girl in tree bark · Kelly DuMar

girl in tree bark · Kelly DuMar

In Kelly DuMar’s girl in tree bark, the past, especially the life of the family of origin, acts as a kind of sap that provides nutrients for the photosynthesis that charges the poems. But the poems send their salubrious nourishment down to the past, which becomes transformed with the poem-making. The effect of the past on the present, and vice-versa, is not static; it is a reciprocally kinetic symbiosis, played out in fluent, daring narratives, in language keen with insight and liquid with sumptuous musicality. In almost every poem, a coupling of devastation and healing works a remarkable magic.
Tom Daley, author of House You Cannot Reach

Places of Origin

They let you eat cake on White Pond Road

First, like all the other cousins, here’s a child’s thin slice being served on my grandparents’ piazza. It’s called a whole sheet, ordered from a bakery, a flavorless yellow sponge, white frosted, a garden of bright blue roses planted on top for this family reunion.

While cousins play hide and seek in the yard, while aunts and uncles sit reuniting, the half-eaten sheet wants more. I make trip after trip across the piazza in front of all the mothers and fathers and grandparents, helping myself, plating slab after slab in my hand, to the yard, melting every leftover rose on my tongue, caring so much for a cake everyone has forgotten, I feel queasy and crawl with my ache, my rose blue lips, onto my mother’s lap where it takes too long for the effects to wear off.

One thing I’d like answered about White Pond Road

is why my grandfather calls his hot glassed-in porch without screens a piazza.

A nice surprise you can find at White Pond Road

is how a French twist untwists into hair falling all the way down the middle of my grandmother’s back like a girl’s after she puts on her bathrobe before going to bed .

A mystery of White Pond Road

is, where is the pond?

Instead of carpet at White Pond Road

you have floor called linoleum, it bubbles in uneven hills under your cold feet on the way to the bathroom at the bottom of the stairs when your parents leave you overnight, and you have to go alone so you won’t wet the bed you share with your sisters in the spare room of the attic.

When you’re trying to leave White Pond Road

Thanksgiving’s the only day you can come in and go out through the front door, so you have to stand on your tiptoes. This helps you see out the window of the kitchen. You can see onto the piazza and keep your eyes glued on the storm door. Pretty soon your grandfather says maybe your mother’s not coming at all, maybe she’s leaving you here for good, and your grandmother says, now Jim, it’s not nice to tease her, and the way he’s smiling makes your stomach do a somersault, like you swallowed a squirrel, so even after the storm door opens and lets you go, it takes a long time for the effects to wear off.


May, my eye spies
a pink dress – tree bark
flaked from its trunk and pinned
to the surface of earth, as if cut
out of paper and placed on her
table, a pattern, my mother
was sewing, her shears

are for pinking, she unrolls
inch by inch her tape to squeeze me
by my waist and measure, take me to the store
I’m picked, among the countless
cottoned, blossomed, from bolts
I am one here, her only

choice, Simplicity is what a pattern calls
for, paper like the thinnest skin – I’m not
skinny, like my sisters, she pinches
my belly rolls and pats my jiggly butt
becoming, a May Day

dress, color of sheep sorrel
lady slipper, dogwood as I dance
around a pole, pinked with sweat
sewing me, sewing me bark
of a tree no other mother makes

Milkweed, Late December

You are a seed
one, in particular

I am empty
of milk, a weed

wintering husk
a country, you belonged

August was sun sealed
my pouch, your plenty

November is blown –

you are fastened
to ruin, so what

if you waste your one
your only

jeweled city

yes even in february get out of bed. walk off your rumblesome. dreams of deficiency. try, before dawn. pull on boots, mud caked, ski jacket, cloud blue, clean gloves. there’s disturbing news on the radio – threats of war, careless wreckage – there’s disturbing news in your solar

plexus. your complex of ganglia and radiating nerves. your sympathetic system. pit of your stomach, a chakra, in sanskrit, jeweled city. walking you want. to quit a bothersome conflict – drop a missile on it! – except, your cheeks, scrubbed by this blast – it’s so fucking cold - your gut won’t shut up – afraid of being punished like that. sunrise,

blurbs of cloud, purple gauzing of mountains, hacked light. a few trees bearing buds, blood red. ages old, sugar maples leak sap into taps remind you of going. to therapy. scouting all the stiff listeners. to trust and choose barbara –

white gauze hazing french doors, mahogany framed, behind which you sit. sucking her pleasant, vapor-like kindness, ready to split. open like chicken. breasts raw, salted and peppered for roasting. sunbeam through glass. breath of fine books, shelved on warm walls. until your third session. she leaves you

waiting. seconds, minutes, a half hour beyond – you flee. pass a hearse on the highway. cross the gulf over a bridge, certain you’ll never go back. not even, for whatever her reason, she’s sorry. admits her mistake, kindly asks for a second. chance. no, you will drop. a missile. explode on her false french fucking doors. smithereens

– listen. february. birds in shrubs, evergreen. where they nest, making noise. cardinal, a female, mostly brown, but red crested. showy, her mate, noisy, red blooded. follows her up to the top of an oak, leafless, they perch. down-slurred, they sing. whistle, two-parted. louder than

your liver, gall bladder – remember? you chose. not to blow barbara up

sanctuary. its soundproofing. all the noise you must make where nobody is harmed. wrecked city you enter, damaged, a door.

Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator who is the author of two poetry collections, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. Her plays are published by dramatic publishers, and she is author of Before You Forget - The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly produces the Our Voices Festival of Boston Area Women Playwrights, held at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year, and she produces the annual Boston Writing Retreat and the weeklong summer Play Lab for the International Women’s Writing Guild, where she serves on the board. Kelly founded the Farm Pond Writers Collective to guide women writers to write from their personal photos, develop their artistic voices and connect deeply with their creative lives. Kelly lives with her husband on the Charles River in Sherborn, MA, and shares her nature photos and creative writing in her daily blog, #NewThisDay. You can learn more at

Copyright © 2019 Kelly Dumar

Cover photograph by the author

ISBN 978-1-949279-12-2

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

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