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Two Poems by Sandra Alcosser

What Makes the Grizzlies Dance


June and finally snow peas

sweeten the Mission Valley.

High behind numinous meadows

ladybugs swarm, like huge

lacquered fans from Hong Kong,

like serrated skirts

of blown poppies,

whole mountains turn red.

And in the blue penstemon

grizzly bears swirl

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as they bat snags of color

against their ragged mouths.

Have you never wanted

to spin like that

on hairy, leathered feet,

amid the swelling berries

as you tasted a language

of early summer — shaping

lazy operatic vowels,

cracking hard-shelled

consonants like speckled

insects between your teeth,

have you never wanted

to waltz the hills

like a beast?


Spittle Bug
I watched an insect dive

upside down in a crystal bowl.

Magnified, it resembled

a friend’s identity crisis —

red eyes, amorphous body

arched like a scorpion.

Probing the water with an iris stem,

I rescued the swimmer,

helped it crawl to the vase lip,

then complimented myself, as if

the bug were my own invention.

It rested on the flower’s parchment,

hyperventilating, while I went off

to a day’s work. When I returned

it had climbed higher, slathering

purple flesh with froth. Stalled

in one spot like an indulgent head

lost in shampoo, it had taken

the sweet petals with it,

rolling them in babble,

till they were stunted and scabbed.

It looked so harmless at first

roiling in its own spit,

I think I shall call it

gossip bug.

Sandra Alcosser, Montana’s first Poet Laureate, collaborates internationally with conservation biologists to celebrate — through poetry read by millions of people each year — the tribes and species of the world. She is the founding director of the MFA program for Creative Writing at San Diego State University and divides her time between San Diego and Florence, Montana. These two poems are from her collection Except by Nature, which was a National Poetry Series Selection and was awarded the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. It was published by Graywolf Press. They are reprinted by permission. The author’s photo is by Philip Maechling.

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What Makes the Grizzlies Dance


June and finally snow peas

sweeten the Mission Valley.

High behind numinous meadows

ladybugs swarm, like huge

lacquered fans from Hong Kong,

like serrated skirts

of blown poppies,

whole mountains turn red.

And in the blue penstemon

grizzly bears swirl

Sponsored
Sponsored

as they bat snags of color

against their ragged mouths.

Have you never wanted

to spin like that

on hairy, leathered feet,

amid the swelling berries

as you tasted a language

of early summer — shaping

lazy operatic vowels,

cracking hard-shelled

consonants like speckled

insects between your teeth,

have you never wanted

to waltz the hills

like a beast?


Spittle Bug
I watched an insect dive

upside down in a crystal bowl.

Magnified, it resembled

a friend’s identity crisis —

red eyes, amorphous body

arched like a scorpion.

Probing the water with an iris stem,

I rescued the swimmer,

helped it crawl to the vase lip,

then complimented myself, as if

the bug were my own invention.

It rested on the flower’s parchment,

hyperventilating, while I went off

to a day’s work. When I returned

it had climbed higher, slathering

purple flesh with froth. Stalled

in one spot like an indulgent head

lost in shampoo, it had taken

the sweet petals with it,

rolling them in babble,

till they were stunted and scabbed.

It looked so harmless at first

roiling in its own spit,

I think I shall call it

gossip bug.

Sandra Alcosser, Montana’s first Poet Laureate, collaborates internationally with conservation biologists to celebrate — through poetry read by millions of people each year — the tribes and species of the world. She is the founding director of the MFA program for Creative Writing at San Diego State University and divides her time between San Diego and Florence, Montana. These two poems are from her collection Except by Nature, which was a National Poetry Series Selection and was awarded the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. It was published by Graywolf Press. They are reprinted by permission. The author’s photo is by Philip Maechling.

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