Alisa Partlan

Things that shouldn’t be beautiful but are

People lounging on fenceposts
The tinkle of glass shards in the East River
Tears rolling down a face
Picked-off skin close-up
Burned buildings
Crowdfunding campaigns
(Basic human kindness in a deeply cruel world)
Repeating the group photo to get it just-so
Jet trails
Dying leaves
Empty bottles
(The way you said it was over)
A line of traffic down Third Ave
The smell of tobacco on a cool night
Oil slicks
Dim photos
(The way you came back)



They tell us love means butterflies,
Impassioned vows to stay!

Caught eyes across a crowded room,
Let lovers not delay.

But what if, once the party’s done,
The love is what remains?

Us, rinsing plastic solo cups,
As music fades away.

And “How’s your heart?” and “Are you sure
That everything’s okay?”

Or “stay here so you’ll get more sleep.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”

See, that’s the kind of love that fills,
As planters fill with rain,

And nurtures roots of tender shoots
Toward life’s eternal May.

So come here, love, and grow with me,
Beneath soft skies of gray.

The seeds are there; we’ve time to spare.
Love blossoms where we lay.



Black-capped Chickadee

The black-capped chickadee
Sings only


One interval to pierce
The morning,

Pulling breath behind—
Arrows trailing errant feathers


Through the sky.
His call patient in its urgency,


As though all mornings
Could be like this:

A chorus of jubilant trills.
Like he’d never seen feathers


Or tread marks
On a wing.



How it feels
To sound like home.

Do you come home to
Your own voice at


Every morn?
Or have you


Never left?

Candle Flame

It dances coyly
As though clay could contain it.

As if anything could contain it,
Should it leap itself free!

For now, content,
It wiggles and cavorts,

Shooting wisps of exertion
Into thinning air.


And releasing.

A small, quiet chaos
Unfurling itself.



Today, the leaves rattle on dark, stark branches—

Thin tendrils reaching,
Wishing to be mycelia,

Dropping brittle stems, one by one,
Into bitter winds.

Today the sun is bright and empty,
Glaring without warmth.

The cold seeps in
Through every crack and crevice.

Does the gaily trimmed spruce
Feel less the frost?

Spring lies just beyond
This quiet death rattle, I know.

But today it shakes me, too.

Counting brittle leaves,
Tattered trimmings on desolate ground.



In my dream you created a new shade of blue.
Turquoise—jade?—tinged with purple, pink,
a percolating warmth.
The most radiant color I’d ever seen.

In the night you created an imprint: your amber face half-lit,
your voice alongside mine in the shivery chill.

In my ears you created a song,
one I rarely can remember, nowadays,
so I find myself collecting songs about blue.

None of them capture your hue.
I cannot recall your garnet laugh.

In me you created a new shade of blue,
all tangled up with pinks and purples and greens,
a color I’ve spent years trying to name.

But water is only blue if the eye sees sky.

How could I name an absence?
By its half-remembered outline?

In my dreams you are no longer you,
Just a sky-thing dyed my favorite shade.



There’s something about the spiderweb
That catches my arm each day
At the front gate.

A thought for the spider who spins it
Again and again
Across the same expanse.

There’s something in this dance we do.

She spins.
I step.
We twirl.

Each night she restrings her gentle instrument.

How optimistic she must be,
To think I won’t return.

I wish I could think so, too.

Still, there’s something about the way
She threads the silk
Again, and again, and again.



Washing the linens:
Your scent replaced with Tide,
Towel folded and tucked away;

Smashing the phone:
Wires and circuits
Crunching on concrete;

A good solid scream:
I haven’t had one in years;

The long-day cry:
Siphoning tears until empty;

The silence of finality;
The finality of silence;


The perfect song;
The tightest hug;
Forbidden words;
The secret poem;

The gushing rain;
The breaking day;
The longest walk;
Returning home.