Donna Steiner's writing has been published in literary journals including Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, The Sun, and Stone Canoe. She is a contributing writer for Hippocampus Magazine, a nonfiction literary journal, and was a 2011 fellow in Nonfiction Literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work has been anthologized in Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction (Modern Library); What's Your Exit: A Literary Detour through New Jersey (Word Riot Press); and Women on the Verge (St. Martin's Press), and appears in many college textbooks.
Steiner recently completed a manuscript of linked, place-based essays and is working on a collection of poems. Her chapbook, Elements, was released in 2013 by Sweet Publications.
Landscape with Practical Boat
Night-winds at your back, brother, broken compass
in your pocket, four knots, maybe five. Congratulatory claps
on the shoulder left you sore; a trinity of regret
influences each adjustment of the rudder.
Night swimming far from shore. The sea balloons your trunks,
then plasters them, balloons again. It’s like having new skin.
In the splendid dark even your eyelashes are heavy;
the practical boat is far from near.
Remember when the thermometer shattered, mercury spilled
on the linoleum? You are that glossary, quicksilver and
elementary, blinking up at constellations you can name
when sober. Tread water, sleepyhead, just a few meters
to go. We’re waiting up, and look, you can see silver fish
gaping at the surface. Watch them breathe and shine.
Remind Me of the Small Ambitions
Clear the half-full teacups left scattershot on every counter.
Whisper synaptic one thousand times. Recall the cousin
gone too soon. (All the days you felt so lucky…all the leaves
that crest and rustle.) Little pink frogs cling to the glass door.
See them pulse, small ambitions of the tiniest hearts.
Landscape with Belly Feathers
Every bird at the feeder – goldfinch, cardinal, vireo –
has a belly the color of uncut cornfields these abbreviated days
of November. The slant light is sifted by a density of maple and locust,
but does not dissolve. It filters like chalk dust onto the tall stalks,
a mix of ocher and smoke, lingers long enough to make you gasp.
When a sparrow hits the window, whaps it like a tennis ball,
you go to the yard and stand beside it, whispering assurances.
Don’t worry, baby. It’ll be okay. The lady who walks up the road
every day, year round, no matter the weather, notices you
talking to yourself, alone by the western windows, and passes by,
discreet as a priest. For two hours the sparrow blinks and swallows.
You want to stroke its neck, but must get in your car, drive past fields,
through villages, across three rivers to an airport in a winter city
where every disembarking passenger looks bewildered and chilly.
Don’t worry, you whisper. It’ll be okay. You imagine the sparrow,
rejuvenated, hopping onto the rock that looks like a hull, then
testing its wings, landing mid-bough on the scraggly blue spruce
in the side yard. You imagine the discreet woman sliding her hand
inside her raincoat and smoothing her feathers, spreading them
neatly against her skin. The sky is so vast, and the light so brief.
When the Leaves are Gone,
the Nests are Easily Seen
Dust me, spritz me up, tilt my head toward the sky flecked with geese.
Little words trip my tongue; little vowels stick like unswallowable pills.
Lube the shoulder and hip, do whatever it takes to get me through this
quiet corridor, this chalky dawn.
Headlights Illuminated the Arcs
Mourning doves huddle on the sumac that flares
against the snow. The branch arcs red like that dog,
midnight, car-struck, the crowd stunned
to still-frame, blood spurting rainbows
until so much gone he deflated. Like the deer,
down but not dead just this side of the blind hill.
I mind my own business, but stumble into disaster.
Come spring, wild forsythia cascades on the ridge
in snarls resembling nebulae, then some dumb
animal catches by the throat on its lash-thin brambles.
Tell me, friend, what you can’t forget.
At dusk, the whole ridge lights up like a strange
condolence, and then it’s gone.