Judith skillman

All by degrees


Wane, in waning

feel the age, discs


the upright man

pays his price—too

high. Standing be-

neath phthalo sky

becomes, for woman

who has borne child-

ren, singular—

an insular


of grief and mad-

ness, loss of mo-

bility, un-

able to run

the mile, to cool

off in a creek.


they called it, as,

like fish let loose

from clothing

we lay on rocks,

felt pleasure’s hand

in water rocking

back and forth all

day long and days

were long, as nights

without troubled

sleep, the nightmares.

The man and wo-

man walk for hours,

skin shriveling,

veins showing through

(as the hostess

said at her son’s

wedding, you’ll want


those—pointing to

legs blue-netted

or—what else—old),

and afterwards,

eating rich foods,

a woman tries

to disappear,

becomes ready

to wear that ring

of invisi-

bility, elf-

en, elved away

from those who wor-

shipped her once as

from afar, a

figurehead, all


instead of this

frail shell of nerves.



The woman who stepped into my spine

wasn’t folded in, like raisins into cake batter.

She didn’t know my name or address,

nor did she haunt my dreams

like the Directress at a French chateau, or

have a vendetta. The trunk of the weeping fig

became six-fold in eight years. She grew simply

by entering the hallway. Now she is fixed.

She doesn’t twist for me, nor does she speak

though I dialogue all day and clean a house

for her to live in. I take a moth-shaped dust devil

from a painting, pick up tiny gnats

used to flying to saucers in the middle of a century

long past. All I do is meant to make her

lithe and slender. Cleaning coffee rings

from a wooden shelf, tackling my issues in rooms

with well-intentioned therapists. She remains

unimpressed by words, emotions, and affirmations.

She took up residence as myopia

comes to a pupil by degrees. I never felt

a thing until that metal wheelchair, carried from the car

by my husband, proffered with sarcastic grace.


Judith Skillman’s new book is House of Burnt Offerings, Pleasure Boat Studio. Her poems have appeared in Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, New Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies. Skillman is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, The Centrum Foundation, and other organizations. She taught in the field of humanities for twenty-five years, and has collaboratively translated poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French.

Visit www.judithskillman.com