Shawna Kay Rodenberg



Stone upon stone, palmed to fit

until blood smears like heart mortar,

and I am solitary as an sterile seed

descending in the womb. 


Thinnest robe, my blanket

and my sanctification on the bier,

like wet paper against winter snows,

my fingers peel the edges


of my body and through

the squint, for a cheek, a lip,

a pulsing crevice to make warm and real,

payment exacted for counsel most pure.


Prayer here is salivation, the mouth

a pool of words that gather beneath

the tongue, until they gag and bleat

against the hold. Cold oats, sweetened


by this, my sheltered tongue, intrude

within a dish upon the stones;

I send my refuse out in turn.

Why leave my cell?


To return to that which I left?

Let me be. I want to cry and mourn

over the days and nights I have wasted.

I was never happy


in the open space of girlhood,

though I tried to beam.  Each flower petal

I gathered clutched my ribs as tight

as any spasm.  In the sunlight seam


and space I burned beneath the burden

of family that was and was to come. 

I was ashamed by my own need for myself.

And, this cell extends, a hand outstretched


from the nave.  I am the jeweled ring

on the finger.  I am most peaceful here.

I would not like to talk

anymore now.




for my father’s mother


Sometimes she’s a little big-headed about the figure she cuts for him

leaning in the doorway, her flimsy housedress pressed into the space

between her legs by the breeze, her thumb tickling the filterless end

of a Pall-Mall.  He loves the way her breath smells.


The first time they met she rode his lap side-saddle in the back seat

of a green-gold Chrysler.  He pretended not to finger the underside

of her breast as they smacked through potholes on Craft’s Colley.

The road was dirt then; her dress a minty dotted swiss.


Now, she watches him cut the hillside casually with a push-mower,

left arm at his side, his right moves mechanically, pulling the mower

up and down the hill, his elbow a piston, maybe.

She doesn’t know tools, mashes another brown banana for the baby.


She’s happier having more than her mother thought possible.

Still, there’s never enough to go around; if she could thin things

just a little further, maybe they’d go far enough,

eking out every ounce of gas, every fabric remnant, every bean.


*skimmed milk


Mercy Plea


to my husband


The herb cabinet leans in the corner, exhales mullein

and pennyroyal, herbs that soothe and herbs that purge,


Our doorsills brace beneath the weight of this

solid stone home.  This burden, this burden


is like a fabled peddler’s pack.  It bears down like babies

crowning, smells like a lean oven on Christmas,


scratches like a chipped fingernail.  I know

what children dreaming in their beds know,


what mice know, as safe as mice can be

within the walls:  there is no bottom to fall out.


The leaves outside fall like currency in green and gold. 

We make love like shaking clinking coins on the sheets. 


So much spangly love.  I don’t need to be told

how it feels to be rich.  My jewel box is full,


my wallet is empty.   I trade every shiny penny

for your teeth on my chin.  I had a dream


we were floating on the Dead Sea.  You and me,

floating.  Please, don’t forget how I look


in these, my last days of salty beauty. 

Please don’t turn from these years


as I have sometimes done, patting

the fullness of my pocket.

        return to poetry

Shawna Kay Rodenberg is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars.  She works online as a writing instructor and moonlights as a poetry editor for the Southern Indiana Review’s poetry prizesShe is also the founder and host of Slant, a monthly poetry reading in Evansville, Indiana, which accommodates both professional and amateur poets.  Her work has appeared in New Millennium Writings and Free State Review and is forthcoming in Structo and Crab Creek Review. .  When she is not writing poems or teaching, she works part-time as a registered nurse, caring for elderly nuns.  She is also an unschooling mother of five (two in college), and she lives and works on a dairy goat farm in southern Indiana.