How to Sit with Petunias

I have found there’s no need to explain 
poetry to a child. They already know 
how to sit with petunias. 
Constellation petunias, for instance:
every petal a purple night sky full 
of stars—whorls in the morning
revealing themselves on porches after
breakfast. I don’t have to ask a child
to pluck them—they’ll do it anyway—
holding margins and profiles
against the rising sun to examine
patterns, light and shadow, lines
and the funnel that draws them
closer to seeing fine hairs, to noticing
how sticky the petals are, leaving
residue that doesn’t come off easily—
which years from now they’ll remember 
when they pick more petunias.


“How to Sit with Petunias” by Gwendolyn Soper

Source: The Hopper, Fall 2021 issue, 6.2.

The Poet

While he waits for another cup of coffee 
he stares—the waitress has no idea 

he’s regretting an em dash in the first quatrain 
of his most recent poem, the one about the time 

he stood on a stool next to his mother, his cheek 
touching the cool skin of her arm 

as she deftly pulls flour into egg yolks, stirs 
with her fingers and kneads the dough 

then rolls it through the press—parchment thin—
and how it glows when she holds it up to the window 

where the red bougainvillea sway—in nearly the same 
manner he walked through the doorway today

faltering, the moment he remembered 
how that same shade of red 

had matched the color 
of his small shoes—and her lips.


“The Poet,” by Gwendolyn Soper. After Lily Prigioniero’s painting by the same title.

Source: The Ekphrastic Review, August 2021

Cast Iron

O, the comfort and joy
we get from things aging
more slowly than us:

stone walls, houses of brick,
things that will be here
after we’re gone.

Cast iron sings Stability.
In this fast-moving world
there’s time.

Old skillets will be handed
down. And iron bells
every hour still chime.

“Cast Iron, ” by Gwendolyn Soper. All rights reserved by the author. For purposes of commerce, permission to replicate must be obtained by the author. Educators may use it freely.

Source: Stuck Up. A poster of “Cast Iron” is pasted on a wall in Aberdeen, Scotland near the Market. It is one part of a collaborative effort, Stuck Up, by Nuart Aberdeen: a creation of the world’s longest paste-up wall of poetry and art (half a kilometer long). It went up the first week of August 2021.
Poster design: Bea Dawkins.

Keeping Tabs

Ninety-four Google Chrome tabs
line up across the top of my screen.
My eyes caress them – I cling to each one.
They reveal my pre-pandemic life. If the tabs
are gone those parts may be forgotten.

I open the earliest tab. A lifetime ago
I searched for how to remove a turmeric stain
after dripping curry on my favorite swishy skirt
from Uniqlo.

The tab for Travelocity feels like
that winter-day search for cheap airfare was
a dream. Will I ever imagine flying
to Copenhagen again?

I start toggling down the line, suddenly
feeling sad. One tab makes me laugh out loud:
how to do a credible Scottish accent.
Well, now you know I read my poetry out loud
in a poor Scottish accent to see if it’s any good.

Where is Wuhan, marks exactly when life
changed for us all. Apparently, I hunted
through my cupboards because there’s
a tab for recipes with canned salmon.

I have no memory of why I have an open tab
for I Snuck into a Celebrity Wedding on Palm Beach,
and I Would 100% Do It Again. How did that tab
find a place in my line? Was I sleepwalking?

You know what? Some of the other tabs in
my previous life seem meaningless now,
like I’d had my priorities wrong. I shuddered
at Tiger King, preferring the gentler shocks
of rhymes and quatrains, so
I turned to poetry.

There’s a tab for Downpour because rain
makes me happy. I didn’t realize I’d be reading
a poem about the names of deceased friends
Billy Collins had written down on the back
of a shopping list before he went shopping
for linguini. I think of the thousands
we deeply grieve around the world, bow my head
and say yet another prayer. I’m not crying now.
It’s just raining on my face.

One of my remaining tabs holds the horrific
image of George Floyd dying beneath the knee
of Officer Chauvin – a name that sounds like
a villain straight out of a Victor Hugo novel
but who is, in fact, the apparent villain from
our current real-life nightmare. Suddenly,
even the pandemic feels passé.

There’s a comic strip in my next tab: how
to dress protectively for a protest. Thousands
of people find it relevant. Rubber bullets and
tear gas are less likely to hurt if you have
long sleeves and goggles and wear a bun
so no one can grab your hair.

The last tab: Julia Child in a tube top,
(Bon Appetit Magazine) reminds me of bygone days.
Yet, as hard as I look I can’t see what and who
those days were glossing over. They weren’t quite
what I thought they were. Those black and white
photos have a lot more white than black.

I hover the cursor over the powerful red
dot in the corner of my screen
and with one click
I close them all.

“Keeping Tabs,” by Gwendolyn Soper.

Source: Poetry & Covid, a project funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council, University of Plymouth, and Nottingham Trent University

We Are Paint in Metal Cans

We are paint in metal cans.
We drip, we hurl, we
swirl our colors of fear 
confusion and sadness 
onto a canvas the size of grief.
It follows us wherever we go— 
hovering a few feet
behind our heads like a kite. 
Splattered spittles
of angry red vermillion, swirls
of blue sadness, puddles of brown 
confusion—your colors and mine—
we are the art. 
Today the unframed apparition
is reflected in the glass. 
I finally notice other colors 
I’d been too selfish to notice before:
huge splashes of courageous purple
and powerful black. 

“We Are Paint in Metal Cans,” by Gwendolyn Soper.

Source: 3,651 YEARS LIVED: Global Poetry & Prose Reflecting the Pandemic, Edited by Dallas A. Graham.

Also featured in:

Poetry Across the Pond and Beyond, a publication of Lockdown Poets (an underground poetry group founded by Ian Aitken). Gwendolyn is a member of this group, which originated in Scotland. Proceeds from sale of book go to the Cornhill Community Centre, Aberdeen, Scotland

Poetry & Covid, a project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, University of Plymouth, and Nottingham Trent University.


So. I didn’t mind this jade-green chrysalis
at first. Well, I did mind, but I could get used to it.
Besides, I was comfortable with tight.
I was comfortable with restrictive. We loved it
when Dad used to tuck us into bed tightly at night
like we were mummies. But this chrysalis hurt
more than most things,
since all the fun stuff I liked to do beforehand
(like drive a car or cook meals for myself)
had been ripped away from me, like the pile
of new socks that were yanked away from my
sweet mother’s hands at our nearby department store
during the crowded Sock Sale of 1974.

Did you know that caterpillars digest
themselves inside of their cocoons,
and that all of their tissues are dissolved
before The Great Metamorphosis occurs?
That said, I had no choice but to lay around
in this disorder—not of my own making, mind you—
waiting for wings.
And I figured, well, it won’t last long, and at least
it will be worth it because when I materialize
from this alien-esque change, I may emerge
a triumphant, beautiful butterfly
with a Mother Teresa personality, the patience of Job,
and an unwrinkled face like the one I had
when the chrysalis thing first started ten
very long years ago.

When everything disintegrated
it meant only one thing: when I emerged
all put back together again like Humpty Dumpty,
I was going to be wiser. Every word
that would usher forth from my sanctified brain
and out of my holy lips would be worth recording
on anyone’s smartphone with Voice Memo
(by anyone lucky enough to be within earshot
of my wisdom) my wise words to be replayed
in their car again and again for their tremendous benefit
in preference to their favorite playlist of classic rock.

This metamorphosis would change me
into a saint! Those who passed by me walking
on the streets, or who pulled up next to me
in my car at a red light would take in a quick breath
and text their friends to say they just saw someone
famous but can’t put a finger on who I am,
I think she was the actress in that old show The Flying Nun
not realizing I am something even better:
a saint arisen
after a long wriggle out of prison.

No one was more shocked than I, then, when
The Emergent
(me), sat there in a church I still wanted to attend,
in my pink boiled wool jacket, wings
folded reverentially across my chest,
wearing six tiny cream-colored dress shoes
that would have made Jackie O proud,
worshipping a God I pretty much believe in
after a sabbatical of belief
thanking a Savior for saving me from something
(my brain is sometimes soupy on the details),
and smiling-slash-biting-my-tongue, er, proboscis,
with herculean strength lest this cranky, cussing moth
blurt out swear words like the homeless woman
who crashed Sacrament Meeting at church
twenty-six years ago in New Haven.
Mother Teresa is nowhere to be seen
(believe me, I’m frantically looking)
and when I finally look in the mirror
my face is ten years older.

“Metamorphosis,” by Gwendolyn Soper.

Source: Exponent II Magazine, Spring 2017 Issue, Vol. 36 No. 4

N.B. The second guest-poet reading I ever attended was by George Bilgere (Brigham Young University, 2015). George said he was the “cheeky nephew” of Billy Collins, and I believed it for years. Billy Collins’ reading was the first guest-poet reading I attended – Snow College, 2013. George’s voice was described by the host as “purring butter that will make you want to call your dad.” After attending his reading I went home and wrote this poem instead.