Bright Air Settling Around Us / Michelle Maher


Bright Air Settling Around Us

poems by

Michelle Maher

ISBN: 978-1-59948-790-8, 96 pages, $15 (+ shipping)

Release Date: April 28, 2020


Michelle Maher lives in Wexford, PA with her husband. They have three daughters. Her work has appeared in journals such as Cordella, the Pittsburgh Poetry Review, the Georgetown Review, the Chautauqua Literary Journal and the Atlanta Review. Maher’s poem “At the Brera, Milan,” was selected by Toi Derricotte for the 2012 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award. She is a professor of English at La Roche University.

Michelle Maher’s first book sifts through dreamscapes, history, art, travel, and the nuances of the natural world for “proof that our lives / are not merely our own.” With an artist’s attention to detail and a mystic’s yearning for meaning, these poems insist on blending worlds so often separated by time, distance, or will. The sensibility behind this rich work aches for transcendence, yet recognizes—with deep and wise compassion—that language is made of both green and desiccated leaves, that the world we create with them is “ruptured / but free.” ~Ellen McGrath Smith, Author of Nobody’s Jackknife


Bright Air Settling Around Us by Michelle Maher is an energized, surprising book. These are vital poems that speak story, asking the big questions: What do we revere? What makes a good life? Maher writes the marvelous, the transformed as they co-exist with the everyday—crafting poems that show themselves, that aren’t hiding in cryptic messages. This dimension brings great depth, as this unwavering work echoes with risk and humanity.  ~Jan Beatty, Jackknife: New and Selected Poems (Pitt Poetry Series)


Michelle Maher’s moving new book builds steadily in emotional depth and resonance. Her poems “settle around us” incrementally – through rich, recurrent, thematic layering. With her, we experience the burdens of family dysfunction; the mirroring fractures of our global history; the fragile consolations of beauty and relationship; and the flickering challenge embodied in our secular and religious saints. The world Maher brings us is a difficult one, yet she leads us through it into light. ~Richard St. John, Author of Each Perfected Name

Scarlet Leaves


The young sugar maple stands
at the side of the road,
its spill of scarlet leaves

bright as drops of blood.
There are those who believe
that everything, finally,

will be lost and yet the yews separating
our yard from a neighbor’s
stand in the wind. Even the ones

that are dead, gathering leaves
blown over frozen grass to their roots,
hold fast to whatever the wind

brings them, while voles and chipmunks
dart in the layers of needles and leaves.
We turn, scanning the sky

for coming weather,
scrying the driven clouds as if
we could tell what

the evening might bring, snow
or thunder, or proof that our lives
are not merely our own.



Vishniak’s A Vanished World:

Summer Camp, Jewish Health Society, 1936


They’re laid out carefully in a circle,
worn and dirty like broken shells

washed up on a blackened beach.
So thin as to be almost flat on the ground,

the shoes of poor city children
who have been brought to a camp

outside of Slonim, Poland for fresh air
and games. They peer at their shoes intently,

touching them carefully so that they
can find them after the afternoon nap.

On the next page, a group of children
stand in shower spray, thin as fishes.

Girls perhaps seven or eight years old,
heads down, arms raised, staring at the slats

of the wooden floor. You can count their ribs.
Two seem to smile, one has long hair,

their heads bowed like wet flowers.
In a few years there will be more shoes,

mounds of them, warehouses full of them,
and signs for disinfecting showers.

When one turns the page, their bodies seem
to flicker with movement, but when you look

again they are caught, frozen still
for the unimaginable devouring to come.





A child, I would rip wings off bumblebees
and cry, surprised, when stung. Baking soda

poultices clotted my fingertips, but I ran outside
and kept at it until I felt my hands hurt

more than the pleasure I had in destroying
what was helpless within my grasp.

Now, barefoot, I avoid clover and pull down
my shirtsleeves when I go outside. The closest

I get to bees is watching them swarm the lilac
outside of my closed kitchen window. At ten,

I ran in a fireball of games, baseball
diamond to swimming pool, heedless

of what I hated: a girl down the street,
a neighbor’s dog. A cruelty possessed me,

one I wish would tear into my flesh again,
spring up like a wound fresh-torn and flowing,

yielding a heartlessness which says tomorrow,
you are ready for tomorrow, just by being alive.

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