Stephanie Nolan

In Handfuls

Joni Mitchell sang from a blown phone speaker
while I crushed sage and sunflower
between my thumb and finger, offered it to our noses.
Our skin offered a canvas for the light to freckle,
blotches of shade where an eye would be, a chin.
Under scrub oaks we sat holding our knees,

with dirt beneath our fingernails
we planted onions as a love letter to bees.
As they bloom in a green hum I wonder
if Saussure was ever stung, by love, by bees
collecting their honey palettes on wings
too fragile to support a life, but do.

I watch her open her palm to the hum,
bees graze the bowl of her extended hand,
as if she too knows their dizzying flight.
She tells me she wants to ride a train across Europe,
to come back, or not, she doesn’t say.
There is no question to these lyrics so I am silent,
but for the metal taste of brake dust in my mouth,
engine gears hissing like a hive of wings.

Joni Mitchell hummed from a blown phone speaker
while we picked raspberries and pricked our fingers.
Balancing between low branches we filled our mouths,
with sweet—tomatoes, an abundance of small red suns.
We let them pulse on our tongues before swallowing.
Nectar stains our lips and fingers; we lick it off.

To come back, or not, she doesn’t say. Her thin body
shutters when hummingbirds glide through thick air,
silver fencers with glossed capes.
She covers her mouth with her hands when she laughs,
as if in apology, hands more beautiful than any bloom
in the overgrown garden, curled rose, coriander,
blue aster, her long fingers reaching like uncombed
mane of mint, up the hill, away.
One day she will recognize the beauty
of her hands, her laugh, one day the tomatoes will be gone.
We eat them in handfuls.


On Arriving

I come from women who keep scissors
in their purses to snip flowers in passing,
to stuff magnolias in the space
between their shirt and breast,
lilacs up their sleeves, dusting
arms with pollen and sugar ants,
a peony tucked in the fold
of a blouse, still wet with dew;
in this way we are thieves.

I come from grandmothers.
One danced for the king of Sweden
in a red dress, with her hair cropped.
One traveled the country playing
National Anthem on a Piccolo;
in this way we are dancers, musicians.

I come from the thin
feet of my father, his empathy,
anxiety, forecast of snow,
of stomach ache,
his long fingers gently
guiding snap peas up a trellis.
His carrying the dead bird lightly,
away from the window,
to be buried before I know.
His knowing how mountains
are made, what composes
the soil, the hills, the stones.
His telling me to keep
shoes by my bed
for when the glass windows
burst into sharp stars,
when the ground thunders,
and it is night
and the power has gone
out; in this way we are
prepared for earthquakes.

I come from the strong
hands of my mother,
her neuroticism and red
cheeks, perfect teeth.
Her bringing me to meet
patients with bandaged faces
and healing bodies.
Her telling me she has never
felt pretty. Her pouring hot
water over dried chamomile buds,
her stride through the hills,
her return, her hands, creating.
Her ache that another woman
was there when she wasn’t,
holding me, milky mouthed,
until I slept.
Her bringing me cut peonies
and a cool cloth
when I am sick with fever;
in this way we heal ourselves.

I arrived with the weight
of presence,
of absence.
I arrived with the shutter of a bird
and its stillness
and its memory of blue.
I arrived a day early,
with milk under my tongue,
with my left ear
glued to my head,
my eyelids glued to themselves in a blink,
blinking away the death of a life before birth
—my small hands clenched in a shade of blue.



I save bodies from the water,
bees, beetles, green flies.
I lift them on two fingers

or on the body of a leaf
an arc, the lung of a wasp
is no bigger than a speck
of dust, pollen which lands
in the mouth of a honey-sucker.

Colias philodice, Sulfur butterfly
flesh of sun, peeled like lemon
rind, like golden scab,
wings, sails that sink
a willing body.

Let me say I tried. Let me say
I scooped her from the water,
gently, let me say I held her
in my hands and my hands
to the sun, to return her.

Let me say she returned
to the river, launching
her yellow body back
into the water, moving slow,
moving too fast.

Virginia, let me swallow your stones,
hold you, pull you, pull your wet hair
from your face to make air
where your blue mouth is.

Or shall you be Ophelia, fingers woven
in reeds, gown like river flowers,
a halo around her. Virginia
let me lift you from the water,
like that Kamikaze butterfly.

What is it about water that we
return to, wade into, wave away;
Are we so different from it?

Sylvia, if the tulips are too red,
too bright, let me paint them white.
let me suck the color
into my mouth and spit it out.
Red is the color of living,
color of a young mother’s face
as she blooms a child
between her thighs,
as her nipples bloom bloody,
color of the lines,
that wrap your thighs
like a topographic map.

They want to bring you
to the water, to pour
cool on your face,
to baptize you,
clean, as in the womb.
They want to salt you
to preserve your pretty
face, young mother,
to pin you on a wall
to pin you still, you
Kamikaze butterfly.


About the author: Stephanie Nolan is a nineteen year old poet and plant enthusiast from Salt Lake City. In 2017 they were a senior editor of their high school’s nationally awarded literary magazine, Tesserae, and is currently a first year student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Their work has been published in Leopardskin&Limes and Arcturus.