Thursday Jul 19

Jennifer Butcher is a native of southern Illinois, from the town of Carbondale. In May, she will graduate from Southern Illinois University with a degree in English, concentration in Creative Writing. She hopes to attend graduate school in the fall of 2010 to further pursue the study of poetry. Other than poetry, Jennifer loves children's literature and spends many hours in the pages of A.A. Milne, Laura Numeroff, and Don Freeman. She also studies avidly in communications, and she recently co-founded the student-run campus magazine of Southern Illinois University, Unleashed.
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I first got to know Jennifer Butcher's work at the end of 2009 when she enrolled in a poetry-writing class of mine.  I love the self-assured feel of her poems--she is not content to write the self-centered confessional poetry you might expect from an undergraduate.  Instead Jennifer's poems are rich with family history, a legacy she depicts with carefully controlled diction and imagery.  She writes with compassion for her subjects and a curious eye for detail.  I see a great future for her poems--in addition to being talented, Jennifer's also hard-working.  I look forward to seeing where her poems carry her!                                                                                                          Allison Joseph
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Grafton Street on Bloomsday
 
 
Hills rise above
this city, nestled like an egg
in the pockets of thin cardboard.
After morning rain is baked
off this clay-stoned street brimming
with bobbing heads, a wind
brings the smell of cheap
coffee and sugar-glazed
donuts over the wrinkled
A man dressed as Leopold Bloom
flings a coin against the soft
velvet of a musician’s
empty case. Tourists stick out
wearing normal clothes, with every local
dressed as a Ulysses character.
Leopold turns around
a building’s corner –
I stand in the shade
of one, lingering by a kiosk
of scarves and braided
jewelry and watch a man pluck
flowers from a vendor’s
barrow for Nora Barnacle.
Buttercups, yellow roses and
redolent lilies perfume
the street. I weave
through children playing,
my footsteps stifled by a man’s
call to a carriage and the clapping
of hooves on rock as they jaunt
down this pebbled road.
 
 
 
St. Stephens Green in the Morning
 
 
Sun dapples the silver birch I mold my back against on the northern edge
of St. Stephens Green. Ducks drift across the glassy topped pond.
 
Everyday I find the same one, beak chipped, skirting around the water’s mossy bank.
Today the bird’s dark eyes, black pools like drops of oil, meet mine. And I
 
wonder if it notices me, if it picks me out as a unique being of my breed,
one whose mapped each of her own imperfections, every mole, scar and wrinkle,
 
committed each to memory, fighting the passing of time that forces skin to stretch
and fold, the same time that forces feathers to molt and grow thin. Removing clothing –
 
a shoe, a glove, my fraying knit scarf, I find these marks, obvious failings:
torn cuticles, stretch lines webbing around my hips, that hook-shaped
 
scar on my ankle from a rusted box spring. Four steel rods run
up my back, hidden under flesh and bone, from a tractor-trailer
 
slamming into my car, an instant burned not only in memory, but in mirrors
that catch the thin white scar trailing down seven inches of skin. Freckles pepper
 
my skin, creeping around the lobes of my ears and between my fingers;
a faint round birthmark branding me above my belly button. I dip my feet,
 
mud silting over my toes, water drifting up my calves in ripples, made
by the bob and pitch of ducks gumming soggy bread flung at them by tow-headed
 
boys. The faint smell of cold wraps its arms around me, its fingers curl
around my own, the gentle rise and fall of its breath. And the duck,
 
with its mangled beak, observes me from its perch and I am suddenly aware
of the dark mole on my elbow and the surgical scar squeezing my spine.
 
 
 
The Religion of Esther Starling
 
 
I, too, close my eyes over fried chicken
and sugared peaches and let the words of prayer
 
wash over me the way sleep settles in tired eyes
at night. I always believed that faith
 
was in the calluses on my father’s hands and folded
into the crow’s feet around my mother’s eyes.
 
And hymns were sung best by the water bubbling
down Wilson’s creek and the wind sieving
 
through the pussy willow on the banks
where I used to play as a child.
 
Leaning my head into the soft grass, I would
sometimes pretend to be a bird, like the robin
 
always perched on the lowest limb of the cotton wood,
while Matilda, only three, would pluck ladybugs
 
off her lily-white legs. I did not see her
get up and wobble to the creek’s edge
 
until she lay face submerged, water sluicing
through her downy waves. And it was here, watching
 
my father beat on her chest, her wet hair saturating
the earth that I saw her choke in a small wisp
 
of air, and I knew God lived not
among the thin pages resting on my mother’s night table,
 
but in this grassy knoll,
among the cotton wood and pussy willow.
 
 
 
Scraps of Fabric and Family: What the Coal Mines Left Behind as Told by My Mother
 
 
I. The Stitch
 
Always sitting in that chair worn smooth rocking
lullabies of four generations, Esther Starling lined
one stitch to another so they became one, like a regiment
of ants marching across the kitchen counter to sip
a forgotten droplet of watermelon. Piecing together
old curtains, scraps of dresses and ruined tablecloths,
she would hum along to the rhythm of her rocker
and the needle riddling fabric. Thimble amiss, she seemed
to never draw blood when piercing the callused pad
of her finger, as if this insult, this sign of humanity
would distort the divine illusion that I
and the other children had pressed upon her.
 
II. October
 
As a child I was plunked out in the grass,
among the wooly worms and praying mantis
to soak up the sun’s last warm breath before first
snow kissed the ground. Drawing the quilt
over my head, I curved my back along the soft
cotton, breeze-dried so the smell of apples
and wood smoke lingered deep in its fibers
and I listened to the necks of perennials
recede back into earth, and the muffled punch
of walnuts landing in a bed of rusted leaves.
 
III. The Passing of Cleveland Monroe
 
Buried before the robin’s eggs cracked
to bear new life, Pa Cleveland now slept
under the oak at County Line. And Esther, regarding
the bed they shared, where she spent her first
night with a man, where she conceived five children
and gave birth to four, where she slept with her husband
until the morning he never woke, neatly folded
[No Stanza Break]
 
the mosaic of faded yellows, whites and browns
and retired it to his chest with the broken clasp
in the furnace room, holding only
a baby’s blanket and his mother’s wedding band.
 
IV. Stitch and Chatter Club
 
I have never seen anybody consume as much iced tea
as the women who now circle this quilt, their needles
gridding the fabric in sync, blending green, gold
and navy. My mother steeped tea hours
before the aunts arrived with thread and scrap
of cotton in hand. Globes of steam rise off
the weathered pot, my wooden spoon grazing the sides
as I stir the quivering fabric of amber liquid.
I continue this hours into their sewing,
making sure tea always hemmed the lip of their glasses,
their stories needled with each stitch, unraveling
from their mouths like a rolling spool spitting
thread across hard wood.
 
V. Camping
 
We let light drift through the patchwork tented
above us, colors flitting across our bodies, tattooing
our skin for a brief moment. Tucked between the legs
of our mothers, we watch their needles beading
together abandoned cloth, always able to match patch
with person. And I can’t find an inch of new cloth,
a piece that was its own being, never owned
by some other form. I recognized embroidery
from an old pillow case, and skirting from my grandmother’s
apron. And in a corner, the pocket of an old work shirt,
my father’s name still patched in the middle,
cinders of coal still hugging its threads.