Winifred Hughes


Swimming Lesson

In the shallow end
of the blue pool, I am learning

how to breathe, after years
of suffocating and not

knowing it. I am becoming
reacquainted with the air

as I abandon it,
slip back into a time

when someone else breathed
for me and into me,

breathed form into water
and unfitted it for

water, left me stranded
in the sting of air.

Eye won’t track
the pencil in the doctor’s
hand or on the spread page.
Look where d is tumbling into p,
f and g bait each other
with barbed hooks, look
what means the same
right to left, slantwise, upside
down. How did sounds get
flattened, round world into
black scratches, jugglers’
dropped oranges and apples
still spinning on the blank
sheet, all the pith
pounded out of them,
eye stammering for something
real to look at, hand no
thing to grip. Words dance.
Sith this pot is top, but may
be tub. Toom is moot.
We might not die as
palindrome. So call it
spelling, cast that spell
on the misspoken
ones, some of us born
that way, some
headed there.


behind me, when I walk,
a human figure, fully
spatial, fully dimensional, close
on my heels, grazing
my shoulders, turning when
I turn, backing up
whenever I back into it:
a solid self, but
whose? or when I sit,
enfolding me in my own
arms, or whose arms?
wedged against the back
of the chair: a stalker, duplicate,
conjoined twin, birth
mother? someone I missed or
just recently found:
a tweak of the angular gyrus,
the body’s felt sensation
of hovering, looking down on
itself, on myself,
from above: then who is looking,
who is feeling, is the body
a sensation of the brain,
how many bodies am I
inhabiting, am I running away from,
which of us is duped?

Cold Mountain
(“Han Shan,” c. 7th-9th centuries)

Living on the mountaintop alone,
he took its name and gave it

voice – whole poems would appear
on rocks and tree trunks.

He had abandoned level ground,
forgotten what it was to be

warm enough or down-to-earth,
to think small amid vastness.

The mountain did not need him,
it was perfectly cold, that’s why

he stayed, surrounded by thick
mists he didn’t want to see through,

wandering pathless in wooden
sandals, a tattered mound of rags,

until at last he could no longer tell
his own mind from the mountain’s.

When a crevice opened, the man
fell in, vanished into mountainside.

Winifred Hughes is a writer and editor living in Princeton, NJ. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Dalhousie Review, Larcom Review, and The Literary Review, among other journals. New work is currently out in Ars Interpres, Atlanta Review, and Kelsey Review. A long-time member of U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative, she is the recipient of a 2007 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Published in: on April 3, 2007 at 9:13 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Winnie: Way to go, gal! I enjoyed reading your poems on-line! Are you getting snow in Princeton? It’s coming steadily down here this afternoon (4: pm onward). Can it be April? Yes, fickle April! Norma in Maine

  2. The poem about dyslexia is amazing. I am printing it out for my nephew who has battled this his whole life.

    Great poetry on this blog.

  3. Winnie,
    These are remarkable poems, require repeated readings on my part.These reveal a very different style and substance than the ones you read in US1 workshops when I was there.I find these accessible, emotionally sensitive and intellectually challenging. Congratulations. Shanti

  4. Winne~

    Thank you for sharing your soul with me…an afternoon refreshment…what a treat to hear you recite your heartfelt poetry.


  5. logos in poetry is not a gift or an anathema. the gifted will be the children, the
    favor of the gods. thank you you are a favor of the muse.

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