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Four Poems
The Songbird Academy 

butterfly in aspic?
 Or is it amber? 
—rude awakening of green
and the tree under which 
someone said, 
there is little to say.

But in the air, 
whispered speech, 
noise and celebration—

grief and regret 
rush of water and drills
trains slurring through— 

Beaded wings sunlit,
daylit, travel upwind, 
unsung by night. 

And through
 the air a voice:
Another.  Another.  



 You fell upwards into primacy,
A response of bells and cold
Arias, clashes of mettle on metal.

Then you fell downwards
Outside of history’s grasp
Under cold covers.

You felt the weight of days.
The rolltop desk hid secrets
Of your progress.

Bone on bone, time disabled
Reason’s better gestures.
God spoke a forgotten

Language recognized by
A minor species of wren.
Europe flooded that summer,

Old growth forests burned.
You embraced the century
With its troubles and resolves,

Its laundry list of griefs.
Fog’s tender notions
Lapped at your feet.



Nascent in leaf, splurge
of water marks the season’s
start, the flecked eggs found
under an ivy-facing frame. 
Morning’s music is cellos 
and the warp and weft
of waves curving 
under the golden bridge where 
once you stood and tied your
losses like a rope of stones.
When scenes were ended,  
 their blueness still supreme 
reminder that we hold 
our longing, abjure
 the simpler premise of a swerve
 in luck or fate. Summer’s 
baggage shows up at our door,
 the lesse leaves give way
to green’s inherent richness,
 filling in the trumpet vine,
the Daphne stem, whose leaf
 is hidden under hearty growth.
In hiding we may find
our only voice or one true word. 



Inscribed in amber,

Half-moon palimpsest,

Orange and near,

We send ghost-like,

Our dearest words

Through fibers

Into space.

Yes, I can hear you/from

Over the moon/and back/

(in all the corridors of sleep):

Coming to tell you

Of the flowers in the kingdom,

Of its runes and cliffs—

Our lives call out to us—

Peach-crate summers,

Winter-white lake,

Burnished return,

slow spectacle.  

Maxine Chernoff is a professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and a 2013 NEA Fellow in poetry. She is the author of six books of fiction and sixteen books of poetry. Her latest book, Under the Music, is a collection of prose poems from MadHat Press. In fall of 2016 she was a Visiting Writer at the American Academy in Rome.