Four Poems

April 24, 2020






in a 1940 photo my mother sports

a beret & snug pea-coat   

                           her face unlined 

& marvelous. 

                           she’s about to light 

what might be her first cigarette   

a pall mall or lucky   

                            about to ignite   

her need for the world 

by pulling it hard inside her  

again & again   


about to unleash 

a columned blue spew 

of talk-on-the-phone 

or back-stoop 


on her mother-ashed 

little cinder child  

behind closed windows   

in restaurants & cars    

her cigarettes like wallpaper 

& siblings. 

                             dad & my uncles   

school bus driver   humphry 

bogart    even the doctor 

every adult glamorous 

or not  

smoked my childhood  

                            but mostly

I breathed my mother’s

smoke. smoke & coffee    

smoke & beer    


her constant halo 

even after the hospital 

& emphysema. 


so sweet   so constant    

that old enough to know better 

& looking like her young self 

I filled my dorm room 

with white clouds

of dream. 

                           even now 

I want to stand in the side

garden on a wet night.

I want to inhale 

the cold   

                         like my mother 

who smoked for sixty years. 

I want to feel the stunted

lift   taste her prayer-braised 


                             & swallow

—as she did—the whole dark 

& ashy world.







          after Left Hand, 2007 by Jenny Holzer



the inked left hand

raises its life-line


splays a young man’s




the rest of him

unseen captive

unknown & far from home

this hand-off/stand-off

this hard reading

of hands the way we hand-letter

on hand-made paper

unhand me

the messy way

we hand things down & over

the way my cousin’s unmarked

hands his pale priest’s

hands dug his mother’s grave

because hands demand



a boy who left home

too soon

lifts his left hand

hurls dirt on the coffin

in the rain

touches air



            whose mother

this hand     almost







endless regimented         movement

          after Stampede, 1989 by Annette Lemieux



centipede                   this mad-deep

many-footed                     organism


as troop.                          as business

                                    as plague-bent


                                               as band

as cast

                         as murder-gathered




as lethal earth-march

                           in whatever company

whatever conjuration

                                      we lurch-lunge






                                             our   own










my brother calls to beg my help with his granddaughter’s college essay.

we see each other rarely though he lives one town away.


still it’s odd that after he says this is your brother

he adds both his first name & our family name.


as if I had other living brothers, their last names all different.


as if I don’t see him in mirror-glimpses of my own set mouth

or in the shrugging gesture we both learned from our mother.


as if I don’t hear him in my own open Maine vowels.


as if, ten minutes older, he had not sparked childhood’s every mischief.


as if we had not hidden in the crabapple tree, crouched together for what

seemed like hours, while Bobby Bolduc searched & never looked up.


as if I don’t remember his anguish when our parents fought

or that one time when he hurt so hard, he broke an unbreakable window.


as if I don’t know how, despite successful law practice, his antique car

collection, his undiminished Catholicism and twenty-seven years of sobriety,

that break never healed.






Jeri Theriault’s collections include Radost, my red (Moon Pie Press) and the award-winning In the Museum of Surrender (Encircle Publications). Her poems and reviews have appeared in journals such as The American Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, The Texas Review, and The Collagist. A Fulbright recipient and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jeri won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for poetry (short works). Her teaching career included six years as the English department chair at the International School of Prague. She lives in South Portland, Maine.


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