The murder of the self

My older son is graduating from college this Friday with a degree in computer engineering. I would like to say oh, how time flies, or what just happened to the last twenty-odd years, so that everyone can nod their heads in understanding, but clichés will be the death of me, so I shall refrain from such indulgences. Instead, here is a poem from my chapbook The book of small treasures (Keystone Finalist — Seven Kitchens Press). I wrote it over ten years ago in anticipation of the moment I’d understand my children are grown. As most of you know, that time has come and gone, and I am trapped in nostalgia, as are all parents at certain moments.

The murder of the self

No one believes it at first. One ordinary morning,
the moon withdraws her fingers from the bed’s edge
and you wake, a single body in a great gathering of women:
veiled, recognizable only in the eye’s reflection. We peer
into each other. The individual soul is in us all, glittering
like the black wings of a crow. But the trick is on us.
The moon knew it would happen, our mothers knew,
too, how the mind would stretch unexpectedly,
and then in an odd moment, ten or twenty years later,
you wake to find grown children scattered
around like seedlings: unnoticed until their first
leaves grew green enough to matter. This disbelief
lingers. For a while, you expect something else:
a recognition, perhaps, that you have done some-
thing exceptional. But it is ordinary, like the night
is ordinary, and the moon’s hovering between
stars is ordinary. Like a tree is ordinary,
until it grows larger than you, drops
its sweet autumn leaves upon your face.

My mother’s psalm

I first wrote this in 2005, and have been tinkering with it since then. Twelve years of contemplation yielded this final version last night (unpublished, since I rarely submit poems anymore).

My mother’s psalm

She told me despair filled the valley that night,
and so her sisters walked out, carrying anger
and anguish out of the barren land.
They packed vexation into hard dirt
with their bare feet. Secret recriminations
were brought forth and opened.
Claws were undressed.

They threw their silence to the ground
and buried it beneath the bodies
of forsaken loves: miscarriages,
abortions of justice.
Nothing hidden survived the night.

My sisters were crazed, she said.
They yelled and whipped their hair loose
and damned their bras and jobs.
No dinners were made, no houses swept.
The night was full of women and they sucked
the air right out of that hollow slit of darkness—
but there was plenty to drink.

And my mother said: yes, fill up my goblet, sister.
So they filled her mouth and mind
with passion and resolution.
They saturated the valley with righteousness.
For a full day and night, the women drank
and rinsed and spat
out the foul mess they’d been taught.
Because finally they understood.

And she told me they climbed out of that place naked,
and strode off into fertile ground together.


It’s strange to read this poem again, now that my sons are grown up. I wrote this eight years ago! More of my weather sonnets are in my chapbook Cloud Studies.



From here the tree looks like it’s hardly there,
half-formed and blurry in the shifting mist.
Like sleep, precipitation clouds the air
with fuzzy dreams and silence. I resist
the melancholy, choosing to believe
that clarity is understood, not seen.
Inside my son is playing games, one sleeve
pushed up, the other drooping in between
his fingers as I watch him laugh and frown.
The tv sprinkles light against his skin,
as indistinct as any fog while down
the hall his brother tunes his violin,
its notes as insubstantial as this day
when growing up still feels so far away.

How odd to forget your own words. #poetry #prosepoem

I completely forgot that I wrote a chapbook of prose poems. Most of them are unpublished because I got very, very tired of sending them out and receiving either no response (sometimes after waiting a year!) or rejections. I just plain forgot about these poems. I also found a book of haiku I wrote. Forgot about those, too. Anyway, here’s a sample from the prose poems. The chapbook is called Glimpse. It’s about angels and gods and people. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to send the chapbook out again.



— fallen angel of death, the destroyer

He got the text at 7 and was there in a half hour. The place seethed with birds: crows and pigeons like a plague, shit on the pavement. All of them squawking like crazy then everyone else came and he only had time to shove his phone back in his pocket before they were moving. Had to be a hundred-fifty people, maybe more, some of them high. The sun gone. They surged down the street, trashing cars, signs, whatever, as metal teeth crashed over the storefronts—they had to get in somewhere before the cops came. He ran for Macy’s, shoved a salesman over and everyone followed. It felt like he had wings, up in front, he flew with their hands on his back, the mob lifting him up and everything glittering like god lived here, like heaven was hardwood floors and crystal. The warmth distracting so he dismembered a mannequin like it was real. Smashed some perfume, not thinking about his mother. Her dead body four years ago. The stray bullet. The sweet scent drifted over the mob like ash, expensive fucking shit. He coughed and spit on the glass counters and everyone cheered until he fell. When his ribs broke he thought he heard the pigeons again, their little bodies feathering into the wind but it was locusts. Locusts ground into the floor near his head, broken shells like red glass. He tasted blood, looked up. Crows sat on the chandeliers, wings on fire, and he tried to call out, pray for help, but the pain flared so terribly he closed his eyes against the light.


—first published in OCHO #30, 2010.

Every two years I remember…


Every two years my younger son must go to the hospital for tests. Today, we drove down to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and I am tired and happy, because he is fine. His echocardiogram, EKG, and stress test show that his repaired congenital heart defect is completely stable. All that’s left from the terror of his first few months is a minor heart murmur. Every other year I worry (so far, needlessly). And this year, when we came home, we discovered that one of the colleges to which he’d applied accepted him for autumn of 2015.

Everything feels strange.

Today’s high temperature was 70F—at the end of November.  Spring has sprung at the tail end of autumn, but we know that there is snow coming for Wednesday. What does that mean? Probably nothing, but my brain keeps trying to create patterns from random events, like a broken clock still chiming the noon hour, long since past.

Several years ago I wrote a poem that feels exactly like today: Iridescence. It was published in my sonnet collection: Cloud Studies (you can read the entire collection for free, or listen to the delightful Nic Sebastian read them to you, right here).


You are not to blame. We separate.
We jump in the river, flailing, sink along
the slippery shore. Angels come too late.
Iridescence decorates the wrong
sky. I close my eyes against the sting
of antiseptic. Plastic tubing smells
forever. We pretend that everything
will be all right. His brother gathers shells
as though the sound of water matters. I
cry when no one knows. My darling son,
can you see the rainbows in the sky?
Perhaps. I know the morphine has not run
its course. The river beckons. I will keep
your dreams safe, my little boy. Just sleep.


Love poem for Valentine’s Day – Rumba-lady’s wrap

ballroom - cover w text

Rumba — lady’s wrap

I’m a fox and he has his hands
on me. I step back, wild.
He moves closer, twists somehow
and I’m curled in his arm,
walking forward.

I have no idea how I got here.

She says, now turn her again
and he unwraps me like a candied chocolate.
An exotic pear, un-netted.
A hairpin slipped loose.
I try to dance away
but he catches me

I’d say I was lost but it would be a lie.
The music is a leash and he is
turning me again.
I’m trapped
against his other side, walking backwards,
dizzy as a maple seed.
He pivots
and I follow.
I am a kite on a string.
Horse and halter. He smiles into the wind
and I let him let me go
into a double chassé.
Suddenly I am a stray balloon.
A missing key.

A dropped penny, desperate for him
to scoop me back up.

first appeared in Diode v5n2

Reviews for Ballroom – a love story

My latest chapbook, Ballroom – a love story, is now available from Flutter Press. You can buy it at this link: Ballroom – a love story.

This chapbook was written during NaPoWriMo in April 2011. It’s a series of poems that speak of learning how to dance, from the beginning steps of the waltz to what it’s like when a dancer begins to feel the steps rather than just mechanically arrange the arms and legs. The poems also describe dancing with one’s partner: it’s a bit like falling in love, thus the title, “a love story.” I wrote them in in the spring of 2011 after having spent three years (now four years) taking ballroom dance lessons.

These poems wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of two extraordinary individuals. First, my husband Terry, without whom I could not dance at all. These poems are basically one long love letter to him. He also makes a perfect cameo in the cover photo. The other is our dance teacher, Lynn Kettenburg, of Victory Dance Center in Emmaus, PA. I can honestly say without reservation that she is the best teacher I’ve ever had. That is a gift I will always keep close to my heart with deepest gratitude.

A selection of poems from this chapbook is forthcoming in the next issue of Diode. Stay tuned for links. Some sample poems at the bottom of this post, just scroll down.

Reviews (thank you ladies!):

We have learned how to dance or we remember our parents floating above their own dance floor in Christine Klocek-Lim’s chapbook Ballroom—a love story. For the speaker and her man in each neatly-narrated poem, dance helps them “look at each other,” and helps all lovers, even ones who learn to dance midway in life, know that with dance “eyes touch.” And as dance skills improve, beckon for repetition and risk through the progression of Klocek-Lim’s skillfully touching images that take us to vertigo, ocean, and back to the dance floor, her speaker plunges into the act of life and love through dance.

The rumba seen in “Rumba—spot turns,” is so very sexy yet shares a rawness of “muscle through hard depths to bone,” as the speaker shares the intricacy of love’s moves, wondering just how deep body and emotion can go. The notion of the tango and its couple’s mirror-like movements transcend in “Tango – torneo cinco” because not only do we become aware of “[t]he difficulty of toes and muscle aligning,” but we also accept the labor of the difficulty, much like the labor of true love when the speaker admits that “[i]t’s easier to walk alone / but not as beautiful….”

My favorite ballroom dance, the cha cha, takes on the wonderfully surreal (as do many of the poems in this collection) in “Cha Cha—paseo,” as the dancers/lovers become relentless, practicing “until the river is littered with petals” / and the trees have given up on [them]” as they master the art of spinning. In fact, this penultimate poem anticipates the final and title poem that explains and concludes in metaphor the lasting love story that we’ve experienced all along in each poem: “he lifts me, twists me into knots. / I am a ribbon, caught on his bough. / The last red leaf.”

~ Theresa Senato Edwards, author of Voices Through Skin (Sibling Rivalry Press 2011) and Painting Czeslawa Kwoka ~ Honoring Children of the Holocaust with Painter Lori Schreiner (unbound CONTENT 2012)

“I confess: At first I thought, “A Love Story? Really?” But it is, not only of the rediscovery of a long-married couple, but of self and world, and perhaps most importantly, of the self that’s burdened with judgment and the self that simply dances. Klocek-Lim’s ballroom dancing poems take you with them on a year-long journey from the first stiff steps to the joy of moving in tandem with animal grace—a lovely turn.”

~ Wendy Babiak, author of Conspiracy of Leaves (Plain View Press)

With a sure hand on the small of your back, Christine Klocek-Lim guides the reader through this collection of beautiful, and beautifully choreographed poems. These lush, spell-binding poems explore love, intimacy, desire and how close flying is to falling. The poems in Ballroom – a love story pull you into their powerful rhythms and luminous language. These exquisite poems are “brilliant as sapphires,” with a “music as sweet as honey.”

~ Patty Paine, author of The Sounding Machine (Accents Publishing) and editor of Diode

Two bodies meet, the ballroom is all glitter, stars and sparkle, two bodies turn into wind, rising and falling to the ceiling then the floor, hands are touching arms and backs, heels are clicking, and we are spinning in dance after dance. “Because vertigo feels / like freedom,” and Christine Klocek-Lim’s Ballroom feels just like that. Dances turn into waves and shells, watching as the tide rolls in. “I have no idea how I got here,” and neither do we. There is a dizzy and tender connection between man and woman, and yet a fear of awkwardness, an unknowing of how to move the feet or of where the dance will go. Between glitter and stars, there is an intimate tango of closeness and indifference. “and I’m in love again, or falling / in love. My heart doesn’t know it should be careful,” the fantasy world of the Cha Cha turns the poet, allowing her to forget place and age, she goes on to write: “yet I’m so dizzy I can’t remember the beginning / of the party.” This book made me want to go to the dance floor, to spin in her world, to be “A dropped penny, desperate for him / to scoop me back up.” Christine stuns and shines in this whirlwind of pure poetic word-dance.

~ Christine Yurick, editor of Think Journal

Sample poems:

Viennese Waltz — natural turn

It’s like flying
or falling.
Each step a revolution.
The planet tilted
too much.
Sunlight far off.
Clouds strangely graceful
even as the storm
She says, lean back further.
Enough to contain
the rotation.

The ballroom is wide
as a plain. I’m a sapling
and he is the wind.
Sometimes I touch the floor,
toes starved for solid ground.
Sometimes I leap.
Every other step a lock
as though leaves
can be caged.

He is vertigo.
The darkened tornado
peeling my meadow.
The sky falters but I hang on,
fingers lodged in his bones.
I am a white birch.
I am a falling

I am a spinning
leaf, spiked
with rain.

Tango — torneo cinco

My mother finds me in the kitchen
with ice and bandages, foot propped
like a broken shoe.
My bruise looks like Argentina,
a forest of color.

We’re learning the tango, I say,
thinking of the trees outside
the dance studio. Oaks along the river.
My mother is thinking, how terrible
the leaves die each winter.

Sometimes love necessitates disaster.
She didn’t see his face when we came together.
How I dared him to fall as I stepped around him.
How he dared me to lead, fingers on my body
tight as a locked door. I took five steps,
unaware of the vertigo. The difficulty of toes
and muscle aligning. It’s easier to walk alone
but not as beautiful, I thought, then lost
my way. The forest is a trickster.

Doesn’t it hurt? she wonders, fingering my instep.
I bandage the pain and pull away.
No explanation.
I’m remembering the trees, how the leaves
turned scarlet at just the right moment.

His palm, perilously sweet
against my wound.

© 2012 Christine Klocek-Lim