Five poems by Claudia Gary

CLAUDIA GARY lives near Washington DC and teaches workshops on Villanelle, Sonnet, Natural Meter, Persona Poems, Poetry vs. Trauma, etc., at The Writer’s Center (, currently via Zoom. Author of Humor Me (2006) and several chapbooks, most recently Genetic Revisionism (2019), she is also a health science writer, visual artist, and composer of tonal chamber music and art songs. Her chapbooks are available via the email address at

Her article “Song as Conversation,” on setting poems to music, is online at


Poet Under Fig Tree 

Some days he cannot choose

between the living and the dead.

The latter want too much of him,

the former want too little.

Talent’s a sticky riddle

whose seeds are strewn at nature’s whim,

whose fruit he heats and stirs to spread

before a mortal muse.

What Would Zeus Do? 

Most likely something with a thunderbolt:

Mistaking lightning for imagination,

he’d make the sky his canvas. Or he’d molt

into a swan, a bison, a dalmatian.

And you? Since I’m not Hera, you’ll keep looking

past me for glimmerings of her and Greece.

Your mouth will always water for her cooking.

It won’t appear, and we will have no peace.

As this land offers less and less to praise,

our beauty may be lost on one another.

Between the sleepless nights, how can the days

bring any comfort?  Here’s where Zeus’ brother

below ground and the one who rules the ocean

need to unroil, unrumble our commotion.

In the Void 

For one who loved Math and Latin

a spiritual Goth moment

became a teenage alias:

Nulla Ultima.

To be nothing, the extreme 

nullity, meant being 

on the inside of everything,

the ultimate persona.

Was it a pose? Did she 

actually know something

for one split-second—or nothing?

If it was only absence

what did she know in her absence?

This was where things could get 

interesting, if only 

for a nothing moment.


Cape May, by Andrew Wyeth

As skies threatened rain I steered back the boat

to watch dappled clouds from this beach in half light,

frame planted, eyes fixed to the shifting horizon,

away from my flock for longer than planned.

You tell me my headdress appears to take flight?

Either this, or the being within, is disguise.

I don’t have the presence to open my hands.

The joy of the wind is caught in my throat.

On Having Misspoken        

Time set aside for poems I reassign

for wordlessness: to sort collected seashells,

see which of them already have their own

airgaps with room for silk cord, colored beads

on curved and rippled surfaces that cradle

all light, reflect it softly, hold it always 

at the best angle, unlike mistimed words.

Five poems by Claudia Gary

CLAUDIA GARY’s latest chapbook is Genetic Revisionism. She is also author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006) and earlier chapbooks including Bikini Buyer’s Remorse and Epicurigrams. A writing instructor, health journalist, and composer of art songs and chamber music, she lives near Washington D.C. Her workshops at The Writer’s Center ( on Villanelle, Sonnet, Natural Meter, Poetry vs. Trauma, and other topics are currently worldwide via Zoom. See; follow @claudiagary

To a Mollusk             

Your life is not defined by an old story

in which, had you remained, you’d surely die.

Nor is it the palatial territory

you crave, create, secure, and occupy.

It’s rather the progression from before

to after, the formation of each new

foyer, parlor, salon, and corridor

in which your predecessor becomes you.

After the briefest stay you labor on,

building a spiral path that winds toward more—

inwardly smooth, pearlescent where you’ve gone

ahead, outwardly rough as ocean’s floor.

You lodge concealed within the earthly mire,

inhabiting your curly multiplier.

Message to Earthlings from Voyagers I and II    

               for Carolyn Porco, Voyager imaging scientist and Cassini imaging leader

Beyond some human lifetimes now, we’ve filled

your minds with data, pictures, dreams. Though twinned, 

our paths diverge, itineraries build.

Reaching the boundary of solar wind,

we rode its termination shock to sail

out into plasma space. While you continue

sorting our childhood photos, they grow stale.          

We bear vital statistics from within you —

your faces, body images and voices —

toward other stars, toward anyone who cares

enough to grasp your golden disk, your choices

of what they’ll see, hear, touch, assuming there’s

contact or empathy. Onward we fly,

your complex way to say hello/goodbye.

Catheter Ablation 

Two hours on the table

his body reclines

arranged as a path

            for cautery’s snake

            to enter his heart.

Clean current stamps

invisible scars

to settle his pulse.

            No longer two steps

            ahead and one back,

blood coursing forward


quickens his brain.

            The serpent withdrawn,

            he gathers his wisdom.


I. Tough Customer

A stubborn teen, she needed to find out

what life was for, whether it had a point.

“I won’t go on, God, till you let me know.

So tell me now or set me free.”  She waited,

and God did both. “Brilliant!” she said. “You win.

I’ll give you a few years – but I’ll be watching.

You’re going to have to show me every day

that you’re still there”. She heard, or felt, a rumble

that may have been laughter, as if the deal

were sealed.

II. Anything to Declare?        

Presented with the light

at seventeen, she chose

to turn back, stay a while,

having seen that joy

kept an outpost here.  

            And what was hovering there?

            No prophets, true believers,

            or any kind of shadow.

Because her life is made        

of unexpected gifts,

she won’t turn one away

without looking to see

what light it holds. 

III. Her Invocation

Temperamental universe in whose purpose

(known, unknown, unknowable) we are swimming,

safe within your energy and your chaos:

make me your prism.

Becoming Buddhist 

The summer of learning to type 

I also slogged to the river with Siddhartha

and analyzed dreams in the shallows

as Dr. Sigmund dictated the code.

Thinking I knew their source

made dreams seem safe, but Hesse was a puzzle

suffused with Eastern sentiments, ideas

I seldom understood.

So when I awoke at night

with fingers typing “nothing” on the blanket

over and over, I blamed nihilism 

or adolescent darkness. 

But no: I was absorbing 

what to expect in order

to be content. / 


Three poems by Claudia Gary

CLAUDIA GARY’s latest chapbook is Genetic Revisionism. She is also author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006) and chapbooks including Bikini Buyer’s Remorse, Let’s Get Out of Here, and Epicurigrams, all available from the author. A writing instructor, health journalist, and composer of art songs and chamber music, she lives near Washington D.C. Her workshops at The Writer’s Center ( on Villanelle, Sonnet, Natural Meter, Poetry vs. Trauma, and other topics are currently accessible worldwide via Zoom. See; follow @claudiagary

The Mad Scientist’s Subjects

Here in the lab-coat pocket where we ride,
our galaxy between odd scraps of lint
and roughly scribbled theorems, we’re beside
ourselves with astronomic wonderment.
Is this a place where time is relative,
an episodic groove that opens toward
and then away from starlight? Do we live
within a field where each day is a chord,
one moment in an old celestial song?
Our universe diffuses while we listen
and thrive on melody. Drifting along
within our microcosmic trance, we glisten
and spark in recognition of our host,
who floats, euphoric, still undiagnosed.

The Littlest Angel

After we made our sequin-covered halos
from crepe paper, pipe cleaners, wire hangers,
to wear for the First Grade Play, I pulled dried glue film
from every square inch of my palms and fingers.

Our star was perfect for his role, with dark
thick lashes, gleaming eyes, angelic aura.
Years afterward I learned he’d never reached
his forties. Was it suicide? AIDS? War?

He paid a heavy price for coexisting
with brutes and yet avoiding malice,
for peeling off the newest layer of skin
whenever it became a callus.


In tonight’s dream I am a funnel cloud
that dips one spinning toe
into the earth

scattering deep-set trees, adjusting brick walls.
You hurry to the middle
of your cottage

and hear my hollow voice as a freight train
that looms, approaches, runs through,
trails away.

The sky no longer green, I turn to vapor
oblivious to wreckage
and to a steel-

girded concrete last-resort saferoom
that has protected you.
You are my heart.