“THERE’S NO THROUGH TRAIL” —HAN-SHAN, TRANSLATED BY GARY SNYDER
/ A Vatican of Cardinals Visits on Mother’s Day

A Vatican of Cardinals Visits on Mother’s Day

by Jen Karetnick

A reverse abecedarian terza rima

Zig-zagging from orchids to bougainvillea,
young cardinals chase each other over the pool,
x-pollinating the water with a spectrum of 

wonder, waste, or violence, depending on your schooled
view, petals so cleanly severed it’s as if they were sliced
under the blade of a guillotine. Taut with newfound skill,

they clothesline after their parents who spice
sessions of exercise with all 28 of their sounds,
regaling their prowess with every fresh race.

Quelled, we human dames and sires take to ground,
protect ourselves from such cherried joy.
Our obligations bind us like earthbound

nematodes, looking for a meal of army
moth larvae, although we are hardly beneficial bugs. 
Living long past the ease of flight, we will be

kept around too long, like bottles and bags that need
justifying for expensive recycling. Crossing realms
into the physical world where the barrier sags,

here in these feathers it is said spirits find homes.
Groups of cardinals represent a windfall of luck,
family from former lives, winged crimson totems,

energy brokers. All are guides of light that crack
divine timelines or, master manifestors, those
creasing your path means someone has your back. 

Believe. Believe. Believe, they hymn, their bodies
armed with God-whistles calling out the worst or best in us.

Jen Karetnick

About Jen Karetnick

The winner of the 2022 Cider Press Review Book Award for Inheritance with a High Error Rate (forthcoming), Jen Karetnick (she/her) is the author of 10 additional poetry collections, including the chapbook What Forges Us Steel: The Judge Judy Poems (Alternating Current Press, forthcoming) and the 2021 CIPA EVVY Gold Medal winner The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, 2020). Her work has won the Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry, Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition, Hart Crane Memorial Prize, and Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, among other honors, and received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Wildacres Retreat, Artists in Residence in the Everglades, Maryland Transit Administration, and elsewhere. The co-founder/managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, she has recent or forthcoming work in The American Poetry Review, Missouri Review Poem of the Day, Notre Dame Review, South Dakota Review, and Tar River Poetry. See jkaretnick.com.

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