The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Susan Elbe



Mine is flinty at best, a fire struck with stone and char.

Cluttered with the junk

                                of music and metaphor,

                                                     it sometimes moves

 through me brumal and wracked.



When it's gone, I grow foot-sore from pacing,

            hand-wrung, nail-bitten

                      with fear it will never come back.


: :


But then, it does with its yes and now, bringing both


the tiny storms of summer—


                       the deep after-rain smell of earth—


and the sorry news of the world,


all of it sweeping toward me from a great far away.


: :


I hold out my hands for its must-have grace.


: :


Put in motion under a weld of stars

when good times are scarce,


it comes as a bridge I am called to cross,

                      cables harping in the wind,


the Milky Way falling toward me but not quite.


: :


Never the same, it comes back.

                     I put my hand into its fire

                                until there's no more pain,


nothing left

            but clean white bones


and my mouth


                                something like prayer.



Susan Elbe

Song for My Winter Self


I swear to you the sound

            of ice shoves

                       collapsing in the bay

                                 is in my DNA.


What the ice knows, I know,

            how to be raw,

                       how to sing as I break.


: :


 I'd sing you another song, if I could

but I grow tired easily

of honeysuckle and humidity.


: :


My sorrow is the sorrow of women

and it is North.


In this burning world, love is

difficult if not impossible

                       and ice makes us burn.


We are harrowed

            by blizzard,

                      dark rift,



by the moon, that cold cup

            clattering against

                       the heart's prison.


: :


Oldtimers say the bay has to steam

three times before it freezes.

How many times can the heart

                                steam before it ices over?


: :


I have always looked for God in snow


because everything I love

           tracks through this latitude,

                     snaggled with wolf and wariness.


I know every hunter loves winter,

            the easy tracking,

                      the lastness of it.


: :


And though I am drifting toward a darker dark,

            I keep my hand on the pole star.

                       I feed the white bear,


perform the necessary magic,

            sing out to call back

                       the farther ghost of time.


: :


My winter is the winter of women.


Wet wool smells of something wild

           crashing through the night,

                      the milk's skim of cream freezes,

                                 salt rusts everything.




SUSAN ELBE is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the Jacar Press 2014 Julie Suk prize for the best book of poetry published by an independent press in 2013. She has one other full-length collection, Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry), as well as two chapbooks, Where Good Swimmers Drown, winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Press Chapbook Prize, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary journals, including Blackbird, Diode, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and online at Verse Daily. She has previously served on the Council for Wisconsin Writers Board of Directors and on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You can learn more about her at



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