Red Cardinal, White Snow / Susan Ayres


Red Cardinal, White Snow

poems by

Susan Ayres

~40 pages, $13 (+ shipping)

Projected Release Date: October/November 2024

An Advance Sale Discount price of $8 (+ shipping) is available HERE prior to press time. This price is not available anywhere else or by check. The check price is $12/book (which includes shipping & sales tax) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227. 

PLEASE NOTE: Ordering in advance of the release date entitles the buyer to a discount. It does not mean the book will ship before the date posted above and the price only applies to copies ordered through the Main Street Rag Online Bookstore.

Susan Ayres is a poet, lawyer, and translator. She is the author of Walk Like the Bird Flies (Finishing Line Press, 2023). She studied creative writing and translation at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she currently teaches at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas. Find out more about Susan at

In Red Cardinal, White Snow, Susan Ayres tells us in the first poem that childhood is not a meadow, and she will document the spirit shatter of mental illness and family trauma. But these stunning poems do so for the sake of talking back to ruin, showing us the beauty of love under pressure, how illumination coexists with heartache, and disorder strengthens kindness. These poems are a master class in the art of becoming human. ~Betsy Sholl


In Red Cardinal, White Snow, Susan Ayres’ first book of poetry, the poet’s work has been to mold the mud of experience into a vase of words. And she has succeeded by calling on all the shaping devices of poetic form. From the brilliant title and perfectly chosen Octavio Paz epigraph, to the striking metaphors, and memorable diction (“susurrated stories”), Ayers’ poems transform howls of anguish into art. What an accomplishment. ~Bonnie Lyons, author of So Far


The poems in Red Cardinal, White Snow by Susan Ayres allow readers to touch “the broken membrane between sanity and terror.” That membrane has all the voltage and punch of a live wire, but the powerful, heart-heavy, and earthy, images ground us, keep us safe as we are reminded how shockingly fragile living and loving well can be. ~Thomas Morin

The Girls on a Bridge

after the painting by Edvard Munch (c. 1904)


Childhood is not a meadow
of clover and sweet wildflowers.
The fir in the background
looms. White pinafore, pink
pier and white sky swirled

in bold strokes like frosting on cake.
Again and again Munch composed
the scene. Three (sometimes four) girls
in summer dresses, blond hair, straw
hat, arms linked against the cold night sky,
high summer where it’s never

dark completely. On the bridge
they watch bits of tree float, spy
fish and dragonflies. Trolls
live under bridges. The girls throw
sticks in the dark blue water.
One of the girls is faceless

and the round black-green
fir takes up more space than
the house, which may be why
the museum label describes the painting
as haunting, and ominous, and full
of anxieties. But for some, the painting

soothes in its scene of sisters and
cousins with linked arms a talisman
against the warning caws of the blackbird
and dark fir of secrets—
the father having an affair,
the mother losing her mind,
the cousin overdosing.
From their pastel sweetness
and faceless innocence
the girls see it all.


First Psychosis, Then the Aneurysms


My dead mother spoke to me
in a waking dream. She
said, You are fat

without judgment, without
affect, like Let’s have an
egg for breakfast,

which she would often say
as she figured the crossword puzzle.
One time she told me

how she practiced shooting a handgun
in the bedroom after her father died,
after her brain betrayed her—directing

her to kill herself and maybe
the girls, too. My father ignored
bullet-holes lacing the wall

until she calmly confessed
as psychotics will.
Years later, she told me.

I pretended not to be stunned,
nodding while she explained
her then-psychosis.

Brain aneurysms clipped
like a leaky garden hose, she
no longer knew what was polite

or what was secret. After years of fork
on the left, knife and spoon
on the right, polished sterling,

steam-ironed linen—dinner
was now a scattered
pile of forks and knives.

Untuned to the loud clatter
of cutlery, she listened
to voices inside her head.

Forgetting the secrets, she opened
the door and speared her quiche, startling me
with how lucky I was to be alive.



Red Cardinal, White Snow


I licked a cherry Popsicle,
a doula massaged my back

kneading the baby out. Red
cardinal against white snow.

A good omen—
more beauty in the world.

I kept her close to my body, tiny
with a shock of black hair

until yellow peach fuzz
covered her head.

Red cardinal against white snow—
like the specks of blood in my first month.

When she was in the mental ward
you never lost faith in her.

Red cardinal crashing
into a glass window

you kept flying against,
losing me—your drab mate.

A prophesy—
of the courage

it would take
to raise such a girl.



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