rock.
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.





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