weary of myself
linked hands light on gray walls
as shadow wings

a shapeshifter soul
shift now and rise
into the thinning day

shed tired skin from
torn muscles, drain marrow from bones
and sorrows from a beaten heart

shake loose the old dreams
broken by time, release stale
fantasies to fate

tread the twisted path
to the wild edge of dusk
where twilight thickens to black

if the road runs out
it is little concern
in flight there’s no need of earth

below are ribbons
of rivers and ridges and valleys deep
markings of time and place

with lightness of being
follow the path on the water
laid out by the white of the moon

where the sky meets the sea
a convergence of space
unfolds in eternity

beat now, raven, climb the steep wind
shiver and stretch in the thin cold air
on this midwinter night

bewitched with the night
and shadows and flight
carry darkness into the dawn

suffer the arrows of first morning light
rub gritty eyes with balled fists
and stretch out pale arms

longing for

©stephanie pepper, 2021

reading list: 2020 covid edition

Inspired by my friend Jennifer, I present my 2020 reading list.

2020 was a conscious, determined effort to read only from my shelf (who am I kidding: SHELVES). I confess that I added to said shelves along the way, as I found books that met me in the places I found myself. I also read around in several other poetry collections, but only included completed titles.

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Book of Delights, Ross Gay
Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners, Naomi Shihab Nye
Constance, Jane Kenyon
Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon
A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015, Wendell Berry
The Sea in You: Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love, David Whyte
Sorry for Your Troubles, Pádraig Ó’Tuama
Gratitude, Oliver Sacks
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, Joan D. Chittister
Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, Mary Oliver
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
The Bell and the Blackbird, David Whyte
Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary Oliver
The Boat of Quiet Hours: Poems, Jane Kenyon
Anam Cara: a Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue
A Hundred White Daffodils, Jane Kenyon
The Soul’s Slow Ripening, Christine Valters Painter
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters—and How We Talk About It, Krista Tippett
An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, John O’Donohue
This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected & New: 1979-2013, Wendell Berry (read, savored slowly over the course of three years)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Confessions of a Christian Mystic, River Jordan
99 Psalms, SAID
Magdalene: Poems, Marie Howe
Imagination in Place, Wendell Berry
How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Pat Schneider
The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall
The Persistence of Rivers: an essay on moving water, Alison Townsend

When in the soul such darkness loosed

When in the soul such darkness loosed
uncovers what light hath hid;
what gaudy day hath swept aside
the tender night embraced.

Unveiled in dreams, what secrets pass,
unknown to lucid dawn?
Thus where but darkness doth prayer come,
the hoarse and truest cry?

It shivers on the fragile skin,
unbinds the heart at last–
and gathers up the lonely tears,
in garish daylight spilt.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

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