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John Palen

John Palen’s Riding With the Diaspora won the 2021 Sheila-Na-Gig Editions chapbook competition. He has recent work in Cider Press Review, The MacGuffin, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Willawaw Journal. He lives on the Illinois Grand Prairie.

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Down in the Pit

Three Musicians
By Pablo Picasso, 1921
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Our chief executive wears Armani,
talks visions, missions, and goals.
The board chairman wonders
why a tuba player makes as much
as a violinist. The writhing
maestro conducts the audience
through their expected feelings;
we’re lucky if he’s sober
and leaves us alone.
                              And here we are,
Harlequin, Pierrot, and The Monk,
night after night in the crowded
pit. We do that spooky stuff
we’ve learned at such cost,
raising dead notes to life,
waiting for the rare hour

when some wild god plugs
our drop cord into the universal grid,
and even we don’t understand
how we got to be so good.

A Nice Spring Rain

After reading Sarah Hrdy’s
Mothers and Others

It’s raining today, a spring rain
like the day you gave me birth.
I had no memory of it, only a sure
feeling I couldn’t trace. One day

when I was four or five,
we sat on the screened porch
of the first house I ever knew,
and you told me, It rained that day,

just like this, a nice spring rain.”
I remember your low alto
and the blue, trellised clematis
that caught and held the water.

When I read of Great Ape mothers
who hold their newborns close,
gaze long into their eyes,
I imagine how we were.




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