2014 Bill Holm Co-Winner, Katharyn Howd Machin

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.