Poems by Jennifer Thibodeau 2016

Jennifer Tenney ThibodeauJENNIFER THIBODEAU has been a high school English teacher for over 20 years.  She has been published in The Paterson Literary Review, and she is currently working on a collection of short stories.  She has revealed the value of Creative Writing to children, prisoners, and other English teachers.  She is grateful to all of the people who have encouraged her to be creative.

April 30th

Patience and Imagination

Down the path
hidden by pines and birches
for those who look
a mythical forest emerges.

The inhabitants unite each Spring
to await the arrival of the Queen and King.
Under a fragrant magnolia tree,
they weave flower crowns for you and me.
Elves and trolls chant our names,
young unicorns wait for us
to start the games.

Down the path
hidden in a stony mountainside
I know a cave where dragons hide.
They dream of us as they sleep
hear their snores, safe and deep.

And when the hour calls for flight,
they search for us in the night.
Not to crush and not to eat
and not to scar with infernal heat.

The want our warm touch
on their rough cold scales,
they need us to bandage
their poor wounded tails.
We are dragon lovers
Dark and deep
protectors of the secrets dragons keep.

Down the path,
Submerged in the salty sea,
a coral castle grows for you and me.
Giant squid guard the gates
and Poseidon himself sits and waits.
And we will be there soon enough
though the trail is long and the way is rough.

April 29th

For Larry–


I imagine it is like a chronic
ward in an insane asylum
and every patient
has been lobotomized.
How else could lost mothers,
whose children ache for them,
be content in paradise?

My friend,
who believes
he’s made reservations
in God’s house,
shakes his head
tells me I’ve got it wrong;
We only use 13.5% of our brains,
he says.

So, heaven is somewhere
in the other 86.5 %
I ask.

He says it is in God’s pure love.
And I can see the image in his mind
wash peace over his tired face
and suddenly, I hope heaven is real,
even if it means I have to burn.

April 28th

Dinner with Bukowski

Well, Jesus she’s a little Italian thing–
moves too fast, cooks up too much food.
I tell her, “Shut up and drink.”
She needs a drink too—she just doesn’t know it.
But she doesn’t have it in her,
so she eats—like an animal too.
Turns me on.
I don’t want to read her poetry.
Hell, I don’t even want to eat her food.
I’d rather be at the race track.
I’m afraid she’s going to bore the shit out of me.
But I know food is good for the nerves and the spirit.
Courage comes from the belly—all else is desperation.
So I go.
Watch her chop and stir.
Watch her pour me drink after drink.
Watch her watch me barely touch anything on my plate.
Watch her smile at me knowing
I want the whole world or nothing.
She’s a good woman, but I refuse to give her my soul.

April 27th

For Pattie


You can’t claim Art for yourself
it lives in basements
where old German women hand-sew
Christmas stockings, in Czech butcher shops
where knives carve
marbled cuts of beef, and it breathes
—without audience—
in dreams.

It is bequeathed to all of us,
a small wet animal,
carried in the breast pocket.
It sucks on your fingers
when you take it
out to play in sunshine.
Sometimes ignored,
its metabolism slows
to hibernation
you pull it out years later,
limp and half dead,
and it awakens with a fury.
Sometimes it goes unnoticed
and dies—bone-dust remains
and a vague memory of something

If fed, it thrives
and becomes a lion.
Starved, it shrinks to a mole.
Sometimes it grows so big
it gobbles you up, or it grows so small
you forget
you are

April 26th

My Dead Body

I am driving
my daughters are in back
securely pressed into car seats
they are six and three
and already know death–
three gerbils, tanks full of fish,
Carlo and Mamushka, the cats
Abby, the polka dot horse,
the new-wing-slow swallow
whose head I pinched off
closing the heavy barn door,
My friend, Cindy.
They like to talk to the dead,
so I am not surprised when my six year old says,
“Mommy, I hear Carlo purring…”
“Good, Viola.” I say.
“Mom when you die, can I have your body?”
“Well, you can have my ashes. I want to be cremated.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s when they burn your body…”
I see her horrified face in the rear-view mirror and add,
“You don’t feel it—your soul is up in the sky,
so you can have my ashes in a pretty box.”
“No. I want your body. I don’t want ashes.”
Suddenly, my three year old shouts, “I want mommy burned up!”
“No!” Viola cries, “I don’t. I want you in a box like Cindy.”
“No! Burned!” Juliette yells.
“Okay, wait…look, we’ll just chop my body in half,
and you guys can both do whatever you want, okay?”
“Well, I want your head, Mom.” Viola says.
“Okay, so Julie, you get the bottom half of Mommy.
Is that all right?”
I hear the wrinkled thumb pop from her mouth to ask,
“Do I get your gyna?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Okay.” She shrugs.
“But I get your head and the boobies, right Mom?”
“Yes, Viola.” She is smiling.
“I get to burn you up, Mommy?” She is smiling too.
“Yes, Juliette.”
“Can I do it now?”

April 25th


After every rise up,
I sit down
in this old chair,
the cushion permanently
misshaped by a stubborn little dog,
feet up
hot coffee cup on my belly
I look out a wall of windows
sights close and far,
in—to the crab apple tree,
fuchsia buds about to pop
Out—the horse field stretches new-green
beyond the red and white barn
in—to the flicker
hammering at a suet cake
far out—white tails leap the fence
zoom all the way in—
To my peaceful morning heart.

April 24th

Dog Love

Where can I find dog love?
Attuned to a higher frequency, unswayed
by rhetoric, mute
to morphemes?

Treat me like your pet
Golden retriever
get down
on your knees
with me
pull me ears
squish my face
scratch my throat
rub my warm, full belly
I’ll roll onto my back
I’ll even twitch my left leg
if you find the secret

Where can I find love like that?

April 23rd


I’m going to hug
the sun and kiss
the moon
sit on the earth
and sing a tune
Make a big enough mitt
to catch falling stars
squeeze a cloud
with my own two arms
and then,
when all that is through,
I’m going to do
what I most love
to do–
Just sit and talk with you.

April 22


The mind is miraculous but exhausts
like any muscle it needs massaging.
If only we could uncap
the skull, reach in, stick
a finger between the tight
grooves of the frontal lobe,
caress and squeeze the cerebellum,
apply acupressure to the brain stem,
coat the whole
mess in Tiger Balm or Icy Hot.
Maybe then we wouldn’t need
to learn to sit in the silent
spaces between breaths.

April 21st

A Prayer for Eve

Before I dive into this bowl of fruit salad
Dearest Eve,
Thank you for your doubt.
What’s wrong with wanting to know
God’s secrets?
Maybe the Garden of Eden
wasn’t so perfect if a shiny red fruit
and a dusty snake could twist
you into disobeying Adam and
God. How bored you must have been
in all that misty perfection. You weren’t really alive.
But I am. And before I die, which isn’t so bad,
I am going to eat up this life
one juicy, sinful bite at a time.

April 20th

A rondel–

Status Check

It is painful to be aware
To pause over the garbage can
Tossing cheap toys made in Japan
I’m a burden the earth must bear.

Corporations don’t seem to care
Who can alter the fall of man?
It is painful to be aware
To pause over the garbage can.

We cannot be so laissez-faire
It’s time to start a braver plan
To get out of the frying pan
where babies breathe polluted air
It is painful to be aware.

April 19th


A quick silver hummingbird
Sips at the floret face of
A mammoth sunflower

I raise the camera
It turns to me
Hovers there like a drop of magic
I lower the camera
Exhale, close my eyes
Be still.

Suddenly it is all buzz and wind and heartbeat
at my face
Dips its bright head
slips its forked tongue
into my tear duct
first one and then the other.
The tickle too much to bear
I slowly cup my hands
around this beating sweet prism
And pop it in my mouth

frantic wings
bounce from cheek to cheek
I open my mouth and it
Zips away.

April 18th

Lexicon Phlegm Renders Surreal Whimsical Catamaran Truth

For three decades they hold
Chaos together, keep it from busting
open around them–
All of us–
like popcorn.
No rigged-rigid policy, no technological widget,
no broken society, no state mandated punish(ass)essment
Will ever render them
Somehow they remain

They don’t do it for catamarans
on Lake Michigan.
It’s a blue collar job.

The surreal truth is that
their lexicon is legend
but only
phlegm and determination
get them through
school and maybe
a few
of you.

April 17th

For Eddie

When spring arrives and trees are light with white
And geese return home from winter’s long flight.

There is a place where life begins to grow
Built and used, but forgotten long ago.

The pool, now just a hole where man had been,
sits and caves away behind the old inn.

As April’s cool rains fill the concrete tomb,
Life finds itself an artificial womb.

Autumn’s leaves melt into a rusty stain,
amid planks of wood, metal pipes, and chain.

Tadpoles move in dark masses like a cloud,
green bullfrogs are the only thing that’s loud.

A bass, king of a submerged shopping cart,
becomes a miraculous work of art.

Sunnies hide between shadows on the walls,
The sky breaks clear as bright Apollo calls.

Still, clear water absorbs the gift of sun
Death welcomes life, and two, depart as one.

April 16th

From Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
Page 9, line 9—9 line poem

“Take responsibility for everything.”

Take responsibility for everything
Gather up your life
even if it’s in pieces on the wind
every shard belongs to you
shove them in your pockets and run
wrestle your life away from shame
look at your self and be delighted
your hands are capable and ready
Go—grab your life, steal it back one damn moment at a time.

April 15th

I am standing at the stove
stirring sauce
in my grandmother’s hot little kitchen
I must be dreaming
She has been dead for ten years
but I want to see her
maybe taste her cooking
so I push the thought away.
She is suddenly beside me
hands me a bowl of meatballs, sausages and pork bones
to bring to the table.

These people aren’t my aunts, uncles or cousins–
they are writers
who sit quietly for ones so full of words.
Bukowski is slurping spaghetti,
Hemingway is gnawing a turkey leg,
Bradbury crams his face with Italian bread
smothered in roasted peppers,
King throws a stuffed mushroom
into the air and catches it in his mouth,
Shakespeare slurps menest;
he has crumbs in his beard.
I place the meat on the table.
There is no room to sit.

I go back to the kitchen
Rowling is slicing cucumbers,
Angelou is ripping basil,
Gillan is making coffee.
My grandmother smiles at me
like she is sorry.
And then Maria Gillan says, “This is bullshit.”
She plucks the black wooden spoon
from my grandmother’s hand,
“Mary, tell us a poem.”
I am about to say
she is not a poet,
but my grandma says,

“I want to celebrate all those women
who simmered away their hungers,
who tucked their fears into the
corner pockets of folded fitted sheets
and sang hymns to a God
who seemed to forget them,
whose wooden spoons turned black
but never their stubborn hearts.”

And then I wake up.

April 14th

Around and Around

Death is luscious
deeper than any dream.
In that complete
succumbing we recover
from life.
Tucked into the quietest
corners of silence,
nothing reaches us
but darkness.

Keep my body
out of an
impenetrable coffin.
Lay me on the forest floor,
prop me against the sturdy
trunk of an oak,
let vultures strip the flesh
from my bones
(I am delicious)
let fibrous roots feed
from my heart
(It is full)
let worms burrow
into my brain
(It is finally soft)
let song birds pluck
my hair to weave
into their circular nests–
(around and around
I go).

April 13th

Something for Archy* to Think About

Am I wrong to help
small, flying insects
fry themselves on my light bulb?

I really don’t enjoy watching them
bake against the fiery, yellow glass.
It’s just that they want it so badly.
They’ll fly into it
sizzle a wing, crinkle a leg, lose an antenna
then, with battered and missing appendages
they try to hit the mark again.

Soon their charred wings are useless,
and all they can do is hope for the light.
Hope that it will lower itself
so they can finish what they began.
I help them–
I put them in my sweaty palm
and bring them to the light.
They welcome it, embrace it, kiss it.

And who can say,
maybe if I’m ever hurt and broken
and want to reach the light,
they’ll return the favor.

*Archy the cockroach from “The Lesson of the Moth” by Don Marquis

April 12th


Swing up
creak of dry leather
push fear into heels

reins soft in hands
remember the steps
to this ancient dance

She holds desire
on the edge
of the bit

stomps instinct
into the ground,
but she could kill me

with a tuck and toss
drop me
in the dirt,

hoof knocked
spitting teeth,
to gallop home.

April 11th


After the night freeze
Horses’ icy beards will melt
In morning sunshine.

April 10th

For Viola

I never wanted children.
I mean, I never felt that hollow
ache for babies.
I was quite happy before.

But now it is raining hard
as my daughter sits next to me
in a big soft chair
reading a pony book
her leg resting against mine.
I keep glancing at the dark
downward slant of her eyelashes
and the fine curve of her chiseled face
and there is pleasure here
in the warm quiet between us.

I suddenly tremble at the thought
of losing her
as the rain runs in rivulets
down the driveway.

I don’t need to be told
what is holy.

April 9th

“Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

~Shel Silverstein

They’re calling redo, so we’ll go back to slime
And stir the primordial soup different this time
Some things can stay, but others must go
We’ll keep Shakespeare, Bukowski, and Vincent van Gogh
Every animal can keep its rightful place
But plastic and prison and power are no
And every politician that is a disgrace
We’ll keep early humans up in the trees
There’ll be no rush to rise up straight and grow
Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow.

The rain forest, deserts and oceans can thrive
We’ll keep hope, love and creativity alive
Factories will crumble whose soot stains the snow
And we’ll eradicate money the cause of such woe
We will rewind and close up cyberspace
We will rise up and never sink so far and low
And we will keep conversation face to face
We won’t chop and destroy forests of trees
We will learn to let live and let flow
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go.

Children call do over–they are done with these things:
Sea world, the circus, and dog fighting rings
They are sick of oil spills and gas lines that blow
And the Gulf of Mexico dead zone where nothing will grow
They see through their powers of deduction
In a world that is neither measured or slow
They are the victims of crime and seduction
Humans have abused their powers of might
They have been sold seeds that they cannot sow
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know.

But the children refuse to sleep in this bed
They can never go back–there is only ahead
They will fight, and refuse, and make such a row
And when they finally fix the mess and the woe,
They will walk with a walk that is measured and slow
And they’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go
For the children they mark, and the children they know,
There is so much above and so much below
What has been broken also mends
The place where the side walk ends.

April 8th

Old Lady

I always see her
in the yard
little things that add up
to a life.

She tends chickens and flowers,
while dogs dart around her like flies
She has a caved in old horse
And I’ve seen her sit on him
Looking Like Cleopatra–
Her legs useless at his side.
If she falls, she’ll shatter like a teacup,
but she doesn’t.

And then
she’s knocking on my door
Handing me warm trays of baked ziti,
cookies or garden tomatoes.
She doesn’t want to come in
She’s got too much to do.

April 7th

This cold April night
my dog drapes his warm body
into my haiku.

La Luna

She is female
Illuminating darkness
Stabilizing tilt
Her foamy tides push forth life.

She has watched us from the beginning,

the oblivious sun
too busy
in his own burning.

The secrets she could tell—

I’d like to sit
in the cradle of her crescent
and listen to her silvery voice
break the silence of the sky.

Domestic Parrots

This painful pinch
starts the change.

blood-colored spines
poke through bumpy flesh.

Sheaths itch
and flake away
like pie crust

as branching patterns
push up and out
hollowing cylinders.

Finally unfurled,
barbs and hooks must be
preened into alignment.

20,000 feathers
and not one
will ever know

the power of lift and thrust
that splits
the path of air.

Pupils dilate to dinosaur.
What is left
but to scream.


I was five
playing in my backyard under the shady canopy of an elm tree
when a robin thumped to the ground near my feet.
I scooped up the bird, this gift, thrilled by the fortune.
His body was so warm. Then I saw blood on my hands.
I called for my father, who was tying up tomato plants
in the garden. Crying, I held the bird out to him,
and he took the gasping robin gently into his big, brown hands.
He lifted the wings trying to find the source of hurt.
The angle of his jaw shifted and set, as he turned
his head to scan the neighbor’s porch.
Mumbling Curses, he left me there, and I soon heard
yelling next door.

Some teenage boy with a B B gun shot that robin
out of the tree above my head.
It was my introduction
to the breakdown of the world–
Some people have destructive hands
deliberate in their cruelty
and others, they have hands like my father.

For Viola and Juliette

Resurrect me in beebalm, poppies, and thyme,
Love lingers in rhubarb and berries for pie;
I’ve left mint for tea and honeysuckle vine.

I’m no further than the morning glories climb,
Anchored by roots though they strain for the sky;
Resurrect me in beebalm, poppies, and thyme.

Soak in the green breath that makes this life divine,
The quiet in the garden—soft as a sigh;
There is mint for tea and honeysuckle vine.

Though the bee and butterfly seem more sublime,
Life breathes, too, in the blind worm and the fly;
Resurrect me in bee pollen, algae, and slime.

Fruit, seed, and love must be harvested in time,
And every prized flower must soon wilt and die,
Even mint for tea and honeysuckle vine.

Souls must be planted in dirt and earthy grime,
Daughters, sow your hopes here—not the barren sky.
Resurrect me in beebalm, poppies, and thyme;
I’ve left mint for tea and dandelion wine.

For Rothko

Most people figure
Where is there to go
What is to be done
after perfection?

Clean the brushes
cap the pens
solvents swirl
stubborn colors
right down the drain
save the ink for grocery lists–
we all need to eat.

But some
people feel
there are still plums in the icebox
and though inadequate

So much depends

a red shirt hanging on
a line or a red balloon rising
beyond a geometric city

on the white



In my house
I walk past dying cactus plants
Imprisoned in clay pots
Their green-brown leaves
Shriveled and cracked like
Strips of old leather.

Kids, dogs and horses
Noisy with want come first

It is easy to ignore
Silently sucking
from 20-year-old dirt.

I toss them (on my way to the sink)
the dusty remains of
a forgotten glass of water

Two weeks later
Waxy red flowers explode
like stars
across the backdrop of my