By Joe Welch


It travels on my left shoulder 
With the grip of a stolid black crow. 
Sharp talons press through the cloth 
Digging into my skin. 
Is this my imagination? 
I look as easily to the left as to my right. 
For now I will look to my right. 
I am searching for a heavy bundle to shoulder, 
Tied loosely by my imagination. 
High in a tree is the shape of a crow. 
Below sounds the flapping of a skin 
Hanging from a branch like damp cloth. 
The bundle is tied loosely with strips of damp cloth; 
More unbroken branches lie piled to the right. 
The mist has begun to bead up on my skin. 
As I raise the bundle of sticks to my shoulder 
The cry of a crow 
Chills the imagination. 
This cautious imagination 
It has drawn close as swaddling cloth, 
Impenetrable to any crow. 
My sudden relief does not seem right. 
Dropping the bundle from my shoulder 
I stand with closed eyes, shivering as if to shed a skin. 
Only the body, the skin 
Should pretend to imagination. 
Fields of sensation bloom between feet and shoulder. 
The head is borne like a bag of cloth; 
It cannot make things right. 
Only my throat betrays me, filling with bitterness as with a flock of crows.


If I pull out all my pockets, all I can 
put on the table is a few moments - 
voices under the moon in the mountains 
above Santa Barbara, my love in red 
panties, telling me a secret, a road, 
a morning, sun, rain. Yet sometimes I 
feel as if I will never stop pulling 
from these pockets, as if it is my body 
that is these moments, and when the 
pockets are actually empty, it will 
be me sitting on that table, only 
better, purely composed from all 
That I thought was random. 

Jesus Today

At the grocery store he speaks kind words. 
She notices his politeness. 
On the crowded train, he graciously gives someone his seat. 
When asked a question, his answer 
Drifts up like blue smoke, signifying 
Something she remembers later, when lighting the candles. 
He never mentions his Father. 
Scolds no one, instructs no one. 
Above the skyscrapers, a ring-shaped rainbow glows, 
Encircling clear sky, 
Hanging like a gateway 
Touching down nowhere. 
On the street below, two lovers stop. 
Their anger falls away: 
Each remembers the first sighting of the other. 
An old woman watches from above, hand hesitating 
At the window blind, light 
Kissing the broken sofa where she slept. 
A sip of water opens brightly in her mouth. 
Waiting at the door, he takes her hand, helps her down the stairs. 
A small joke, some encouragement, light and easy in his walk. 
Forgiveness spreads from all he is and does. This time 
No one kills him. 
This time 
No one is sure who he is. 

Joe Welch’s writing is influenced by Buddhist principles. He’s an intellectual property lawyer in Chicago who only recently began submitting his poetry again, after being published by the Harvard Advocate and padran aram while in his 20s. He taught IP law at Northwestern’s law school for more than 20 years, and co-authored a treatise and a popular textbook. These days he is writing poetry full-time.

One thought on “Penumbra and Other Poems

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