New At This

Like a cat she curled around her boy,

pulling him close to warm and feed him,

hoping that when company came, curious

and laden with gifts that no baby needs

unless they could be swapped for things more

useful, like clothes in graduating sizes and blankets,

–you can never have too many blankets—

though to tell the truth a stack of diapers would be

best of all, and after that a proper cradle,

she might lift his tiny hand for a tiny wave and

perhaps reveal his tiny face for the chorus

of ooos and aaaahs, without letting them

see that all she had to wrap him in was cloth torn

from her clothes, and when he wasn’t in her arms

he slept in a manger on a pile of fresh hay.

After all she’d been through, scorn was not welcome.

© Dana Hughes 1.7.15

Joy in the Garden

The garden was finally free of weeds after five hours

of pulling, hoeing, chopping, and cursing the randy

intruders that wantonly fling their seeds at my touch

so their return is guaranteed and I can feel them

winking at each other behind my back sharing their

joke about eternal life while the lettuce I planted blinks

in the delicate light of dappled sun and gives me a look

like Blanch DuBois explaining how the she has always

depended on the kindess of strangers. So I get the

lettuce a cold drink and with the laughing weeds at

my feet, I sit for a visit and I remind what I want to grow

that the soil is perfect and the days are cool and there’s

really no excuse for their indolence and before I know it

I’ve said too much and the lettuce turns pale and begins to

fade despite my desperate apology and the offer of another drink.


© dana hughes 5.6.14

In the Nest

Beneath the covers my sister sobbed

when a hard spring rain crashed against

the window, while in the kitchen, oatmeal

burbled in a pot that Grandma stirred.

What’s wrong, I asked, and she cried

and said there’s a nest in the tree outside

with naked baby birds that will drown when

it fills with rain and I can’t do anything to

help them, and I could do nothing to help

her but add my tears to hers by the handful,

like Grandma adding raisins to the oatmeal.

She was older than me though no more

than six and her age gave weight to her

words, so from that day on I trusted no one

to tend the innocent which included the

two of us.


When I was big I made a nest; wove twigs

so the ends pointed out not in, and I forged a

lightening rod of prayer to ground the holy

impassivity for all unfledged, then peopled the nest

with naked babies of my own who refused

to stay small, growing past what I could cover,

and  they did what they were supposed to do;

they feathered, flapped and flew.

I warbled all the worry of a lifetime as one

followed the other from here to where and

none looked back.  Then a hard spring rain began

to spill from my eyes, and looking down to where

I thought it would pool and rise, I saw it leak

through, as the rain in the nest outside the

window at Grandma’s house had done,

which we would have seen, my sister and I,

if we’d been taller.


© dana hughes 5.5.14





It took a while to remember,

in fact it wasn’t until today that it came back

with a flash like heat lightening in an August sky, 

that day when I was twelve, and other girls were

women already, smug in their menses and messes,

and I was slow, and they called me slow,

still a girl with baby teeth and the fabric

of my blouse smooth and undisturbed,

but i had a fountain pen with peacock blue ink

in slender cartridges that were slipped into the barrel

and screwed down tight, and on this remembered day,

after i loaded my mouth as well as my pen,

sliding one cartridge between my teeth to chew,

preferring the cool, pliant plastic

to the splintered shaft of pencils,

the cartridge burst, and peacock blue ran

from the corners of my mouth and dribbled down my chin 

in a shocking flow, and though tongue-dyed,

fully-fledged words spilled out, and i spoke ink.


© dana hughes 4.24.14

Old Man With Cracker

In a booth in a corner of a diner beside a woman

with smooth skin an old man sat with a cracker

in one hand and a knife tipped with butter

in the other, and he buttered that cracker from

north to south and east to west and all points in

between and though he seemed to listen to the

woman while she talked and pushed things around

on her plate, it was clear he was preoccupied

as he worked the butter into every dimple,

enveloping each grain of salt in a creamy

coat so that the cracker nearly groaned with desire for

consummation, methodically working ever-outward

’til he reached the edge and stopped, his thoughts

drifting perhaps to a time when sailors lived with the

fear of sailing over the brink so their ships plied the

bounding main of sky and nothing more, and what

sort of shout would the good mates give to signal

the need to come about, as though ‘man overboard’

could be expanded to include an entire vessel gone

past the boundary of of the sea, but then, half-smiling,

he considered that if the cracker was the earth

and the earth wasn’t flat after all,

he was going to need a whole lot more butter.


© dana hughes 4.16.14

Truth Be Told

This secret I’ve harbored has ossified,

basted with denial until hardened and smooth,

to sit in my heart like bone with no sharp edges

to prick my flesh or my conscience,

until I heard the people shouting in the streets,

and I knew it was starting all over again;

the parade, the waving, your winsome smile,

the knowledge that this is the end

and not the beginning, and suddenly

within the heart’s bone that I carry

there is movement as it pips and breaks free

and I confess at last it was me who betrayed you.


I took the silver but he took the blame, and when

you sent him on the mission unlike all the others’,

I hurried ahead to make sure it was done.

In the grove where the others slept and

you begged God for a change of plan,

I stood watch, guarding against a change

in yours, and when the time came with

torchlight through the trees, I gave the signal

with a kiss, but not on the cheek as the story goes;

it was full on your mouth,

and I tasted your sweat and fear,

and you tasted mine,

Then I melted into darkness with the others, and

before the rooster awoke I denied you completely.

I called for your death, and I stripped and

beat you, then washed my hands and nailed

you down. On the cross beside you I cursed

your complacence, and I stood in the shadows

holding my breath ‘til you breathed no more.


I despise this turning of the seasons, when it all

comes round once more;  you in your resolve to die

and me in mine to make it so.  It’s a horror,

but it will always be the same; I’ve kept the

bloodied crown for you to wear again,

and I confess, though you know it well,

that it’s me.  I crucify you.


© dana s. hughes 4.5.14

Winter Wind


Looking up at bare limbs stripped clean of leaves on a wintery day

when the wind wailed a prelude for the procession of March,

I saw the trees shift, branches reaching for what they couldn’t hold.

The movement made my feet wonder if we were upright or falling

and my hands replied quickly with a grab to the door frame

to show Gravity we were not her toy, though what the trees were

doing defied all I know of earth’s spin and the nature of wood,

in the same way, I suppose, that Nijinsky defies rigor mortis. 


Dana Hughes  ©  2.29.14

The Prodigal’s Progress

The gasp that should have come when i saw you walking toward me

after all this time of pulling shrapnel from my heart, sweeping pieces

into a pile like dry leaves curling toward a match i couldn’t strike

without burning the you out of us, though we were no more than ash,

blown into drifts beneath the nails where your pictures hung, until i

snatched them down in a fury and put them away where they wouldn’t

be found in boxes in the attic, to the left of the stairs, behind the bins

of lights and baubles that you loved more than presents at Christmas,

when you were small, with the smile that melted me, like the one you

wear now because of the child who has melted you, proving the prodigal

did not return alone, but with a son of his own who surely brought the

old man to his knees, like me on mine, opening my arms with a ragged sigh.


dsh © 2.26.14


On a day of bone-cracking cold,

with the sun caught in a slough of blue

like a wide-mouth bass suspended

in the depths of a frozen pond,

the dog snuffled the snow

with incredulity, boggled by the shock

to canine reason that made the need

to pee recede, forgotten,

while in pink-cheeked impatience,

I wondered how long before I froze

where I stood and became a

hitching post tied to a dog

who might not go until Spring.

Then I heard the chip chip chip

of a cardinal as it leapt from ground

to branch and branch to ground

within the shelter of a holly,

and turning, saw the leaves shiver

with the movement and shed

their white coat which fell soft

and slow and seemed like melting,

yet beneath, the ground was dry.

Moses came to mind, polished

smooth from millenia of retelling

how a bush burned without burning

and the frosty heart of Pharaoh broke.

Tethered to my frittering dog,

I put off my shoes, just in case.

©  dana hughes  1.30.14