Three Poems by Judith H. Montgomery


between Incheon and Jeju, South Korea
April 16, 2014

The shots crack open
on the screen: six teenage boys
brace against an angled floor, arms thrust

for balance at ferry
wall and window, impermeable glass
that cannot be cracked. I can do nothing

but breathe
while the child clicks—clicked—
his phone to photo, snaps his classmate

propped on the sill,
legs blocked against tilt, head
turned as though waiting for their school bus,

late down the road.
Hands stuffed in his pockets,
life-jacket that will offer him nothing inside

the sloping boat. Send.
Another, prone on the raked
floor, lifts his phone to shoot down, past

naked feet,
at crush and clamor—still-
breathing bodies—boys, girls—heaped below.

Go, I want to say,
go. But know they will not.
Did not. They will wait, obeying the captain

who has told them
stay, even as he crouches
to leap from the tipped prow. A blitz

of photos flashes—
flashed—from the foundering
ship, past wavecrest and cloud-burst, bursting

inside innocent
screens at home. Only
imagine how in the next days—for ever

mothers, fathers,
will seek out these images,
magnifying glass fisted tight, not

able to say
for certain whether this
child leaning or bracing is him, her, him,

their last only
look. And to hold at bay what
keeps happening next: the children stopped

in these shots
are about to drown—
already are drowned—even as anyone—

you, me—
pauses on the frame.
I cannot send to erase this boy’s nape, efface

the bent wrist
of that girl, each image a litany
of witness: here am I. Remember me. Us.


What My Mother Has Left

behind—luxuriating beds of Peruvian lilies,
+++alstroemeria, cream and amethyst petals
testimony to her green heart. They bloomed

beneath the windows of the valley home
+++my parents left to move near to kin. To
me. Here to this high dry desert plateau

where such lilies fail to thrive, wincing
+++at zero—where my father unfolds her metal
walker from the trunk and gently steers her

to the plastic tubs in Safeway. She points
+++to a handful of rubber-banded blossoms—
pale pink this week—and he fetches them,

will awkwardly array them in the green
+++vase that anchors their assisted-living rooms.
The new blooms yearn toward window sun,

and the leaves—twisting, leaning for light—
+++pale to yellow as they age. When I knock,
the door’s little blue glass heart quivers

on its nail. My father opens to welcome me
+++into their last home, but before I can bend
to kiss the off-kilter rouge roses on my mother’s

cheek, or praise the new bouquet, she wails,
+++oh I’ve got alstroemeria, and I’m stopped
short by her distress. Alstroemeria, she says,

my mother had it and it’s catching up to me
+++she taps her forehead as though to dislodge
a stuck word. My father and I glance above

+++her head. We catch her twisting diction.



from the ladder,
I focus on balance, not
to lose the point between safe

and fall. But
the phone: I descend, to cradle
the voice of the man I did not marry.

My guilty thumb twists
the platinum band on the hand
that spurned his gold. Yes, I say, and drive

blind to the airport
café, sit across from the body
I once could trace by touch. Tracing,

erasing the ring
my cup leaves on the cool
table’s marble. Births and deaths—his

seeming content—
news masking pulses, artery
to vein and back, at our separated wrists.

Behind his quizzing
eyes, beyond the dazzling
glass, workmen erect in a grassy verge

a great tall Ferris wheel—
they bolt shining gold and scarlet
and sapphire cars in place to make a ring

where couples can strap
themselves together for the ride—
warm thighs touching, dumb hands sweaty

on the bar. When the ring
is packed, the master engineer
will pull the lever, the wheel will pick up

speed, whirling in ripe
air, and the couples’ exultant cries
rise. Dangling, pair on pair, they will ride a kind

of upright ark. And the left
ones, the ones below: they will hold
up their arms. They will tremble in shadow.



Judith H. Montgomery’s poems appear in the Bellingham Review, Cimarron Review, and Prairie Schooner, among other journals, and in a number of anthologies. Her first collection, the chapbook Passion, received the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Her second, Red Jess, a finalist for several first-book competitions, appeared in 2006 from Cherry Grove Collections. Pulse & Constellation, a finalist for the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition, appeared in 2007 from the Press. She is working on two new manuscripts, Litany for Wound and Bloom, and Mutable Flame.