Lisa Zerkle: Two poems

Lisa Zerkle’s poems and reviews have appeared in The Collagist, Comstock Review, Southern Poetry Anthology, Broad River Review, Tar River Poetry, Nimrod, storySouth, poemmemoirstory, Cider Press Review, and Main Street Rag, among others. Her poem “Relics of the Great Acceleration” won the North Carolina Writer’s Network 2017 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition. She is the author of Heart of the Light and a former editor of Kakalak. She lives in Charlotte, NC where she is the curator of 4X4CLT, a public art and poetry poster series, for the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts.

NWCC says thank you!


The Devil’s Work


Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 1812


Shafts collapse. Choke-damp suffocates. Still

before the dawn of artificial light, men

mine black rock. They dig into dark


pits where Auld Nick lurks in the depths.

For the Crown’s engine of heat and power,

they brave Nick’s dangers. Ninety-two die


in Newcastle. A hundred more at Wallsend. Fire-damp

ignites with a single spark struck off a collier’s pick.

Like an offering to patron Saint Barbara one man is chosen


to burn off vapors hanging low at the ceiling.

The penitent, they call him, with wet rags cowled

monk-like as protection around his ashen face.


His actions are not an expression of remorse although

who wouldn’t give thought to the last word spoken

to wife or child, or send heavenwards an invocation


before scrabbling into the mine like the blackest demon.

He crawls away from the dim gloaming of the mouth,

holding aloft a lone flame at the end of a long pole,


creeping forward, waiting for a blinding whoosh

to pass overhead. He will return to the surface

breathless, with singed brows and muddied knees. Or,


the union will provide for his family. Imagine

the pitch of this darkness. Your hand feeling blindly

for the way forward. Eyes on the candle. Ready


for the flame’s shew of yellow to blue,

ready to throw yourself flat to the ground,

lips whimpering into earth.




Particulate Matters


Before words, before

dinosaur, before flower or fruit,

before seed, no one is

alive. Dragonflies beat

wings two feet wide and careen

through Great Scale Trees.

Palm-like, these trees pole high

over brackish marsh,

branch into crown,

arcing spores into air

made sweet by their long

exhalation of oxygen.


Calamites stretch tall
from giant ferns in peat.
Their stalks telescope neatly,
leaning green spines. Finally
all topple into stagnant bogs.
Continents collide, ridge lines rise,
swamps drown in shallow seas.
Underneath, strata of root, trunk,
bark, spore, press into sediment
soft and dark and dense.


Some insist all that lived

before us is divine

provision, a larder

stocked for plunder, fair

excuse to remove mountains.

One day our bodies

will layer into fossil,

a thin scrim over earth.

For now we breathe

the smoke of ancients,

from the forests of stored light

we are burning.




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