By Sharon Whitehill

Humors of Strangers

One smile begets another; one kind gesture invites another. –Kathleen Parker


In the grocery-store parking lot,
road empty of traffic, 
a half-minute dash to the recycling bins 
with my car left to idle 

as a shiny Lincoln rolls up behind 
and waits rather than circling around.
You’re blocking a traffic lane, snaps the driver,
glaring at me with Rasputin eyes.

A civil response to his blustering tone,
apologizing for the annoyance,
sparks an explosion: Get out of here!
Repeated, screaming.

Get out! Get out! Go away! Go away!
Like Richard the Third shouting 
Off with his head from the Tower:
the fury of an impotent king. 


Everybody in Starbucks looks happy: 
the freckled barista taking my order,
the line of workers pulling espresso 
and steaming the milk, 
even the handful who service the drive-through.
A vortex of forest-green aprons:
liquid chlorophyll swirled in water,
everyone pleased to be part of the dance.

I remark on the ambient mood
to the woman calling out names on the orders.
I have a good team, she agrees, 
smartly snapping the lid on my cup.


Sipping our tall cappuccinos, 
my sister speaks of the stressed woman 
who mistakenly bashed her Walmart cart 
into the bench where my sister sat.
A startling BANG of metal on metal.

My sister’s quick reassurance—
I’m not hurt, it’s okay—
kindled relief in the woman’s eyes 
as a stern husband hustled her off.

How governed we are  
by the humors of strangers,
where simple compassion can solace, 
and rancor can taint the whole day.

Angel Hair

A translucent white web
draped on the Christmas tree,
clouds of it veiling the lights	

to give it a heavenly glow:
its angelic name in perfect accord
with its delicate shimmer.

I yearn to array myself 
in the satiny strands
of its lush silken swirl,

clothe my skin with a cape		
of its candy-floss fluff,
weave a mantilla to curtain my head.  

Until the lovely long hank 
I tweak from the tree
itches and burns on my skin

as if spiked with stinging nettles.
No benediction in water and soap
from the fine threads of glass

that lodge in my flesh. 
No relief from the unholy locks 
of a tormenting hair shirt.

Another Trip to the Credit Union

Week after week,
in the turbulent months since you died,
I drive to the credit union alone
for help from the women who knew you
to manage the change from a joint-account “us”    
to a one-account “me.”

And today here comes Ann, 
whom I haven’t yet met.
I watch as she taps her computer, 
finds you still on the account.
Oh! Mr. Meloy! 
Widened eyes, rueful tilt of the head,
hard swallow under her pandemic mask.
I always waited on him.
He was always so friendly! 

Her words are like a sharp lightning strike. 
And in the flash you are there,  
your big personality filling the room: 
your warm smile and jocund inflections 
so winningly matched to your bearded good looks.

Driving home in the Florida sun 
a mist covers my eyes,
condenses to grief’s acid rain.  


Breasts. I wanted to have them so much
that I filched from a visitor’s suitcase
a pair of foam-rubber falsies.

Pinning them inside my blue Lycra swimsuit,
my back to my mother to hide 
the sudden twin bulges under my shirt,

I left for the beach with a friend,
sat for a while on the sandbar,
lapped by the summer-warm waves.

Near the perch of the good-looking lifeguard,
aware of his gaze as I got to my feet, 
I tugged down the back of my suit 

and pulled up the straps at my chest—
which carried my pointy new breasts 
nearly up to my neck.

Suddenly knowing myself as outlandish 
as a frilled lizard in courtship display,
I plunged into in the lake, 

unpinned the falsies under cover of water,
gave them up to the face-cooling waves 
that would carry me far down the shore.

Channeling Aphrodite

I am a goddess.
No law or religion has ever withstood me.
As true on earth as it is on Olympus.

Not my lovers—Adonis, gored by a boar, 
Anchises, crippled by Zeus.  
Not Helen, whose beauty inspired 
thousands of men to make war.
Not my latter-day incarnation
in your brilliant new icon 

with the breathy voice, beauty mark, 
blonde hair tousled over one eye.   
No way to conceal or confine it,
her being my devotee.
Sexuality radiates from her
as light spectrums a star.

One a.m. in New York,
chaos of cameras and press corps,
bystanders gathered to gawk,
as this gleaming girl struggles 
to tamp down her billowing skirt
when trains breeze beneath.

They call her a goddess,
make her their subway-grate Venus,
but there’s no hubris in her.
She is only too human and knows it.
For all her shimmer and blaze
she is tender of heart.

Nor do I strike her down
as I do those who scorn love,
those who choose chastity over me. 
She is an acolyte at my temple,
yields to me, the goddess of passion.

Heed, mortal. Concede or resist,
I will prevail either way.
I am elemental.

Dark Ages Redux

Leaders mimic Apollo,
guide arrows feathered with lies
toward each vulnerable heel,
pierce the tendon of critical thought. 

The tongue of science is severed.
Fires chew forests to charcoal
while hurricanes ball up their fists.
Crops shrivel while islands drown.

Disease shadows the land
like a latter-day Grendel,
as soldiers and thanes
drink the king’s health in the mead-hall.

A serpent that swallows its tail:
the symbol of rebirth distorted 
to a body politic gorging on lies
and eating itself to political death.

Desert Daughter

I am grieving again
for my misguided girl 	
in the desert 
waiting for rain 
parched for pleasure
thirsting for green

I grieve for her beautiful mind
starved of savor
fed by conspiracy theories
she follows through badlands
dropped breadcrumbs 
flimsy as wafers
that mock holy bread

If I could dip from the spring 
of ancestral joy 
that wells up unbidden in me
but I failed to transmit 
I would pour it 
over her dryness
to bless and refresh her


He’s not very deep, says my daughter
of my ex-husband, her dad. 
She refers to how he handles disputes:
dummies up and departs. 
An ostrich, I railed when we were married,
convinced that only his stubbornness 
kept us from plumbing our depths.
To which his standard line:
You just have to put it behind you. 

As if psychic pain were no more 
than the tight-wound rubber bands 
in a golf ball sunk in a lake.

As if wounds were a cask
so brimful of blight that one flaw in the seal
would unloose a plague.

As if grief were monstrous as Grendel,
stalking the mead hall
in order to eat him alive

Males and females alike look askance
at a man who surrenders to tears,
no less so than he, my ex-husband, himself.
At those funerals—the SIDs-death nephew, 
the favorite brother, our mutual friend—
he was publicly wracked
by his gulping, audible, baritone sobs. 

Emotions too long denied 
rupture propulsive as aortic blood.

Grand Haven Beach, Michigan

spring’s a tigress of ice
who stalks the coast
gnaws on saber-toothed dune grass 
when the winds threaten warmth 
slinks back to her den

summer’s a queen 
robed in Coppertone, hot dogs, wet sand
who frequently orders an army 
of white-crested waves
to advance on the shore

autumn’s a woman alone 
honed to her quintessence
who savors each brilliant gold day
ignores the beachcombers
and glories in pleasing herself

winter’s a sculptor  
of ice-and-sand caverns
hung with stalactites
embossing her mark
on a monochrome moonscape: 

one iconic red lighthouse
against blaze-blue skies 
and stark whiteness of snow


whorls in a thumbprint
the ripple of ribs under skin
the furred ridges of corduroy wales 
furrows in a tilled field

frilling the gills of a mushroom
ribbing the rim of a dime
leaving a V in the wake of a swan  
or quilting the creases in snow

algae that buffers the windward side of a reef
to screen the sensitive coral 
as hair shields a head
as the skull shelters a brain

itself folded and grooved 
around the hippocampus 
or seahorse, whose delicate carapace 
crinkles with fused bony plates

Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, Whitehill’s publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a full collection of poems. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s