Three Poems by Catherine Zickgraf

Bathers by Maurice Golubov


It’s the middle of the night again
when prisoners around me
wrestle themselves down into restless sleep,
when grown men’s eyes leak secret tears
that puddle on the polyurethane,
on mattresses labeled tear resistant
—or maybe it’s pronounced teer resistant. . .
And some men unconsciously clench their limbs
into fetal position as self-protection—
instinctually returning back to the womb,
back to before it all went wrong.

Mom writes me letters faithfully.
She says in her sleep she’s crocheting me
afghans to keep me warm in my bunk.
But I sleep instead in a drawer of a morgue
stuffed and stacked with living men,
half-frozen specimens whose hearts
are slowed at night for security.

Still she weaves each stitch
from her womb’s ligaments
that once held me under her ribs.
She laces in veins that run through her fingers
so her hands can surround me again.

Like my mother, I dream in color and dimension,
so I can see her cushioned there in her chair
where she hooks together the textures of home—
looping bows from yarn into rows
of her burgundy rug and chocolate sofa,
twisted with strips of our lit Christmas tree,
jeweled this December in its usual corner.

She comes with the moon to tuck me in
through my window’s own slice of sky.
And she’ll tell you we all need color to thrive,
that every color is her favorite.
She’ll tell you we all need nurture to thrive—
but thriving is against regulation.

She says in her dreams when she sees me shake
she unfolds over me her afghans.
Yet I never mention I shake at night—
how I scream into my pillow’s thinness,
how in my cot, I’m cold through my bones,
through holes in my piece of prison grey wool,
like a skeleton stretched with a fraying skin.

The rhythm of daylight can distract me from thought,
from the decaying corpse of my soul’s slow rot.
But at night in the darkness of deprivation,
alone in my head, I shiver in bed
and forget it’s better not to feel
since I promised my mother—I promised myself:
though I’m caged, I won’t change to an animal.
They have stripped away all my choices,
bunkered me down in a concrete coffin.
But in my dreams, I’m still three
and need my mom to keep me warm.
So she holds me here in the heat of her heart,
treasuring her child like a precious stone.
My mother has followed me down to Hell.
There she has made her home



War Return

She’s mentally moving him in, refreshing
the drawer of cotton undershirts, stacking
his tees in rectangles, ironing polo collars.

His irises will glow again as sapphire and
jade waves of shirts layering the marriage
quilt. She’s moving over, moving over to
her own side of the bed. They’ll fuse their
divided ship, co-captain it. Yet she’s been
steering without him around iceberg teeth,
her sweet boys clicked into their car seats.

Steadying their rudder against a profound
blindness, snow blowing over onyx water
to sky, she holds hope he’ll return as kids
waive their flags. She passes night to day
praying they both awake to more sunrises
together before entering Heaven’s forever.
They are ringed lovers, joined from inside.




His watch winds out, as prophesied,
as earth’s rotation slows with time.

Her pines inhale when spirits flee,
when corpses are prayed over then tucked in.
The boys are grown, their toys passed down,
their balanced tops have exhausted their spin.

As seconds drip into centuries,
each drop floods the graveyard, plots float away.
Still her antique dial keeps seeking the channel
where choir angels sing:

Your spiral stairs around my mind,
your stairs by twos, your years are mine.
My lover, we are ringed,
we are joined from inside.

She tends daisies at his grave
in her dreams—till her time.



Catherine Zickgraf performed her poetry in Madrid, San Juan and three dozen other cities. But she’s differently-abled now—walking with a cane and flying in her sleep—so her main jobs are to hang out with her family and write more poetry.

Watch/read her at and run/jump while you are able.


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