Katharyn Howd Machin 2014 Bill Holm Co-Winner

Katharyn Howd Machan, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College, holds degrees from the College of Saint Rose, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines; in anthologies and textbooks such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Poetry: An Introduction, Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems, Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience; and in 32 collections, most recently Wild Grapes: Poems of Fox (Finishing Line Press, 2014), H (Gribble Press, 2014—national winner) and When She’s Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009—national winner). Former director of the national Feminist Women’s Writing Workshops, Inc., in 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak Press).



                                Fox’s whiskers twitch.


                                Sky opens and sky opens again:

                                low and thick as though stars and moon

                                will never exist again.


                                Such a winter? Not even solstice

                                yet but white has claimed

                                the world Fox lives, a world

                                where November should not know

                                such weight again and again, again.


                                Beautiful high pine trees breathe.

                                So clean the black pond whispers.

                                Fox’s eyes begin to narrow,

                                hearing deep earth’s different cry,

                                inarticulate but yearning

                                desperate plea, a dark goodbye.




                               He grunted at me, maybe caught unaware,

                                maybe surprised that a tourist would nod

                                and speak in greeting as she walked

                                with a heavy bag on her arm.

                                Corner of Margaret Street and Southard,

                                Mangia Mangia starting the sauce

                                to simmer and sweeten all day.

                                Rain last night, the morning fresh

                                and loud with leaf blowers and trucks,

                                a new car smeared by parking tickets

                                being lifted and hauled away.

                                Not very far from the cemetery

                                and its stories of burglars and ghosts.

                                I come to Key West once a year

                                from a place where snow falls in March.

                                He almost smiled, half-looked in my eyes,

                                then closed his face as I passed.




                                Drunk, my father came to me,

                                his hands upon my breasts, my mouth

                                as my mother disappeared, her night

                                a story of what must be, sex

                                a decision of midnight power, his

                                longing of loins for loins: a daughter

                                best and easiest in the family

                                where a wife is worn to bone.

                                Let the lamp limp dimly low,

                                let the door creak loud: a man

                                will have what he’s moved to have,

                                no matter the face of frightened flesh,

                                no matter: she’s his, keel to water.



                                                                                                for Bill Roorbach



                                                Snow again. Ice.

                                                In my paisley patchwork quilt

                                                as cold wind pushes at my house


                                                I read about a man far north,

                                                how he skies across a frozen pond

                                                and finds a neighbor trapped by wheels


                                                spinning downward, spinning hard

                                                the crumbling weak sand of the bank

                                                above dark water running deep.


                                                Here in my small college town

                                                we wander on The Commons, watch

                                                single digits dance with time


                                                in a column stiff as our

                                                white breath, fingers’ harsh surprise.

                                                January. Students back. The sky


                                                a grid for nightmares. Who

                                                remembers April’s reach of roots

                                                that will dare to touch new air?


                                                The man perspires, pushing hard,

                                                his two dogs leaping, barking loud,

                                                as with a rope he tries to save


                                                the almost-stranger years beside

                                                have failed to make a friend.

                                                Shivering, I hunker down,


                                                my cat a weight upon my shins,

                                                winter all my dreams can know,

                                                snow upon the window pane,


                                                ice like hundred-year-old glass,

                                                a silver surface by a mill

                                                where wild, once lost, returns.




                                So many crows this cold full moon.

                                I rise from dreams of my dead mother

                                this Sunday with the sounds of blackness

                                come alive like a tame cat’s long fierce

                                pupil widening with hunger for wings.

                                No snow this dawn, unlike other dawns

                                of this January ringing wane and wax

                                with red a different shade each night


                                thick, thin, shallow, deep. The crows

                                have been troubled, lying low, afraid

                                of white weather new and fast with edges

                                sharpened by wind. Today, though, morning

                                full through our tree, they gather outside

                                our glass. I see her now, our dark-robed

                                neighbor, her heavy basket full of crusts

                                she’s broken with strong hands. Crows


                                fly and crows gather to where ice

                                shards glare and glitter. They glimpse the smile

                                she allows to show as her fingers fling

                                and beckon. Hard beaks open wide with greed

                                and shadows criss and cross through light

                                that seems to mock their last long cries

                                as, sighing, I rise from soft green patchwork

                                and tread pale stairs to my own kitchen’s stores.


The Crows of Turner Place

                                welcome January.

                                Blue is gone, gray is here,

                                and gold lies crumpled on the ground

                                mocking every summer dream

                                the year tries to remember.

                                Black wings spread and sharp beaks open

                                cawing cawing cawing joy

                                that every branch is theirs to fill

                                with raw hunger for the moon.

                                And there’s that simple couple filling

                                hanging feeders with good sweet seed—

                                wrens, finches, chickadees, jays

                                dart and light and peck and taste

                                until the kings and queens approach

                                with their loud call and their wide shadow

                                murdering the last dim light

                                and silencing all lesser beings

                                as cold comes to South Hill.