Performance Poetry by Catherine Zickgraf


Stark of stars, the ceiling swelled when we

gathered where she lay, pink-suited, asleep,

whom we’d elevate to the vinyl eaves.

Then we headed south with tears in our mouths.


Mom gave Grandmom a baby girl

to grow in her lap and nap in her gowns.

We’d walk to town by the railroad tracks

where ghost trains still whistle out back.


Last year, as she plattered up deer for her family,

I dragged spare chairs from the webs of spare rooms.

Her sons and their sons centered the table,

those hunters teething at bones wet with meat.


She stored dimes for the times a son mowed her hill,

his own stubborn heart repeating with hers.

Where are her knotted telephone lines?

I need her to nuzzle the children I’ll birth.


Asking admits I don’t know the answer.

Even in dreams every clock has its place—

all laid one by one where the roots of her oak

suspend them in the space of her ocean of earth.


Back in college, Nikie gifted me her treasure:

her paisley polyester blouse

patterned with red-green figures like figs.


Some nights, headed home from the library,

I’d weave my arms through its sleeves,

leaving behind books to tour the trees,

lime green in the lights

lining paths around Lake Osceola.

Ageless angels smoothed the way

as I wandered the cornerless nursery.


That shirt was magic.  Complex lines and lives

snaked together geometric necks,

twisted slithering vines around each other.

I tried to follow the map they made,

searching for the end of forever.


I wore it warming up in ballet.

Then traveling home across violin fields,

I’d tendu pointed toes through notes like doorways.

I’d pique between clefs, end my dance in releve

though those strings to this day still play in the grass.


And some nights, Nikie and I

would climb pebble roofs to look down on our lives.

The clouds blanketing the sky sprayed rain

warm on our hair as the summer sun,

dripping drops from the tip of each strand.


Most nights, though, I set off alone.

And as wind off the lake turned

spokes of windmills unwinding in the dark,

I’d pirouette in pinwheels of polyester arms—

feeling my adulthood beginning,

I was newly freed to choose my own direction.


So I made my own decisions.

Though sometimes, petals hung from stems like tears,

like wombs meant to protect conception,

like eggs drooping into the earth

under shrouds of parachutes.


An amber crescent reclines beside the moon tonight.

These twenty years later, I finally own the words to describe

my fingers of feathers surfing waves of endless sky.


Living rivers once flowing Eden

still feed the veins that branch from my heart.


My time in college is now water under a footbridge,

where manatees like ghost submarines

steer the Miami campus canals.

My home is Georgia now

where these sea cows swim invisibly

my backyard creek under nested parliaments of owls.


For four years I grew

until billows of grass at the edge of the wild

tried to untame my garden.

Now I have three boys who bring me chaos and joy.

And cornucopia in the clouds

sound harvest horns of plenty now.

While pinecones are still maturing on the boughs,

my words curve around a thousand bells,

from their golden mouths vibrations toll.


I tie yarn among long pines for my exploring children

so they too can wander their own unknown.

I watch them from the porch with gratitude

they’re still young enough that they still return home.


I lost that shirt one day.

Then I graduated college for full-blown adulthood.

But adventures still fill my mind,

dreams will never leave me,

will never be fully explored—

even when my soul one day outruns my body.

Catherine Zickgraf

Catherine Zickgraf has performed her poetry in Madrid, San Juan, and three dozen other cities, but now her main jobs are to hang out with her family and write more poetry. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, Victorian Violet Press, and The Grief Diaries. Her new chapbook, Soul Full of Eye, is published through Aldrich Press and is available on Watch and read more of her poetry at