and so, as one

The year has aged,
and with it, us,
and this, perhaps, more than others.
We’ve come now to
the end, a year
virus burned through the continents
like the wildfires in the West,
and Justice rose up in outrage,
screaming loud to be heard
amid the clatter of hatred
and injustice;
(and how violently I awoke).

But, November.

And indecency now caged,
rattles the bars, grasping,
gasping, its dying breaths
giving way to dignity,
decency restored,
and hope rises on the
very fingertips of the morning
in a steady march toward resurrection.

I do not wish my life away with
this forward gaze, for I am
firmly grounded here, now;
but my vision rises on the wind
with the red-tailed hawk, to glimpse
what lies beyond.

To be sure,
there is winter ahead,
and much to be done,
and rebirth is no easier
than birth;
but the thread that weaves
through air and history remains,
still binds humanity as one;
and so, as one,
we rise.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

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,

You learn, don’t you,
by living

©stephanie pepper, 2020


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
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?


Probably we should kiss.

©️stephanie pepper, 2020


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,
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,
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

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

©stephanie pepper, 2020


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.

I raise my hand to my chest,
press that hollow
below the collarbone
just above my wild heart–
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