Like this lake, the poems that follow reflect the heights of my personal experience, while they also suggest the depths that live below the surface. I present them in alphabetical order by title; they are not chronological because I don’t know their creation dates — in fact, they are, as representatives of my soul, timeless.


A Fine Soup

The flower I never gave you
For love
The one I lost on the way
To your door

Has resurfaced
Now, petals sprawled
Sunshine center perforated
With little holes open to the light

Certainly still presentable
I could give it to you now
But you’re out wandering,
Picking your own flowers

What a wayward soul you are
Tossing in your own sea,
A soup of mixed vegetables
With noodle alphabet

You spell out words
Like, “help,” and “rescue”
In pasta
As if you needed saving

I would save you
But your words lose their meaning
As I swallow
My taste buds are illiterate

So you’re left floundering
Amidst the vegetables and broth
And I was going to give you a flower
I can’t wait to give you a flower.

I’ve had my fill of soup
You lie breathless at the bottom
Of the bowl
Arms, legs sprawled

What a journey you’ve had
I thought you’d been out picking flowers
But you must have fallen
Into this soup

You must have been struck by lightning
Knocked off balance
Landed in my lunch
Perhaps you deserved it

At least I didn’t eat you
I lift the flower over the bowl
Where you lie
Your face beet red from the heat of the soup

I shake it
And let grains of pollen
Waft down
To your eyes

Then I pluck the petals
One by one
Let them fall
And cover you like a soft shroud

—Susan E. Briggs



An Introduction to “No Nature” Writing

What do you see among the
Low bushes, rose and azalea
Perfectly kept, clipped
Frozen in place
A place we’ve come to know?

Dirt among the stems, the
Branches, good expensive dirt.
Not natural. The stuff you buy
The stuff you know will work
To make things grow.

Everything so pretty
The flower unfolds each petal in time
In everlasting time
So perfect, so exceptionally perfect
Can you understand this perfection?

Maybe, or maybe not.
Understanding takes years
And by then the flowers are dead
But the weeds survive
The weeds you weren’t supposed to see

They burst up through the ground
These nasty, weedy beasts
Unforgiving, and unforgiveable
They survive, pushing up
Through the cracks in the sidewalk

You thought you had them under control
The control of millions, the control of your mind,
Hard, cold and unforgiving
Like concrete, these solid blocks and bricks
That make up the walkway.

And, God, they’re ugly
Wish they would go away, don’t you?
Wish you could start all over, do it again
Hold onto what you have that’s good
And burn the rest – damn them to Hell

Too bad, they’re here to stay
Like words, they won’t go away
Like words, they have something to tell you
Something to say
But who is speaking?

And now it’s all jumbled in your mind
What was the ugly thing—
The weeds?  the words? the concrete
Covering it all up anyway?
Are you listening to the one who is speaking?

But we digress
The central image is a flower
Shining, holding back nothing
Beauty in its very essence
How could we, in its presence, bring ourselves to speak?

—Susan E. Briggs

Big City, Lotta Strangers

No one knows
The boy next door
Nor the man down the street
With six legs,

Though we hear
Of them
On the news;
The boy becomes

A nuclear physicist
Ready to blow up the world
And the man with six legs
Holds up a bank and runs away.

We know our own family,
Ted and Jake and John,
And me, Sylvia, and Mom
and Dad,

And grandma, grandpa,
Uncle Luke and Aunt
Betty Jane; we extend
Into Wisconsin

And know every one of us among
The blue lakes and dogwood trees.
They told us never to move
To the city, but we did

And now no one knows
Who we are, except ourselves
But last week young Jake,
Our subtly psychotic one,

Freaked out in a grocery store
And opened cans of stewed tomatoes
With his teeth
And screamed he wanted help

Please help. But no one
Did anything except
Call the police,
And the police called us, but they didn’t have to.

We saw it on the news.

—Susan E. Briggs


It’s Halloween and I have a cold.
I’m all stuffed up—
And not just with candy.

The little devils come to my door
In twos and threes
Or all alone—with mommy behind
that tree over there.

I give them suckers and chocolates—
They see me in my bathrobe,
Masquerading as a woman with a cold.

But I’m not half as scary as that
man down the street
Who doesn’t have a head—
Or at least, he’s holding it in his hands.

No, I merely have a sniffle
And a box of Kleenex by the door.
I may not be as scary,
But at least I’m believable.

That last one with the green face
Looks as though she might have a cold.
Has she been provided with Kleenex?

As the night wears on, the doorbell rings
get further and further apart.
Sort of like birthing in reverse,
The little monsters go back where they came from.

Alone in my house,
I remove my costume
And admire what was underneath.

My long black dress and black cape
Only need their black hat
To set them off just right.

I take my broom from its case,
Grip it firmly in both hands
And fly out the open living room window.

It’s Halloween.

—Susan E. Briggs

It’s All Over Now

Sara Smashead
Toddles round
The gravesite of her
Former lover, Molly
It is no use
The woman is dead

Nonetheless, our friend
Hangs on
For dear life
The consequences of letting go
Too grim indeed

She lays a flower,
A rose, on the ground
At an angle to the tombstone
Which rises out of the earth,
Presenting itself

“Our dear departed, Molly, age
Time unknown, reason unknown”
This lack of information
Has always disturbed Sara Smashead
Though she keeps circling the grave.

She consoles herself by saying
Over and over
To herself,
Something died here.
It makes her feel alive.

Feeling alive
In and of itself
Is not enough to make Sara
Let go,

Sara associates feeling alive
With standing
By this gravesite
And mourning the loss of a thing

There will come a time
When she will walk
A few steps
From the grave.

Yes, she will leave, despite the fact
That love brought her
And Molly
To their respective

Love humbled them
Made them
And lose all their clothing
Made them naked

Sara has not been fully dressed,
In fact,
Since her friend died
She’s only managed to put on some shoes
And tie her hair back in a ribbon

The priest has taken pity on her
And allowed her the cemetery
All to herself
He understands her nakedness
He understands that he cannot help her

She cries softly
The sixteenth time this hour
It is a brief shower
She sniffles
It’s all over now

There, there, says the priest as he
Approaches her
You know you should come inside
Out of the cold
Have some warm beer

The priest comes quite close
To Sara,
Touches her
On the arm
She closes her eyes

Have you ever been intimate
With anyone,
She asks the priest
With her eyes
Still closed

I mean, anyone other than God?

—Susan E. Briggs

Keep Until You Can’t Any Longer

I am moved
(Wrenched, thwarted
Denied, given up
I have masked myself from myself)

And yet I am moved,
Feeling substituted for the plague—
Feeling picks me up
And drives me to another

A place to rest
The soft breath
Of another’s need
Holds me in place, comforts me

I am touched
By more than myself
I touch the air before me and close my eyes

Behind my lids
A chalkboard countryside
Peopled with chalk people
Each powdered stroke a hand, a face

I touch the air and close my eyes
There they are again
The people
So delicate, a mere chalk stroke here, there

They don’t see, as I do,
The vastness of their lives
How tentative
How sublime

I open my eyes
The world outside
A vast country
Peopled with people, flesh and bone

Nothing but chalk, I fear
Needing, wanting
I need, I want
I won’t be happy until I love

I need, I want
Not the raw flesh, the bone
But the blood itself

I open my veins
To that other,
Share and intermingle

Give life
As I am given life
As I am fed

Keep until you can’t any longer


—Susan E. Briggs

Learning from Paul Muldoon

There’s nothing on earth
Greater than
A poet in your midst.

He graces the troubled days
Of your existence
With a sage message,

Yet he walks and talks a fine
Line between temperance
And explosion,

Covering with patience the pain
That he’s seen. What pain has he seen?
Won’t he tell us what he’s seen?

What is it that brings a person to poetry,
To writing the story down?
The poet in our midst has the answer.

Just look at his face —
No harsh edges.
It’s all been worked out through the skin.

—Susan E. Briggs


A kind of peace descends
Upon the dark night air
We hold our breath
And enter the deep, the water

Before us stretches an expanse
Of rich wave upon wave
Moonlight glow settled in each crest
Glistening a welcome

No one ever swims at night in the ocean
Not in the city
Not with the gangs who roam the beach
With bad intent, frightening their own mothers

No one ventures out into that
Cool, cool water
But us, unconcerned
Only welcomed and welcoming

The moon is counterpart to the sun
Those beachy days of summer
When bodies swim and tan
And mellow in the heat

But the night is cold
The heat of the day has disappeared
We take a risk
But the ocean is a lover

The ocean knows no day or night
It welcomes eternally
Coming and coming, receiving us
Into that cold depth

Warming us with life
Renewing us with danger and love
Holding us in playfulness
A constant laughter it provides

We swim parallel, perpendicular
Upside down, in and out
Aware of the shore
But turned away from that land
Holding the water

As we would hold each other
Holding the last bit of life
The essence that escapes us and escapes us

We imagine the earth on the shore
To shake and shake
Buildings tumble
Civilization perishes

But we, out here in the wonder
Of the sea
The vast nakedness of water
The simple quiet hush of motion,

Remain undisturbed
Rocked by this lover
Held by our mother
The source, the life

She creates us with each caress
Makes us new
Tells us clearly of her love for us
Wants only to say hello and hello

Never goodbye.

—Susan E. Briggs

One Summer’s Day

In the half-dream state
I walk and talk
Of you
Nothing but you

I dream of open fields,
Of azure sky
Of golden wheat
Rippling in the wind and sun

We walk and talk
The wheat at our waists
We fall
And the earth catches us

We lie on the muffled wheat
Spread our arms wide
And make angels in the gold
You roll to me and it begins

In the dream you remove your clothing
And mine
Our skin is as naked and golden as the wheat
We merge with the wheat

And with each other
What is mine is yours
What is yours, mine
The sky is blue

We are alone in the fields of wheat
No one for miles
We come apart
The wind blows our clothes away

We are naked,
The color of wheat
No one near
You say something

What is this mystery you are teaching me?
I am frightened of it,
Stilled, hushed, frightened
You say

I take your hand
And walk you further into the fields
Where are we going
You say

I am taking you deep into your heart
I say
And I stop
Are you afraid to go?

You turn, hesitate
Let’s go
You say

We walk toward the horizon
Toward the line that tops the wheat,
The line that runs all the way
From your left to my right

The sky is free
Of clouds
But just at that far point, the horizon
Something is forming

A dark mass
A monster brooding
Stretching up from the ground
Or down from the sky

Twisting toward us
You are not afraid
You hold my hand tighter
As if to keep me down

But I break free
I start running
You chase me
The wind pulls at your hair

We move toward a horizon,
Now black, a sky that is black
The sounds of the wind
Whip through my hair, my ears

You race ahead of me
I imagine you, now dark and virile
Pressing into the black horizon
Moving toward a delicate entry

I imagine you to say
As you merge with the fine line,
Is this my heart?
Did you take me deep into my heart?

I cannot respond
I have stopped
And am now only watching
What I see is the remnants

Of your body
Shooting up into the cyclone
Rising toward the zenith
Of this black inverted mountain

I can see you no more
Yet I hear your voice, like rain
It falls as if from miles and miles
Of sky

—Susan E. Briggs

Out of the Earth

I’m not prepared for your coming
She said, she who could not move beyond the walls of her house
He knew what to do
And bought a long rubber hose

That he attached to the spigot
At the side of the house,
Brushed away the cobwebs
And sent the water full blast

Into her garden,
Washed up the earthworms
From just below the surface
Of the ground,

Showered the tomatoes,
Bright and red
Plump, juicy, splitting open
With their pulp,

Dressed down the fancy fruit trees
That sat in the corner
Of the garden
By the fence

Dressed down their fanciness
Their fruitiness
Until they were simply
Trees that would yet bear heavenly delectables

He knew what to do
He turned the water off
Lay the hose down, gently
In the dirt

He walked into the garden
Touching everything
Feeling the full summer squash
As it melted like butter in the sun

He wiped the water droplets
From a single leaf of lettuce
And licked it
Until it was completely in his mouth
He didn’t chew the lettuce

He simply swallowed
And its long, crisp wisps of green
Traveled down to his stomach

And were digested.
He knew what to do
He wound the rubber hose into a coil
And placed it by the spigot at the side of the house

He walked over to the window
Of her house
Called her name
And she came

She looked upon her wet, dripping
And smiled
She reached for his hand through the open window

Their palms pressed together
She knew what to do
She pulled him in through the window
And he knelt at her feet in her living room made brilliant by the sun

She said the only thing
She could think of to say,
“Thank you for watering my garden.
I would have had to wait for the rain.”

—Susan E. Briggs

Out There on the Street Corner

You think I can’t hear you?
You, shouting at the street corner
Shouting at nothing
Nothing out there

What do you want?
Come back inside
Where were we
Before you lost your mind?

Yes, come here, will you?
Sit down on the bed again
Hold your hand down
With the other hand

That’s it
Keep yourself calm
It’s not worth
Getting upset about

Whatever it is
Or was
Whatever is causing your blood to boil
I’ll stay with you, just relax

Where were we?
Oh, yes
I was telling you about something
A story

It all started when
Are you listening?
This is a story about me
About my life

Listen to me
Where are you going?
Oh, not that again
What do you see out there that needs shouting at?

Calm down, please
All right
Let’s talk about something else
Something that interests you

I’m sure there’s something that interests you
Something small
Something quiet, manageable
I don’t doubt you have some interest

Come on, we’ve been so close
Why are you pulling away?
Let’s lie down on the bed together
Hold each other gently

There, that’s nice
Don’t you wish we could stay like this always?
Here, put your hand here
Hold it there

That feels good
I wish you’d do that more often
How do you feel now?
Listen, you sound like you’re almost purring

Hey what was that shouting all about, anyway?
There’s no one out there, is there?
Out there on the street corner?
No, I didn’t think so.

—Susan E. Briggs


In a green pasture high on a hill
Full of flowers
Sat you and I, romancing,
Pretending to be one.

The goats and sheep flocked round us
And bleated as they would;
The essence of our love
Sailed down the hill for water

And we were left, together, alone,
But in one piece
And we continued to talk,
Learning our own minds.

The wine we drank was an elixir
Prepared by nymphs,
And we devoured ambrosia
Like gods.

Not only were we soon sated,
But we felt wonderfully
Weary and leaned against
Each other and slept

Until the high noon sun
Beat down upon our chests
And we awoke to the sound
Of whispering grass

Nestling into the breeze
And the sound of love’s essence
Up the hill,

Bringing us water.

—Susan E. Briggs

That’s All

Don’t take yourself so seriously
There are other more important things in life
Many of us have nothing

You are starved emotionally
We are starving
Have you got a piece of bread, some bread?

Don’t we haunt your dreams?
Don’t we come at you in the night?
Haven’t we left a mark on your consciousness?

Perhaps we’re too far from you
You can’t hear us
Perhaps your ears have been removed from your head

But we are here
We are alive, barely
We certainly know who you are

You are the one who’s misplaced her soul
Or held on to it so tight
It has withered and died in your arms

Feed us, the lost forgotten ones
We are your neighbors, your family, your friends
Some of us need food, some only the breath from your open mouth

That’s all
Let go and give
The rewards will be multitudinous

Oh, but you are afraid
Afraid to release yourself from yourself
We understand

We can only suggest
That everything lies within your reach
Everything is possible

We are not pessimists
Though downtrodden, we have hope
Give us this day our daily bread

We are certain you hear us now
That look in your eye foretells a change
Are you changing?

One word, one whisper in our ear
Just let us know you’re alive
That’s all

We’ve been worried about you
We’ve watched you work those long nights
Buried in unimportant things

None of what you do is important
None of it
Remember that.

—Susan E. Briggs

The City Folk See Trinidad

The drive from Arcata was cool and damp,
The road bordered by salt flats
And pines, variously, but when we saw
The big boulder and turned right
Everything changed, there was a scent of
The sea in the air, and we achieved
The hill surrounded by cypress and
Rounded the turn into town, into Trinidad.

A small school greeted our entrance
Into this place, and then
A quaint cafe, populated
By lumberjacks and neighboring people,
But when we reached the end of town
There was nothing but beauty, a sea
As calm and welcoming, as deep
Blue-green and pure as the sky,
And the emeralds of islands, huge foliated
Rocks driven deep into the crust of the earth.

We drove down to the water’s edge
And got out of our car and began
To walk, and we walked onto
The nearest rock of an island, connected
To the shore, and skirted around to its other side
And there we could see clearly
The expanse of ocean laid out
Before us, millions of gold pieces
Swimming on its surface, for the sun
Was kissing the water and leaving
This wealth behind.

We wanted to know who lived here,
Who called this place home,
And then we wanted to look upon
Them and touch their faces and hands,
And see if we could glean any new light
From their visages, but the few people
Gathered at the quaint cafe were
Steady in their gazes and fixed on
A certainty of chopping down trees,
Or milking cows, or working
In the lumber mill in Eureka
A few miles to the south.

We wanted to buy this place,
To purchase it outright, and perhaps
Transport it to the City where
It was most needed, but instead
We sat on a bench at the top
Of the hill overlooking the bay
And memorized the image of tiny
Specks of sailboats and other small craft
Gathered in clusters at the base
Of the cliff, on the water,
The blue-green water, so deep, rich,
And unfathomable that we felt
Ourselves drawn into it and imagined
Ourselves as fish, closed in on all
Sides by the soundless sound of water
Surrounding us.

—Susan E. Briggs


I’ve been there
Who hasn’t?
Maybe some
I’ve felt that vagabond feeling

I’ve let loose my hair
Torn off my shoes
Run screaming into the night
Until sanity stopped me cold

I’ve flirted with a desire for wandering,
Ran away for a day
Certain I would never return
Then was suddenly fearful of the new friends I’d made

There’s no limit out there
Nothing to stop you
From not making it
Except death, but then you’ve made it

Something wild in my heart
I’ve spent years putting to rest
It lives inside a box somewhere in there
Somewhere in there I don’t know where

I’ve put the wild thing to rest
Can’t find it but I know it’s there
Keeps me breathing, keeps me thinking
Just knowing it’s there keeps me feeling

Sometimes I want to let it out
Search through all those empty boxes
And find the place in my heart where it lives
Then let it spring

Summer, winter or fall
You know you’ve got a friend
A friend in the spirit of anarchy
You’ve got to hang on and ride it

You’ve got to make it a part of your spirit
Of the passion in your heart
It’ll drive you to the beauty
Of knowing nothing at all
It will make you let go of your nature,

Your human nature, your humanity
And then you will be circling the stars,
The sun the earth the moon with no wish to come down

You will find yourself in the dwelling place of God
But, my God, you will not even see Him
He will be too vast
Too horrific

You will close your eyes
And He will envelop you like a cool wind
You will feel suspended
You will want to die so that
He will never let you go

But you go on living
And He deposits you once again at your station on earth
You go back to your job,
Your familiar sanity

Everything you know seems comfortable, safe secure
Everything you know you find revolting
You can’t bring the wild thing to its knees,
Ask it to crawl back into its box

You’ve let it out
And you can’t live with it
There is no room in your house for this thing
This thing is as big as a house

It expands
It takes on huge proportions
It fills all of you
Then reaches beyond you to find the next thing.

You are not safe from it anywhere
Your only hope is to embrace it utterly
Welcome it into your home, your bed
Let it play with your children

Let it become a part of you
There is no choice
The box in your heart was always too small
For this thing, this thing.

—Susan E. Briggs

Wait Until You’re Tired

Wait until you’re tired
And the moon hangs low
And you think of splitting it in half,
Right down its half-moon center

Wait until you’re tired
To take that first step
Into the nether world you’ve longed for
That place where the half moons dance alone, searching for partners

Wait until you’re tired
To see the fires in the Vulcan hills
The trees bending with the weight
Of lava

Wait until you’re tired
And the day rests its head
In the soft embrace
Of your pillows

Wait until you’re tired,
Until the lava bay created in the distance
Flows down and surrounds your house
And cooks your ants alive

Wait until you’re tired
And the half-moon glow shines in
Through a crack in the blinds
You’ve just drawn

Wait until you’re tired
And the red fire from the mountains,
Molten yellow, orange,
Descends upon your house, surrounds it

Wait until you’re tired
And the ground everywhere is hot
And the molten lava catches at the wood
Of your house, a conflagration

Wait until you’re tired
To keep your head firmly in your pillows
And close your eyes
And dream of the light that won’t die

Wait until you’re tired
And hold onto a memory,
A memory of a time like this
Somewhere in your past.

Wait until you’re tired
And the fire is raging through the walls
Above your head,
Then keep your eyes closed

Wait until you’re tired
To open them again on a cool world,
Ice and snow ready for your
Feet to walk upon

Wait until you’re tired
To see a great cold river
Cutting through a vast expanse
Of white

Wait until you’re tired
To fall from your soft pillows
And be caught upon the wings
Of a giant snowbird, heading north

Wait until you’re tired
To hold onto the feathers
Of this bird
And find yourself gently rocked by the motion of its wings

Wait until you’re tired
To let your grip slowly loosen,
Until you let go

Wait until you’re tired
To feel yourself falling
That long, long distance

Wait until you’re tired
To feel yourself crash through the thin ice
Of the river,
Your hands and feet most struck by the cold feel

Wait until you’re tired
To stay underwater
And grasp at nothing
To save your life

Wait until you’re tired
To stop grasping, stop trying
And loosen your hands and feet,
Until your body drifts down

Wait until you’re tired
To give no more thought to survival
Let the water seep through
Your night shirt

Wait until you’re tired
To have no more thought of tomorrow
To breathe water
To swim

Wait until you’re tired
To inhabit this water world
To hold yourself down
To stay

—Susan E. Briggs

Whereupon, a Crab Tries Out for the Circus

My brother is a sea creature,
A porpoise or a seal;
He lives his life in the water
And when he comes up for air he

Tells me I should live
Life to the fullest, tells
Me it’s the only thing to do
When you’re a seal or a porpoise or a whale.

He slips from the water onto dry
Land and slaps his flippers
Together, merrily, but his eyes are so
Mournful, those seal eyes, they

Speak of lives past
When my brother was not so merry or free,
But instead was a crab, like me,
Scuttling across the rocks and

Digging down, deep, deep into the
Sand, digging for some living food,
Some sand gnats or worms for
Dinner. Not very glamorous. Not like

A seal flipping flippers and rolling
Under turbulent waves among algae and
Fish and an occasional shark or electric eel.

I met my brother on an elevator
Once. His seal flaps were flapping,
My crab legs were hanging down to
The carpeted floor. I thought it

Would be a good place to talk.  Not
Too many people. We stood and
Admired one another and praised
Each other briefly on our life accomplishments.

Then he did a hand stand with his tail
In the air and balanced me
On his nose. It was the most
Exhilarating thing I’d ever…

Well, to say the least, it was a
Captivating moment. When he let
Me down I landed gently in the
Corner of the elevator, still a crab,

But now I had a new outlook on
Things, for, being a crab, I had never
Been off the ground before, and I
Sincerely felt that I would like to

Do it again. We left the elevator
Together and headed out to the beach.
He slipped under the waves and I
Stood on one leg and balanced a sand gnat on my nose.

—Susan E. Briggs