Jess Burnquist

Backyard Aubade
I read how trees determine the distances 
they keep from one another—that they share 
ground water and ration air. Silent collaborators,
some branches are rarely touched by the sun. 
An exercise in tensions—sustaining the shadowed 
self despite the glare. 

Why not let the weather dictate 
our fortune for each day. Natural horoscope,
I bet today is not how you once imagined 
because you are no longer here.
Only you are absolutely present
in the pocket views of sky
between branches, a trick
of distance, then light.


In kindergarten, we were made to memorize
our home phone number and address.
My mother turned ours into a song.

Sometimes when I drive and listen
to the radio, I’ll forget that it’s on and catch
myself humming my phone-address song.

My son shows me a screenshot of our main road,
points to a picture of himself driving, newly aware
that he’s been added to a mapping device. 

He hands me a towel, asks what are you humming?
I shake myself from a dishwashing trance—
turn from the window view
of our dead garden toward my boy.

It’s a song about being lost, I say.


I miss my children who live a day away—
we are kept apart by an interstate not an ideology.
If we are the leaders of our own lives, then I 
believe we are culpable for our own inaction. 

But what can I do, I ask the lizard who pulses
on the patio chair. He stops as if listening, 
then retreats to a sun-soaked patch of firewood. 
What can I do? I ask the flock of western warblers 
nesting in our persimmon tree, perhaps tired
from their unhindered migration. 

It is not new. It is not even news
anymore, small hands grasping 
the unspeakable through wire fencing
is the underbelly of so many nations. 

The cursor blinks like a warning—what is not being written, 
what is not being told slips away like a flock of balloons
lifting strings of connection further and further away
in cold, shimmering mylar. 


After the argument, I decide to play a word search on my phone 
and the category is Marriage. I circle romance and frosting 
then champagne and toast. It takes more time
locating happiness. Still, 
I do. 

Wishing Rocks
Another bare-chested man
is climbing the rocks 
grunting from the exertion of seeking 
female attention.
I once read that a shark
got so annoyed with her mate
for bumping into her 
that she ate him. 
My hunger would be easier if the sun were out. 
A child conquers a rock then screams
when the sea challenges his claim.
His mother scolds in sharp tones 
and pulls him away, leaving drag marks
for footprints. 
I trace the drag, moving away from the rocks
and think about the tug of motherhood.
In a crest of parted sand, a ladybug
climbs a pile of pebbles, scrambling up
its insurmountable refuge from the incoming tide.
I offer my hand as a raft. The bug tickles my palm
and the sun shines through low clouds, causing me 
to almost miss the ladybug alight on a breeze
and land on the fin of something dead. 
Isn’t there a rule about wishing 
on a ladybug like a fallen eyelash?
Scanning the view, I notice the grunting man
has a new companion. They sit together on the top rock.
I look from my emptied palm,
back to the glittering sea
and make wishes
about sharks.

With Wings Flapping up to 80 Times per Second

Hummingbirds can fly a thousand miles without food or rest—just like the best-intentioned mothers. Last night I dreamt of my son who was happy, who was light of step, wingless and emerging from a silk tomb. I imagine this dream means he is reinventing, giving birth to a now-self, a loving-self. The best part of this dream was witnessing him share the news with his sister. Their together-joy. Something was slipping into the immediate past as their knowledge began to grow and rise into the mountainous new. I woke with a smile and shared the dream with my drowsy husband who is also a son, who is also a brother who contains intimacies that are out of reach. His response was to pull me closer and communicate his understanding that this isn’t-real-but-it-might-be-real one day. Did you know that hummingbirds can remember every single flower they visit? Can you imagine that kind of attention to sweetness?

Jess Burnquist is the author of the chapbook You May Feel Your Way Past Me (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Clackamas Review, Ms. Magazine/Ms.Muse, Rise Up Review, Poetica Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and more. She currently directs education and youth empowerment at a human rights anchored non-profit in Southern California.
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