Terri Drake: Five Poems

Terri Drake


She offered her body
as the world’s terrain.
The smooth skin and the scars.

She closed the curtains
and put a finger to her lips.

She baked bread
so we wouldn’t have to live on air.

She made of the earth a gift
and placed it at our feet.

She sent out the dogs as sentinels.
They came home to warn us
and to share their pleasures.

She wrote instructions
on how to be human
in human darkness.

She spoke to the ghosts
who followed us everywhere.

Her pen became
a refuge and a hedge

preserved legacy
lost to history
and fire—the stone house

where we drank, we sang
grew silent in our corners
retreated from each other

in our minds. Stone house
of suffering, remorse
and praise.  The stone house
where the world ended

where we set the table
from the beginning of creation,

swept the hearth at the end.


I say rapid oxidation
I say exothermic chemical reaction
releasing heat releasing light
you say shut up already
let’s get this fire started

I say combustion reaction
I say ignition point
you say the flame in our bodies
the flame in our souls

I say can you take the heat
you say fuck
your exothermic chemical reactions
I’m reacting to our chemistry
go create a scientific study on that
get it peer reviewed
be the first and only author
show me how our love is cited
a thousand times there’s your full proof
bullet proof moth proof fire proof proof
there’s your amulet our cartouche

Almost a Year Since You’ve Been Gone

& California is on fire
& Atlas Peak evacuated
& you will never have to go through this again
& even my coastal mountains are in flames, one hundred years of duff on the forest floor
& I am near but safe, burning eyes, a burnt taste in my mouth
& ash, like snow, is falling
& soot & blackened leaves
& it’s a hundred degrees & no one on the coast has air-conditioning
& windows can’t be opened
& the sky is eerie orange, apocalyptic
& Bonny Doon is left to burn
& not everyone on Last Chance Road survives
& the chinquapin trees burn one after the other, sounding like jets taking off
& once the trees are skeletons, the paper wasps’ nests become little fireballs flaring and burning
& the butterflies fly out of the forest in droves
& I think of how after you escaped the fire you were treated for smoke inhalation
& what was it like thinking you were going to die
& there’s no way to imagine it
& you whisper me through the dark night’s forest
& the redwoods survive
& like us, are resilient


Once the fireflies came to us in the graveyard at dark
once we found it peaceful resting our heads
on the stones once we were solid as stone got stoned
wrote poems you a line me a line till both or neither
of us could claim it once in another life another dusk
we were dancing in your house of windows lit up
for the world to see once the camera left us
exposed bodies without shadow without depth
of field once we were running through the fields
dogs close behind once we were running towards
not away from something my god
we were so close we could hardly bear it
breath on the neck bodies as sentinels
guiding wrecked ships to shore that much light
that much blazing once I say once you know
that it’s over in time in the shut book
on the nightstand wave upon wave
ending upon ending once we were engraved
then eroded then erased nature doing its work
all the way down once we thought we were
outside of nature once you capsized not even
a fleet of naval vessels could save you

The Day of Small Things

What I mean when I say infinitesimal
is eleven decimal points away from zero
the weight of a bacterium so small
and like the soul invisible

What I mean when I say infinitesimal
is how small your body was curled fetal
skeletal ghost-like mostly faded
from the scene too late for everything
for what you meant to tell me
the story of your life getting smaller
every moment till I can barely hear you
breathe soon I will be one of the bereaved
worshipping your ashes weeping
behind branches bared by winter

When I say infinitesimal, I mean
how the stars regard us as they wink
above the spot where I lie inconsolable
and small among the redwood trees
from where I send my body out
to do errands to converse blankly
with the neighbors I make of my face
an appropriate mask for the occasion

when I say massive I mean
the size of grief in proportion
to the width of the vena cavae
in our hearts our venal magistrates
willing to do anything to keep us alive
when I say massive I refer you to the whale
who weighs a hundred million grams
buoyant Leviathan roaming the ocean

dear Jane I am a vessel at sea
I call out to the gods who never loved us
never wanted us though we’ve never
stopped longing for them dear gods
dear vast expanse you may think
my love for her is small in proportion
to the universe you may think
my love for her is nothing
yet a single cell can fell a whale.

Terri Drake is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poetry collection, At the Seams, was published by Bear Star Press. She has a chapbook forthcoming, Regarding Us, from Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared or will appear in Crab Creek Review; The Chicago Quarterly Review; Poets Reading the News; Quarry West, Perihelion; Heartwood Literary Magazine; and Open: Journal of Art and Letters, among others. She is a practicing psychoanalyst living in Santa Cruz, California.

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram and YouTube.