Judith Skillman "Three Poems"
In a Syracuse Barracks
Linoleum peeled back to reveal
plywood laid and fixed
with big-headed nails.
Mid-fifties, twentieth century—
father studied the sun until it melted
each summer and we wandered uphill
to where the sweet grasses grew.
There we dug our sticks
into the dirt we knew
in winter as a drift of snow
sifting into our dreams
when we were sick.
Two of us to a bed, and father in his study,
growing smarter by the hour.
Sisters with no bedtime stories
but the neighbors, we had
each of us the other for company.
Our first five summers grown up
like ragweed in the kitchen,
its counterfeit table
laid for dinner with physics.
Paper everywhere intact
but on the walls,
where flowers peeled
from corners. Our mother
read pap smears in the lab.
We watched the black and white
at the sitter’s, a childless woman
who ached to vacuum
the same square feet of rug
again because carpet
was the only thing that stayed put
under the stain of a long afternoon,
shades drawn against
the violent, careless light.
I sit in the firelight of my nostalgia
I’ve given every present moment for the past,
every instant to the future, even the children
who traipse through this old living room
in the house on Somerset hill. I gave my ring
to a loan shark in order to buy you, and now
you need more kitsch. Can autumn just be
the theater of clouds, the sun burning out
because it beat down on a metal roof all summer?
Can the coming winter be only cold on cold,
not ice on snow on ice on snow on ice? How
much longer will you sink through my body
leaving me weaker than a grandmother,
stain me with rosy cheeks from crying
for what was lost? Is it always the child
of the child of the childhood stolen out from under,
and if so, can she repent, admit she grew up
despite the lack of mother and father?
A Laundry List
The old scar remembers its sear,
hot poker there inside prodding
an organ. The afflictions of the hip
lie stored away, a laundry list
so detailed all it takes is one
wrong move to have another flare.
She remembers being paralyzed,
feeling nothing from the waist
down. Recalls the siren’s wail
as they drove with the two-year old
sitting up—crying and alive.
And then the waiting.
An interminable number of years
since then, the word scoliosis
comes into her back, takes its place
alongside four bulging discs.
Judith Skillman is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets and Artist Trust. Her recent collection is Came Home to Winter, Deerbrook Editions, 2019. Work has appeared in Poetry, The Midwest Quarterly, The Southern Review, Zyzzyva, and other journals. Skillman is a faculty member at the Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. Visit