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PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 11, July-September 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Taking a Night Kayak Through Bullocks Cove

Three strokes is all a paddler
needs to know to pull this craft

past Lavin’s and the jetty
rocks and reach the green

and red channel nuns,
the sweep, the brace, the draw,

but only mastery of wind
and tide and wave will try

the bay with no bowlight
on a moonless night.

Where bluefish run
and terns circle buoys by day,

a dark mouth laps laps
at the boat. Whatever nears

the surface might be imagined,
so passing over

anything in this thin skin, even
yellow weeds near shore,

lifts the blood above
its temperate habit.

Pilgrim, your wake
is a shadow, now paddle.

Up close, the blade flames

the stars in the sky,
the stars in the sea,

all wonderment between
the firmament and the buoyant

shell which the creature inhabits.
On this palindrome

of light and dark, we would
look the same coming

and going if it weren’t for
the straightness and length

of the body under the sheet,
the mileage on the tongue,

the history swirling off the lost
rudders of the hands.

This Noon

A dove called

as I was reading about doves
real and imaginary,

their tendency to descend
on the wet heads of prophets,

so I went to the window to see
if this one had landed.

The sky was perfectly blue.
A breeze and the sound of a breeze

brushed the oaks, and close up
an hourglass-shaped spider

walked across the outside
of the wire window screen.

Next door my neighbor
was trimming the bittersweet

with her electric saw,
and when I stepped out, the dove

flew over me and over the roof
toward the lagoon. It was noon

and I thought I had captured
my subject, the cooing,

the accidental spider, the breeze
in oak leaves, a dove taking flight

from the roof peak,
my neighbor switching off the machine

and laying aside her work
to greet friends: Come in,

come in, let me make you
some lunch now.

How simply the poem
assembles itself when it wishes,

how all the language ever invented
wells up around the eelgrass

to be spoken, and how impossibly
the tongue darkens

unless the breeze agrees
to stream through oak leaves

hypnotically green
on an ordinary day, offering

such ordinary tasks of decipherment
as the fact of a breeze,

the sound and the fact
of the sound, the lotus blossom

and the murky pool
from which it unfolds

in a move reminiscent of the final
inside-outing of origami

remarkable pink, the last color
anyone expects from a murky pool.

What is it then I am to attend,
and am I to understand

that one thing leads to another,
that this morning one woman

will drown all her children
in a bathtub like kittens

while another calmly trims
the bittersweet?

That simple addition compels
the leaves in their gestures

to estimate the final effect
of a breeze that moves them,

moves through and past
yet never passes?

Shall we ask about—
Is it necessary to—

A dove coos,
a spider wanders

over the grid
of the window screen,

a landscape everywhere
present but never apparent,

everywhere singular but never
unique, the sky in its changing,

a dove out there, cooing,
still calling from somewhere.

Karen Donovan’s first book, Fugitive Red, won the Juniper Prize for Poetry. For 20 years she co-edited Paragraph, a journal of short prose published by Oat City Press. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and now works in Providence.


Q: What does the paddler have to teach the poet, and vice versa?
A: The momentary opportunities for weightlessness. The laws of resistance and give.

Q: What is your favorite literary spider?
A: Most vividly the one from “Writing Spider” in Dave Smith’s book Cuba Night: “No one sees me outrun the whiskered corn / or spill myself on the grass / or fall amazed under her silken staring,” and so on. Of course, all spiders are literary.

Q:  In these poems, you rely on the lean strength of the couplet. Would you discuss your use of this form?
A: I chose couplets because I wanted to structure the space in each poem without domesticating it. If possible. And to preserve uncertainty in the travel. 

Poetry from Karen Donovan
followed by Q&A
Order Fugitive Red from your favorite Indie Bookseller