(for Mary)


What will you tell Kerstin now, teaching

her the ABCs, about the big C, how

mommy may not be around to spell things out

for her when she gets older? You’re right.

It’s not fair. Even if they’ve caught it

in time and the loss of a little finger

proves the cure, you’ll live in fear

the rest of your life. That isn’t fair.

No one deserves it. Least of all, you.

All you’ve ever sought is comfort

in this life, and, while that

hasn’t come easily, you were beginning

to understand what it’s like.

Now, even given you’ll live to 70

or 80, there’s a new shadow to haunt you,

a new alphabet to learn.

Ectropis Crepuscularia

(Small engrailed moth)



A small, delicate moth flutters against the multi-paned window

and lands, flutters and lands on the window

next to my chair in the restaurant as we eat


a late lunch. Its wings bear a pattern intricate as finest lace,

so fine it appears as if it has just been created

by the hands of a master, and it wants to be out


where the trees and reeds, pine needles and pond

lie down a hill beyond the window blocking its way.

The whole time I am eating I ponder the moth, how


it will die trapped as it is, its beauty wasted at the window,

and I decide to try to cup it in my hands and carry it out.

I coax it with difficulty onto one hand and carefully cage it


with the other to carry it to the front steps of the restaurant

where I open my hands to joyfully watch it flutter away free

only to find it crushed and lifeless and stuck to my skin.

North Lake



I remember the shape of the shore

where I stood as a young child

and looked into the shallow cove

where a pickerel hung suspended


in clear, shaded water. The shore,

moss-covered and green, and small cove

were in shadow from tall hemlocks.

There were a few lily pads in the water


and rocks on the bottom. Now the shore

and pickerel hang suspended in memory

of the moments I stood near the water

gathering them from all the rest so if


I ever come across that stretch of shore

again I will instantly recognize it, the cove

unique, nowhere else with just that water:

a puzzle piece will snap snugly into place.

Matthew J. Spireng’s most recent book is What Focus Is (2011, Word Press). His book Out of Body won the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award and was published in 2006 by Bluestem Press at Emporia State University. His poems have appeared in publications across the United States including North American Review, Poet Lore and Louisiana Literature.