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Three Poems
Family Album

Cracked emulsion, blistered narrative. Family like something seen underwater: vague and metallic and meager. Still they look like us (or might: we study faces, we cast fountain pennies). A family at a table in a curtained kitchen, each face turned in the direction of the camera. New car, chain link fence, dog in the yard. Next, it’s winter-gray and every hand is pocketed. In this way, meaning accrues like money—unpredictably over time (savings or deficit or debt). The family may seem to include only those present on a given day; or else, all the long gone and forgotten (and still in the palm of the hand). Then, too, there is what we cannot afford to lose. Irrevocable, time opens or stands away or breaks into all the frozen colors of ice. These familiar these strange bodies paper-soft and framed now in every kind of light—the ache in the lungs is undeniably ours, alone.


See Through

Tarnished dull the mirror; crack
and feather kiss cheek and brow.

Sun-sheer dress, summer’s
last afternoon. How it carries on,

the old secret, suspended in deep-
river air, brackish air, air too heavy

to fill the lungs. Enduring.
Like the ancient glass marked

with fleck and mottle. But O—
her silver likeness. Long forsaken

the mirror: the edges, now light moves
straight through. Shrug or shudder.

Blink the mind blank. Place blame
like a row of stitches at the hem.


Tidal Reach


Moving, the river changes
everything—lash and

churn, swallows roots,
trunks of bank-side trees,

their low, flung-wide limbs.
All unsteady; all gone under.

Sky open to the hinge.
Blackmud, bonechill.

Water rises (again
this rushing past).

 Find the old, the well-
made house, throw every

switch. Flood the familiar rooms
with this too indifferent light.


Clouds crowd afternoon’s edges.
Same old tide rushes in, time’s

simple measure. I know drowning
isn’t a love story still I think

how the swimmer, exhausted,
might drift, finally, drift under;

how current embraces a body. Under-
water any familiar thing might be warped

or swollen, broken or made bright.
It’s all I can do not to fall to my knees.


Nancy Kuhl’s recent publications include Granite (A Published Event, 2021), The Birds of the Year (Grenfell Press 2017), and Pine to Sound (Shearsman 2015).  She is Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.