Sherre Vernon’s Flame Nebula road-trips through the pitch and bloom of various loves, excavating the challenges and joys of intimacy. Vernon’s questions fold over themselves “like clay petals”: what does it mean to be an estranged daughter and a devoted mother? How can one let go of past wounds to enter, full-hearted, into the present? Spun from “desert-sun” and “kestrel wing,” these poems are luminous, full of grit and humor. A marvelous debut. ~Amie Whittemore, author of Glass Harvest
This is the book you’ll reach for to reacquaint yourself with the fire inside. A book of joy & shadows; a mother making space for her life, love, & pain. Reading Sherre Vernon’s Flame Nebula, Bright Nova is to witness a heart gone incandescent with longing, a heat that builds so you too incendiate. A fearless encounter with a voice so familiar you’ll swear out loud when you realize it’s not your own memory, not your own voice guiding you through. ~Melissa Eleftherion
In the vibrant, musical poetry of Sherre Vernon’s Flame Nebula, Bright Nova, we befriend a new mother revisiting her own childhood, navigating complicated, often painful family memories, a pandemic, all while raising—and learning from—a young daughter who “understands the world/is sick. Says we should all drink/some soup & maybe rest.” I didn’t know I needed this book, and having read it I’m not letting go. You can’t have my copy. Get your own. ~Christopher Citro, author of If We Had a Lemon We’d Throw It and Call That the Sun
Augury for Spring
it’s december & the leaves
push through the branches, insistent,
verdant. in a dream, I mistake you
for your cousin, but somehow softer—
softer is the wrong word—gentle maybe
or kind. or maybe true?
my hands are stained with this,
the question that folds over itself
like clay petals. my daughter,
you are fierce, a kestrel, sage.
sure as smoke can cleanse,
I feel more myself on the exhale,
can lay empty & need, want only
nothing. can I trust this fullness?
I understand the pull
of stillness, but you
this other, extra—it is so
temporary. I will be myself
in hollowbone. I will shudder
on the linoleum & weep.
empty, I am myself. voices,
footfalls, someone explaining
this leaf scenting my hands.
there are stars that yield
to the mountainface, faces
that yield to my memory.
you find me then, little fire-fish,
& fill me. & delight.
The Last Time I Was Out Drinking, Drinking
to be drunk—we were downtown, past Sixth Street, two doors
from a hole of a cigar shop, in a hazy bar I couldn’t
name if you asked me, the best me out
& loud & oblivious & my wit
so sharp that even my teeth had to compete for cuts—
I hadn’t yet taken that long look in: asked myself
why I was the only woman there sipping Old
Fashioneds, smoking clove after clove, in a din
so loud the smoke unpolitely made a point
of squeezing itself between our ruckus & the bodies
of us, my hands on Augustin, rough in the car
& sometimes desperate, because I didn’t know
how many seat belts there were or if I was in one,
only that we were eating street tacos, one
after another, the carnitas falling from our mouths
like curses laughing at their own haphazard sway
& swaying under the streetlights, our feet
intertwined like dancing, through an empty street—
I did not check myself, as I switched between
English & Spanish, my tongue fracturing
even this, in my ache that is always other—
& when Tony kissed my cheek & waited
for me to make it inside the gate, I still didn’t realize
that this was a late-night wake, a mourning howl
for a life that was slipping past me. The next drink
I’d take would be warm whiskey in tea & honey, soothing
& as unfamiliar as the pregnancy hives crawling up my arms,
my feet swaddled in sleepy socks & propped up
on the couch of a man who stays in nights, my body not yet
ready to tell me that I will never again be anything other
than this child’s mother. I don’t yet see the close binding
of women’s clothes & the desperate search for pockets—
the weeks upon years of sleeplessness, teatotaled
to an absolute stillness, a softness so unyielding, a new desperation—
this need to hear her breath beneath the moonlight—
A Streetlight Lullaby
Outside the bowling alley, 1979,
we wait for them to count the pins,
my mama, her mama. Her mama & mine
promise a star through the Oregon pines
before the morning shift begins,
outside the bowling alley, 1979.
She’s thirteen, I’m two at the time,
though they dress us up like twins,
my mama, her mama. Her mama & mine
have left their children behind,
in the pickup. Night descends
outside the bowling alley, 1979.
It’s the only sitter she can find:
the concrete & her sister’s skin,
my mama. Her mama, her mama. & mine
comes to the window & reaches in—
but we sleep as the long hours thin,
outside the bowling alley, 1979:
my mama, her mama—her mama & mine.
Angel of Death
Now, do you believe in rock & roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
~Don McLean, “American Pie”
You: my mother’s baby sister.
I: your name in refrain.
When I was five, in short shorts
& mud-caked, you left for the summer.
My grandmother said it was a calling,
following The Dead, my mother,
that you’d found an older profession.
The day you came back, big
sunglasses covering your face,
tight pants & boots laced high,
I was running under the living
room window & fell so hard
the world went still: you caught
me, raised me to my feet.
I’m lined up, behind
the valedictorian, you’re waiting
to take a picture of me, hair loose
& free. We’re high, a desert concert,
sprinklers like rain & you’re
my puppet master, my sandman,
the only wind of change—the unforgiven.
We move the party to the river,
the whole motley mess of us running
& tumbling & wading against the current
& you take photo after photo—the whole
roll comes back double-exposed.
I’m barebacked on the tattoo table.
Through the buzz, he says I lay like the dead.
You’re seventeen & pulling down the waist
of your pants to show me your hip bone,
the ink you’ve given yourself. Black
jacket, hair a rainbow spike. Ears
jangling in silver, you’re leaning
on a white sports car, waiting
in the street for me, the summer
spiraling around you. Once
my mother’s gone we push-start
down the hill. I’m tall enough
to pop the clutch, slide over
as you jump in & slam the door.
At the Salvation Army, over
the mixtapes, you’re teaching me
to shop for clothes. Your standard:
Henry Rollins. Mine: Axl Rose.
Sleeping on the floor of the bedroom.
The phone rings & I’m walking
under the 4 a.m. streets, past men
who call me your name, bum for a smoke,
& toward the hospital bed, your voice
blaring in my ears & beating.
Today all my dead flood me
& they are calling after you,
sitting on the floor of the bath-
room while I soak in the tub.
In the dark, we’re crying
for love, the radio so far up
the slowest song is something
by Styx—& I will dress like you
in black & red & rain & denim tight—
I will love like you, for the rest of my life—