The Barren Year

by Judith Skillman

Suppose there is sun.
Say the word pretty. Obsession begins
early, with petals: snow drops,
marsh violets, star magnolias.

Children used to eat forsythia blossoms.
The women forced flowering,
brought stems inside and placed them
in water in a glass. Look

into the sun, you go blind.
Sleep becomes difficult,
dreaming impossible.
Nothing begets the small rounds

of plum, nodules like cysts
hanging, dangling
outside the window. Ever-present,
like the carrot & the whip.

Now understand.
There is death without death.
Life without life. Time
without time. Things crystalline

in winter have run together,
and it is always
the center melts first,
while the outer layer

maintains its pretense: color, shape,
the ability to cast a shadow
over even the most
paradisiacal garden.

Judith Skillman is the author of twelve collections of poetry, most recently The Never (Dream Horse Press, 2010). She is the recipient of awards from many organizations, including the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, New Poets of the American West, and many other journals and anthologies. Skillman holds an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, teaches for the Richard Hugo House, and lives in Kennydale, Washington. Her book The White Cypress is forthcoming from Cervéna Barva Press in 2011. Find her online at

Back to Issue Ten: Winter 2011