The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Susan Elbe

Beneath Constellations Never Seen

                                         pastiche of lines from Herman Melville's Moby Dick 


Grope down into the bottom,

among the unspeakable

foundations. This is a fearful thing.


Fat-kettles, steelkilt rose, rumors

and portents in the forehead's

wrinkles trace the antlered thoughts,


all good angels mobbing thee

with warnings. Round the windlass,

those tiger yellow creatures


crack all your backbones, and bite

your knives in two, take away

the tied tendons, dangerous liabilities,


the monkey-rope. Pray heaven

the tackles may hold. Fish up this

old mast, so ancient, and corroded,


and weedy. Along the leeward land,

hissing around with such madness,

witcheries of that unwaning weather.


The streets do not run with milk.

Against the still bluer margin of the sky,

the face of all the glad, hay-making suns,


this old skull cracks so, like a glass.

How can the prisoner reach outside

except by thrusting through the wall?




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, and Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry, 2007), as well as two chapbooks, Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press, 2012), winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Chapbook prize, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary journals and anthologies, including Blackbird, diode, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, online at Verse Daily, Watching the Perseids: The Backwaters Press 20th Anniversary Anthology (The Backwaters Press, 2017), and New Poetry from the Midwest (New American Press). Susan 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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