Poetry Month | When words take wing

April is Poetry Month — reason enough to check in on what some of our local poets have been up to recently.

Below you'll find five poems from Washington writers with new books out. Whatever their focus, they nimbly balance wordplay with heartplay, while showing a sharp awareness of what's extraordinary about the ordinary existence.

We also have audio of the poets reading the selections below, as well as other poems and insights into how some of those poems came to be written.

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic



Mornings, she'd hop on my shoulder for a ride,

take off to the blinds, or like a lover, nibble

my earlobe with such persistence I had to

brush her off — and struggled through illness

as though called back. When I saw her

on her side and righted her, she allowed me

to stroke her flank and head with my finger,

keeping herself upright, vertical, just tipping

forward, stretching her neck out, black eyes

undimmed, without sound or stir, as she died.

Her absence hovers like a swelling drop,

the words she almost knew in two languages.

She'd roll a pencil to the table edge,

watch it stall, then lower her beak and push,

nudging it forward again, and wait for the crash.

— Mark Halperin



If you believe in the magic of language,

then Elvis really Lives

and Princess Diana foretold I end as car spin.

If you believe the letters themselves

contain a power within them,

then you understand

what makes outside tedious,

how desperation becomes a rope ends it.

The circular logic that allows senator to become treason,

and treason to become atoners.

That eleven plus two is twelve plus one,

and an admirer is also married.

That if you could just rearrange things the right way

you'd find your true life,

the right path, the answer to your questions:

you'd understand how the Titanic

turns into that ice tin,

and debit card becomes bad credit.

How listen is the same as silent,

and not one letter separates stained from sainted.

— Peter Pereira


"Mr. Saturday Night"

— for my student, Khalid

This could be an American story: drugs, discos, even

the Somali nickname that clings to you like an out-of-date

aphrodisiac. Living by chance in a Kenyan city, a mother's

rules flung across the lost luggage of border crossings,

her final dollars follow you: sixteen, exiled, on the edge

of sanity. You slip through an open window

riddled by a breath of mixed fortune. Money lighting

on hands with a warlord's stratagem until no one remains

rich enough to refuse you. Yes, American history.

Your daily regime of qaat dreams, as good a win as any.

Who will tell of the deep pleasure in tragedy? This

no waiting for tomorrow to bathe in the forbidden.

Yes — our red, white, and blue story. Now worlds

away, sponging up new nouns in a new country —

it's undercut by the stench of an abandoned body

you try not to step on in the creosoled street.

— Susan Rich



You know the feeling, the sudden fumble for

your wallet, keys, and passport — all are there,

in place, yet as they seal the cabin door

you're missing something crucial, you could swear.

Whatever necessity you've left behind,

too late: you're airborne now and going fast.

The place you're leaving slips away. Resigned,

you watch as places you'll never be speed past

beneath the wing. Short of catastrophe

there's nothing that a man with cash can't master,

you tell yourself; and that, you think, could be

the modern definition of disaster:

anything that money doesn't mend.

Now calm, you feel the airplane pick up speed.

You lose your sense of loss as you ascend.

The earth and its uncertainties recede.

— Richard Wakefield



All life born of hot thrust and eager

clinch is born to die

while those who come from

cell division can live forever.

The soul's flesh ripens

and chafes, stretches and cramps,

caught in the body's confine.

Still, she may be amused

at her changing clothing, momentarily

enjoying its theater, snake skin

high heels, gritty bars with big red wine,

a dusty lake gliding alongside a lilac road.

The soul, always hungry, watches

the fleshy appetites and says

no, no that's not what I want.

But we, animal-ethereal alliances

that we are, break our hearts and health

trying to feed her what she cannot use

and does not want, her dark night

driving us to outrageous extremes,

while hunger, blind,

begging and nagging at us,

gnaws our flesh and leeches

our bones.

— Judith Roche