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Sandy McKinney

Sandy McKinney completed her MFA in Writing at Goddard College in 1979. She has published her own work and a number of translations of Spanish and Latin American poets in both print magazines and internet sites. I'm Speaking, a collection of her translations of 28 poems of the contemporary Andalusian poet, Rafael Guillén, will be published in a bilingual edition by Northwestern University Press in spring, 2001. Her book-length manuscript of work selected from 25 years of her poems is seeking publication. Anyone interested?


Logos: To Iambe

I know the colors of the desert sky
are made of dust. Aridity
can force the juniper to grow so many berries
the mountain bluebirds are drunk for a week.
Let it be so for me. Send whirlwinds if you must.
I'll stand within whatever you ordain
to purple my endeavor. Give me a day.
An hour. A breath. A word.
Give me one word.

© Sandy McKinney


Whatever slashed those cornstalks down
must have been starving, or in a killing rage.
It left me all but sick, the half-stripped cobs
and jackstraw wreckage blocking the rows,
and feeling half a fool for all the work
of planting and pruning, ripping out weeds
those weeks of tender green. That patch was mine!

And when I saw the dead coon in the road,
I stopped to look him over. "Maybe that's
the son of a bitch that shucked my corn," I said,
"and good riddance." It came over me then --
the way a familiar phrase can leap back at you
off the page as suddenly new and different --
that I'd never noticed before how even a whisker
seems so much stiffer in death. I kicked him
off the road and went on, losing my taste
for corn and coons and vengeance.

Tonight I drove home through fog
after a big meal and enough wine to loosen
our talk about changes we'd make, how to educate
our children in a better way. And suddenly
there they were, right in the middle
of the goddamned road: a family of woodchucks,
their tails straight out like hotdogs on a stick,
ambling toward some farmer's cornfield.

I hit the little one
just as his papa looked around
to see if he was coming.

© Sandy McKinney


The day we saw you through your first labor
with the kids we barbecued that summer,
you and I were locked in a strange sisterhood,
my flesh remembering the turbulence
I watched you struggle with, till I tired
and left you to get on with it alone.

Today I passed you on the path
to the mailbox, answering your bleat
with a comic imitation. I'm not your Maa
no matter if you call me by that name,
and can't be midwife to the slow
erosion delivering you of your own flesh.

Yes, Ruby, we are bound: you by a chain
you've dragged around and around its post
until the grass you've trampled isn't fit
for either food or bedding; I to a long succession
of trivial aches not worth bothering
to doctor any more, straining against a knot
I can't unravel, can't even identify.

© Sandy McKinney

The Bell
Otivar, Granada, Spain

Sister Gertrudis rings early mass
much louder than she needs to for a village
where children call half their schoolmates "cousin"
and the cobbler can quit work at two,
swing on his crutches up the whole length
of the goatpath to the highway,
drink a glass of Paco's hand-pressed muscatel
and be back home before the rice is done.

The mayor's son isn't coming back
when he finishes his service in the mili.
He's moving to Barcelona, where the neighbors
don't count your copas and life isn't regulated
by a churchbell. And he may be right.
When it wakes me in the morning
I'd like to strangle Sister Gertrudis.

And when it wakes me at night
I can't turn over and go back to sleep
while those resonant minors are announcing
that someone's left a bedroom gone suddenly too quiet
to grope her way through the dark streets
and wake the parish priest. It could be any
house, or any name, but it's not like an anonymous
siren in the distance. She's someone I know.

Today it tolled at intervals
all morning, while the mountain burned.
The men looked up
from their masonry, their muleloads
and horseplay, to where trucks waited to load them
for the long climb to the rocky terraces
below the pines. To save the fruit.

I thought I knew the faces of my neighbors
until I saw them coming home.

© Sandy McKinney

A Discourse on Survival Mechanisms of Spanish Moss

Spanish moss is one of nature's jokes.
Refusing photosynthesis, it lives on air
and steals the oxygen from Southern oaks.

Hang it on a fence, and soon it pokes
a tendril out to anchor itself there.
Spanish moss is one of nature's jokes.

Ask any group of Southern little folks
scratching chigger bites. Now is it fair
to steal the oxygen from Southern oaks

and harbor bitey-bugs, those heartless blokes
who live among its strands of witches' hair?
Spanish moss is one of nature's jokes.

Fie on the graceful camouflage that cloaks
a vile intent to frolic without care
and steal the oxygen from Southern oaks.

The earthworm plows his plot, the bullfrog croaks
to serenade the moon. They do their share.
But Spanish moss is one of nature's jokes.
It steals the oxygen from Southern oaks.

© Sandy McKinney 


And he was silver he was
liquid, ah, molten
in the oiled articulation
of his limbs and he
was motion without flaw and pure
perfection of design along
the shoulder and the noble crest
of neck, where the king
had gone to fat. And he was mine!

Crouched inside the wooden cow
I took that fatal member with a throb
that splintered the fragile ribs
we'd fabricated, the artisan and I.
I was glad. Glad. I wanted
the disguise to fall away, wanted him
to know it was the queen
he'd had. But if that round stare
I turned to question be window
or mirror, I know not.
It was that indifference
engendered the monster in me.

I wanted to possess, a passion
fitting for a queen trained to lust.
But this is lust distilled,
no artifice. Tonight I shall go forth
to meet that pounding glory naked,
without guile. And may this heat
burn the seed to vapor, may the gods
fall back before such power
and unmake that hybrid beast
who stamps and thrashes in the dark
labyrinth below my chamber,
abandoned, bellowing his rage.

© Sandy McKinney

The Giant Mushroom

Because it was mythic and maybe
dangerous, they gave it a wide berth,
except for those who kept the clearing
nibbled clean in propitiation
of whatever power it might wield.

The bland, bald head remained immobile,
crowned with an ancient austerity
so no one ever noticed how at the approach
of anything alive, its fluted gills stirred
like the reeds of a noble instrument tuned to song.

But when the ants, indentured to darkness,
tunneled under, it took a rakish angle
which encouraged sowbugs to roll by unaware
and shiftless crickets to loiter around its base.
In time the hissing of beetles
became a sign of disrespect.

When it toppled, the ants pointed sagely
to its hollow core, its lack of roots.

© Sandy McKinney