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Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Second in a series about the poets of Sacramento

Susan Kelly-DeWitt

One of Sacramento’s most acclaimed poets, Susan Kelly-DeWitt has an eye for detail that sometimes startles the reader. Her work has been published in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Cutbank, Iris, Comstock Review, Oxymoron, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, Spoon River Quarterly, and many other journals and magazines. She has also published numerous chapbooks, including Cassiopeia Under the Banyan Tree (Rattlesnake Press, 2007). Susan’s most recent book, The Fortunate Islands (Marick Press) appeared in 2008.

Walter Pavlich wrote, “Kelly-DeWitt’s poems remind us, as we must be reminded, that no matter what, a beautiful and timeless world surrounds us; we must take the time to peer into it, but if we have Kelly-DeWitt’s wisdom and willingness, her hard-earned grace and vision, we may be privileged enough to participate in ancient and sacred ways.”


They came up the river like a band of slick
thieves. The water was thick with their leaping.
They climbed together the ladder of rapids,
hurled themselves and scraped their bellies.
The dead ones floated like pickerel weed.
Many fell out of the river of time, littering
the rocky banks, drawing the rats, raccoons
and badgers. They filled like windsocks
with death. We came there. We carried
our eyes and our baggage of witnessing.
We carried our awe like a causal fin.
The willows crept down to the river’s edge
and hung their heads like sad old men,
trailing all their living silver green leaves,
their dusky olive leaves, the color of salmon
skin. The beached ones dried in the sun;
they poked like stiff flags from the weeds
and the light passing over them seemed dis-
embodied, disavowed. Somewhere
in the worlds between this one and the dead
river of salmon ghosts, we heard a howling:
O Coho, O Kokanee, O Chinook.

From To A Small Moth (Poets Corner Press)
I-80 Cathechism

The hills with their bright gold
scapulars. The sun’s dry chalice

over Vacaville. Cattle plush
as Bathsheba’s rugs.

Teach me that.
Flesh, stone

and star.
Fur, bone

and grass.
Let me memorize

that: Vetch, Brome
Poppy, Hawk.

From To A Small Moth, (Poets Corner Press)

Francis in Ecstasy

Francis lifts his arms and the swallows
return to Capistrano, their brown heads
nodding haloes of feathery song.
He is standing outside himself
in an Italian version of ekstasis,
the bloody eyes of the stigmata
winking from his feet and callused palms.
Seeing him there, like a canticle of the sun,
who can tell the Inquisition is preparing
its medieval fresco, smoothing its wet lime
plaster walls; grinding up its artists’
bones into the pigments from which Bosch’s
Garden of Earthly Delights will be born.

after Bellini

Flood Plain

A mile from here the levee holds back
the Sacramento’s rushing tons;
no oil slick of sun floats
where it coils in its depths.

(This valley was all water once,
a rich inland soup of sea,
a tidal broth. The river wants
to reclaim it—the shiny tract

houses, those debtors in arrears,
that line the lanes and cul-de-sacs
like coins lining an ancient purse.
It wants to snap the purse shut;

it wants to return to the old flesh-
eating rituals.) Don’t let the heart-
shaped leaves of the cottonwoods
planted so fluidly in rows fool

you as they sift the morning light;
as they blossom with swallows and lift
your weary spirit with their jitter
of birdsong and green shimmer—

they have nothing to do with that
other cold heart, the river. Time
to grow gills or gull wings, walker—
learn the jackknife, half-twist, pike.

from Mockingbird

You may find more of Susan’s work, and information on how to purchase her collections, at www.susankelly-dewitt.com

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