Other notable work by Janet E. Aalfs.


María Luisa Arroyo-

Odilia, Tell Me the Story of Your Name

for Odilia Galván Rodríguez, August 2012

Odilia, tell me the story of your name.
Is it a flower in bloom? Or does it mean patria,
or the mirage of a childhood home, now lost?
Through Google, I learn of Santa Odilia
and find poetry in the story of an 8th century nun,
who was born blind but granted sight
after being baptized into this world.

Odilia, you share truths as painful as bee stings
about this patria, the mirage of promise,
as SB 1070 flays the rights of our peoples,
whose names bloom with “o”s and “i”s and “a”s.
May their names blossom with thorns in the mouths
of those who mispronounce and persecute
as they grope for our identity cards.


In Search of the Word before Aftermath

Aftermath, I understand.
But is there a word for the stage before that?
Terror skewers open your eyelids
12 nights in a row in a room that you share
with ancient men who imagine walking
when they have no legs.

DNR or full code. I cannot understand
the asking. My voice flattens
when you want me to explain the difference.
Standard procedure. You are in a ward
for the dying. On the 13th day,
you come home.

Arteriovenous Fistula. You don’t understand
the need to create a portal for your blood
to flow into and out of your failing body.
Your heart forgets to beat 50% of the time.
And your kidneys, exhausted beans in your back,
forget to remove the water that bloats
your amputated legs. You pee perpetually.

Is this now the time for faith?


What Matters is Space

Mami, it doesn’t matter the number of saints
you dust off and cradle upstairs
to line the bureau of the bedroom
that you share with Papi
as he frets about the possibility
of an a.v. fistula to save his life
because his kidneys are dead.

It doesn’t matter how carefully
you measure out the cups of water
he can sip per day or sort the pharmacy
of pills he swallows, dry-throated,
or how you read the scale
as he, double amputee,
trembles on air.

What matters is space.
Space for him to rail against God
And then beg for life.
Space for you to retreat
and to stop hovering
like a hummingbird of death.
Space for me
to find the words for him to hear
that it is his choice
that – life or death –
it is his choice.


“Pain Becomes a Source of Wonder”: An Oxbow Gallery Visit

for poet Janet E. Aalfs and visual artist Susan McDonald White

Tremulous eyes leak blue love as we walk through the doorway.
Her body, taut. A harp unstrummed for months.

I taste your energy on your lips- milkbreathpure. Full open.
Willowy Crane, you are sister to Turtle Woman.

Hyponatremia: The artist, S. M. White, shows a brain
splintering and “pain becomes a source of wonder”.

Sculptor, the fullness of your statues has fled, as has your love.
The thin slate plates pressed against the wall flatten your spirit.

Here is there. Gears are worms. Carrots are swords.
Balls are breasts that spurt graphite milk. Under/stood.

Wool gloves burn as we dare to turn each page.
Tiny French words landscape each figure’s round flesh.

Umbilical and telephone cords are cut then dangle in space
like thick pasta. Eyes ogle, mouths gape. No words.

Words over here fragment and slip under white-out.
If you find the place where love fires up in my brain, press it.


Die Nur-Frau: The Only Woman

after “Die Nur-Frau” aquarelle by Hannah Höch, 1943
[originally written by the poet in German]

I am alone, the only woman here
in this forgotten Eden
of trees near Berlin. It is 1943.
Naked, I plant my feet,
curl my rooting toes in earth
and walk slowly, the rub
of my trunk-like thighs a whisper
of silken flesh. My left hand
I extend behind me – a tiny goddess
wing – while the other brushes my thigh.
My breasts hang heavy and free.
I am not retreating into Nature.
I am Nature – female, organic,
vulnerable, strong, resilient,
and ripe with hope. It is 1943.
Naked, I plant my feet
and know that I am safe – for now.
When the Nazis storm in, I know
they will overlook the art of my body
stained with watercolors
because I am only an old woman
and the only woman here.


A Massachusetts Cultural Council Poetry Fellow educated at Colby, Tufts, and Harvard, María Luisa Arroyo has published poems in journals, including CALYX and PALABRA. María Luisa’s first collection of poems, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras, was published in 2008 (The Bilingual Review, ASU). Her poetry workshops include “The Power of Code-Switching: Poems Don’t Have to Be ‘English Only'” at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. With acclaimed playwright, Magdalena Gómez, María Luisa co-edited the anthology, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, Catharsis.


Janet E. Aalfs-


Eyes on the ground, branches
bare, drawn like a flame-
blue thread through silken
mesh to the other side, I felt
my mind pulled upward, gaze
precisely tuned, no startle,
no flight, as dark antlers held
the light between us taut.
So skillfully the weaver stitched
our meeting fully shimmered.
That moment spread like wind
in feathers across the Oxbow.
Then a car appeared
on the empty road, and a man
jumped out, phone in hand
to shoot. But all he got
were the trees the buck
had stood among more still
than my heart, palms together,
fingers soft on my lips,
and the sky kept bleeding
gold, and hoofprints in the leaves
told nothing.



A stranded Starcraft, windshield jagged, sits

in a cornfield, tipped to leeward, hull full of leaves

and river sand from the Oxbow shore.

The January wind must have floated

it in from Mars, no motor,

no gas, not even a ghost

to steer it through deeper currents

that hold me now. In the bow

a plastic rug, aqua as a swimming pool.

In the stern a purple ice tea can dented in rust.

My father loved the salt on his arms,
and sun
 splashing his face.
When I drove that boat

I was nothing less

than an osprey hitting the waves

eyes first, and the stun

of clear green ocean in my beak

shattered every sound.

All these years beyond

I’m only beginning to speak of

what I found.



I watched her open
a spiral of hair
the way I remember
dividing embroidery thread
one strand into many
each able to slip then
through the eye
of my needle multiplying
the number of stitches
I could sew

Now I recognize
that long ago
motion in her hands
able to find
in every breath
the listening
uncoils a fiber
the weight of light
between us
stars that guide
and blossoms to mark
the crossroads
freedom’s quilt


PREACHER: Coal River Mountain

he opened the ground like a book
to plant his chosen words
in glistening soil by the headstone
that tilted like a body wanting
to fall into moon-drifts

our long starving hopes

fearing the dark too close
in their eyes he shivered
like a golden bird
caged in the damp shaft
poison gas prayers dispersed
lighter than breath

thine image

doubting his own music
he applied his hand
like a bandage
or a wound

stamped upon this clay

irises that wilted
shoulders hunched
in the chill
raindrops sliding
through the gully
at the base of his skull


Janet E. Aalfs, former poet laureate of Northampton, MA and artistic director of Valley Women’s Martial Arts/ HAVPS, has been a Dodge Festival poet, performer/ educator in Cape Town, South Africa, workshop facilitator at Split This Rock, and presented her poem-movement weavings all over the world. Her books include most recently Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers), and her writing has appeared in A Fierce Brightness: 25 Years of Women’s Poetry (Calyx) as well as many other anthologies and journals.