you learn

You learn, don’t you,
by living?
How quickly the light changes,
from full and warm
to slanted and cold
in the time it takes
to turn your head;
how your love, given,
turns to hate,
burns to ash
in the wrong hands,
but blooms into an endless
meadow of wildflowers,
bright and fragrant,
in the right hands;
how living is steps
and missteps,
backwards and forwards,
forever deepening,
ripening.

You learn, don’t you,
by living
everything.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

meeting

Meeting Wendell Berry at Transy, October 9, 2019. Photo by McRae Stephenson.

Last October I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater, Transylvania University, for a reading honoring the founder of Larkspur Press, Gray Zeitz. Among those reading that night were Bobbie Ann Mason and Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, but I had my eyes on only one poet–Wendell Berry. I was introduced to Berry’s writing many years ago, before I even read poetry let alone wrote poetry, by singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson at a church VBS picnic. When he found out that I–a proud Kentuckian–had never read Wendell Berry, he said I simply must. Properly chastised, I read Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter, two of Berry’s beautiful novels soon after, and while I knew he was a poet, I didn’t pick up a collection of his poetry for several more years (mostly out of my own weird notion that I just wasn’t a “poetry person”). When I began to read poetry about two years ago, Berry’s was some of the first work that I read. He hooked me as solidly with his poetry as he had with his prose, and I was a goner. I consider him to be one of the major influences on my poetry, but he hasn’t just influenced my writing. He has influenced the way I look at life, and living, and being human. And through his writing and living, how nature is as sacred a sanctuary as a church building.

Meeting him…it was an honor of the highest degree. I didn’t tell him that I am a writer; a poet. I fangirled. That’s ok.

probably we should

Probably we should.
Beneath the oaks,
the hickories, the cedars,
leafy limbs reaching, stretching
upward
outward
entwined above,
roots sunk deep in
ancient ground below,
and us on the limestone trail
drenched in sunlight
beside a glade, equally soaked and
thick with black-eyed Susans
five feet high.

There’s no one here but us,
and the field sparrows,
and who would they tell anyway?

So.

Probably we should kiss.

©️stephanie pepper, 2020

illuminate

For Jared, and scientists everywhere, who illuminate and magnify awe.

Here this cooling September night,
wrapped in a flannel shirt,
I sit with my feet propped on the
old porch rail.
Resting my head on the back
of the Adirondack chair
points my gaze perfectly,
directly,
at Jupiter hanging on the archer’s wing tonight,
and Saturn inches away in a
sky the color of spilled ink,
pricked with pinholes of light.

I know little beyond their brightness,
content as I am with
the vastness of night,
the mystery of breath,
and the breadth of unknowing.

While pondering this,
I think of my friend,
how he knows Saturn,
intimately,
as only a scientist does,
knows the way one knows
the face of a child,
or a lover,
its contours and planes,
patterns and pressures,
its icy rings of
splintered comets and
shattered moons,
and the swirling of hydrogen and helium,
a state so unsuitable for sustaining our breath,
yet ripe for nourishing our curiosities and
imaginations.

And his knowing
illuminates the awe of my unknowing,
magnifies the sacred mystery
of sentient being.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

weighted

A cawing band of crows calls me
through the open window.
I strain to see them
through the trees,
searching between the limbs
for their sturdy black bodies
against the blue sky,

weightless in flight.

I envy them their wings,
long for my own to lift my
weighted, earthbound
body to the heavens.

The rough calls fade to nothing.

Sighing
I raise my hand to my chest,
press that hollow
below the collarbone
just above my wild heart–
constrained–
where she lives,
tattooed in ceaseless flight;
fingers trace the delicate
wingtips and tailfeathers
whipped out in black ink
under my skin,
and know I, too, am

weightless in flight,

arms turned wings
stretched out against
the blue sky
in my own soul.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

restoration project

What you are is
what you become by
peeling off the skin blistered
from standing too long in
someone else’s sun.
It’s turpentine dissolving,
a putty knife scraping
the paint you didn’t choose.
The wrong shades of the
wrong colors, too thick on
the skin. And it’s a cocooning,
a shedding, a dropping away–
as such metamorphoses
are; a leaving behind
of all that didn’t fit; a
walking out into the night.
Now take up the brush, and
choose your own palette,
then color yourself in the
blues and the grays—the
hues of your soul, with
moonlight in your eyes, the
gloaming on your cheeks, and
stars aligned down your back.
Go—fly away with
fresh painted wings,
your self at last
your own.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

(in)convenience

This morning as I sit in my
chair on the porch, my tea
steaming and the
grass wet with dew, the
green garbage truck rumbles onto
the street, brakes screeching in protest.
Its claw-arm stretches from
the side of its great underbelly,
reaching and lifting each gray
container, up and over; emptying.
It makes its way around the circle
of the court, upsetting the calm and
scattering the house finches and robins
convened in the street at the edge
of my yard, raising a flutter of complaint.
It lumbers away, completing its work–
under two minutes, I’m sure–then turns
the corner and is gone, though I hear
faintly its lurching as it works
the next street over.

It’s necessary, I know, this convenience
of suburbia; and the finches soon return
to the feeders I’ve filled with safflower
and sunflower seeds, while chirping at me
their sharp annoyance, with which
I heartily agree.

©stephanie pepper, 2020