H.R. WEBSTER.December 2021


Photo by Jeff Sirkin



what held you inside

yourself your skin

a tight band of sky

around a blank

colonnade of sea

I do not know

where you are

except in the secret book

hunger unwrote each morning

I think you might

have lived forever

I don’t know

how to speak

to you without

a narrator’s hand ghosting

in your throat

without imagining

you carrying everything

cave-dark that fell

out of me clumps of it

the blackened wick


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spur track to pit

toilet & piped spring


on the lee side

jerky & toothpaste

in the bear box

what do bodies do

to other bodies

strangers asleep

on each side            each

kicked in hip

wet socks

rabbitted from rafters

breath           my breath

try to imagine

what I did


salt wave


ladder of wet

skin on wet skin

on bitter

thumb pressed

petals of the asshole

breath my

kicked in hip


I thought once

I could be erased

lavish threshed illiterate

wished it

from bodies

my own hand


what I blotted

out with walking

the smooth bole

of desire

paced wallow

of ferns

hock sucking mud

the memory

of interiors

& stories

I lost those too

could barely lift

my wrist my knee


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The river yellow

with what it pulls

from the pines

the raccoon

on the bank

hung on a copper wire

of thirst its blackened

eyes its shifty

veil of flies

a cupped leaf


by heavy water

the half life of loneliness           bread

& instant coffee

eaten standing

after putting on boots

before tying laces

at dawn & at dusk

the body can’t

tell pains apart

belly from back

the hands shake

for sugar & salt

fingernails like a place

the moon was cut out of

hands broken

by the rope

ladder into the ravine

the water low today

the pump’s thrum

whetting a blade

of noise it keeps the head

blank like the animal

familiar the tongue finds

inside its mouth

like the silence

or is it sound

of the river

that runs its knife

through the night


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wilderness to wilderness

I wore two marks

at the base of my back

as though I had been bitten

by the softest

heaviest mouth

the low spruces crowd out

what once wanted

thumbprint hummingbirds

in the jewel weed

the broach of a bruise

on my hip imagine if

I had sent you this letter:

I no longer miss

being touched

look how

my script has grown

so big in the cold


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*** ** ***



switchbacks scrawl

nonsense up Nameless Ridge

low crooked

searchlight           buzzards

hung over

the bald top

did you see me carry

my spoonful of fire

mushroom caps


a black dog

running wide eyed

through the honey



alone on the ledge

my body was all

that held the ground

cloth down

a voice outside

said girl?

I swear

I am here

I would like to tell you

I found tracks

circling where I slept

but the earth was too hard

to capture a mark


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*** ** ***



caught when I dug

a trap in the woods

branches laced

over the pit

You could have hurt

a child broken

an ankle

pine needles braided

until they snapped

caught when I started a fire

with a bow caught

hoarding matches

under my tongue


the lean-to

was big enough

to sleep me

& the dog the cold

falling off her

coat like water

a sheet over

a mirror


carry a pot

to boil

water pooled


on tarp seams

grey bouquet

you can eat

clover sorrel

cat tails

be willing to kill

small animals

be decisive

not cruel


I rubbed mud on my arms

stuck leaves and lichen on

my chest

cracked if I moved

I lay still

forgive me

please I did not

know another child

would replace me


to write

use poke-berry

& black walnut crushed

in books

children stayed

in the woods

seasons then

seasons more

everyone was happy

when they returned

in books

children buried themselves

in leaves for warmth

to the neck

quickly the ink

began to rot

I ran out

of smooth stones

to scrawl on

in books

children who live

in the woods

were orphaned

they don’t have to

say it


I can tell you

how to catch a fish

with a waterfall

how to make bitter

acorn bread hollow

out a tree with fire

in the woods

I’m always

looking for something

to eat caves

to call home

always reading

stories about children

raised by creatures

as kind as wolves


in the woods

you can be honest

about how much work

survival is

always looking for twigs

dry enough

to kindle a stone

to carry in case

an animal comes at me

from some corner

some night


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H.R. Webster
has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Poetry Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, 32 Poems, Muzzle, and Ecotone. Her debut book of poems, What Follows, is due out from Black Lawrence Press in June 2022.


You can read more poems at hrwebster.com.


To download a printable PDF version of this page, click here.



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December 2021.H.R. WEBSTER