Joan Colby

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Artwork by Gene McCormick


Is it hubris to name a town
Paradise? Dante warned of losses.
That souls might languish in the nine circles
Carrying the rocks of pride upon their backs.

170 years of comfort and prosperity.
In 1859 a gold nugget found
That weighed 54 pounds.
Today, soot-suited deer
Stand before the charred remains
Of the Gold Nugget Museum.

California poppies orange as flames
That jumped the Feather River
And burned the whole place down.

Our son conceived in another
Paradise along the shores of
Lake Superior where the ships
Went down in November gales. The bell
Of the Edmund Fitzgerald hangs
In a lighthouse off Whitefish Point.

To tempt fate, that’s a mystery
Or simply a superstition.
Those who live in Paradise
Insist they will return
To the clear starry nights they remember.

The smoking ruins, grey haze a lid
That will not close upon the dreams
Of those who believe in Paradise.

Awake After Midnight 

When I wake at three a.m.
As is common now, I switch on
The bed light, pick up the pen
And write.

Topic doesn’t count. I wait for the words
To pour from the pitcher’s spout
Into a stone basin. As clear
As artesian water from the deepest well.

I scribble and pause
Always missing some significance
That rumbles past in a boxcar
With refugees desperately waving.

I’m one myself
Here in this bed, grown old
With a knee whose ache
Is the wake-up call—only
So much time left
To find out more.

Civil War Photography 

Pale eyed and haunted.
Beards, mustaches, sideburns,
Some heartbreakingly downy.
Or older writing letters in
Campfire light.
Kiss the babes for me.

Thin, almost jaunty, slouching
As comrades might in the long
Weeks of waiting. Or somber.
Pale eyed and haunted.

It must have been the process,
Collodium emulsions or the
Sometimes lethal flash,
That lent this intimation.
The washed-out eyes.

Think of me. Your loving
Husband. Your devoted son.

Pale eyed and haunted..
Pale horse,
Pale rider. 


Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 20 books including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Three of her poems have been featured on Verse Dailyand another is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Her newest book is Her Heartsongs from Presa Press. Colby is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review. Website:  Facebook: Joan Colby. Twitter: poetjm.