Sue Silvermarie, author of the narrative poetry book Tales From My Teachers On the Alzheimer's Unit, is a widely published and anthologized poet residing in the "hidden valleys" region of rural Southwest Wisconsin.

Whether writing at her farm or performing her poetry before a city audience, whether doing social work in a nursing home or Poetry Therapy in an Alzheimer's day center, Sue experiences her writing, performing, and work as a deeply spiritual practice.

She has an MSW degree and is accredited by the National Association of Poetry Therapy as a Certified Poetry Therapist, one of fewer than 100 persons certified nationwide. She has pioneered an adaptation of the Poetry Therapy modality for people with dementia.

Sunday Practice

All morning we float,
a pair of lovers in lazy Jersey Valley Lake.
Now back home to rest, with summer clouds
floating slowly by the open window.
Birdsong all about and it's thanks I sigh
for each flying cousin, as their current
of June jubilation flows over me,
along with the slow breaths
of our sleeping shepherd
and my beloved.

On maroon sheets her body naked and asleep,
the curve of her turned
toward afternoon light
sifting through
bamboo blinds. The valley of her spine,
the hills of her cheeks, the ravine
running between the backs of her bent knees:
condensed preciousness
which shall be shattered from its form.

Songbird concert buoys me along
until dark. Coming, coming my way,
that great birth into dark. Today a lap closer
to that waking.
Unknowns of where and when
trifling, 'longside the certainty that I shall
die. That she,
the trumpeting sunflower of her being
shall also bow and disappear.

Copyright 1997-1999 by Sue Silvermarie

I stand by your ear unseen

I stand by your ear unseen.
Before the flogging they buried me to my waist in mud
One hundred times and one, they beat me with a cane
Because I was wearing a burqa
the mullah was spared the sight of my blood
When my family took me home I was unconscious
They were forbidden to seek treatment
When I died the next morning no one was surprised.
It was three days after my 18th birthday.

I stand by your ear unseen.
When I was 14 I wanted to be a teacher. I remember
laughing with my friends on the way home from school
I remember writing poems about the future
daydreaming at the window into velvet sky
Impossible, then, to believe what would come
after the Taliban took our town.

I stand by your ear unseen.
When I was 15 they came. The wide world choked shut
Collapsed to a point of fear, hunger. Constant
My sisters and I ate what brothers left. Little. They
could leave the house for classes, for work
My mother's office job was taken away
When my uncle would accompany her
she took her turn wearing a neighborhood burqa
so she could look for food. She sold our books

I stand by your ear unseen.
Three years. My youngest sister sickened
My father carried her to the hospital but
they told him to throw her away. She died at the door
That's when my anger endangered all of us
In her name I started a secret school. To read
to write, five little girls and I risked our lives
I would do it again. It was a way for ghosts
to have hands and voices for awhile.

I stand by your ear unseen.
When another decree was issued, that houses with women
have all windows painted black, we had no funds
My father was gone, forced into the militia
My mother had nothing left to sell
They marched in to bully us
found the hidden school slates behind my bed
Hauled to the mullah, I told nothing
He shut the door and raped me.

I stand by your ears unseen
Famine and depression make periods scant
I didn't know about the baby at first
My aunt had the right herb in a hidden pot on her roof
She stayed while my baby bled out
A new decree, forbidden to make sound when we walk,
caught her when she left. She didn't have shoes that were silent
They beat her on the street until her accompanying son
in his panic tried to shield her
by sacrificing me. The mullah learned everything.

I stand by your ear unseen.
He announced my offense of having an abortion
which proved I was promiscuous
My crimes cloaked his and no one
could do anything but pray I might survive
That prayer was not mine. I was ready to depart
I do not ask for personal mourning. Twelve million living
women and girls require your outrage
Lift your veil! Open your ear.

Copyright 1999, 2000 by Sue Silvermarie

Bedi Begum was murdered by flogging at the order of the Taliban in July of 1999, one of 60 women to die as a result of flogging this year. This narrative combines the elements of several true stories about various Afghan women.

An Intimate Conversation: Age and Sensuality

Green Lady in your veil of yellow silk,
you've plucked a purple weed
to set in my whitened hair
as if it were a jeweled comb.
All these years of the body and now
I begin to understand
how they tried to keep us apart
raging against me, quelling you,
dear Sensuality,
with religion, with shame.
Take my experienced hand.
Here on the tips of my fingers,
kiss each brimming decade.

You enrapture me, Beloved Age,
with the depths of your adventures
You sway upon the branch of time
a perfect, ripened fruit.
As priestess I receive the offering.
as priestess, raise it high.
Oh Age our ritual
electrifies the air!
We dance the body aging

Companion of the dance,
Let us leave behind the liars
frightened ones, cruel fools
who do not grant the gold of age.
I see you blazing naked
I show you everything I am

Only you have known me long enough.
Oh Age, I thrill to your earned furrows
to your every weathered crevice and ravine
At the close of the circle it is only you
with the sense to get off the wheel of the mind

Each being at birth accepts
the invitation, Sensuality...
In the sunflower's glory time,
it bends to earth heavy with seed
Why do humans want to trade
those fecund kernels of experience
for the barren face of youth?
They resist my accruing gift...
But none can shun me

Neither can they stop me
from calling their flesh,
blooming in their blood.
I brighten their eyes from the start
I keep them hungry to the end.
Yet they see me as a circumstance
They see you as my enemy

Those who bow to the peddlers of fear
consent to their own dwindling.
My dear, to those who dare
embrace the prize of years,
we promise pungent pleasure
Sensuality, my sweet, we
know only seasoned wood
can carry the flame all
the way to ash.

    (to Audience)
Is She not splendid?
Open your eyes to her
luster, Give ear to my
musical language
Welcome us in concert
and we will ripen so

in you

Copyright 1999, 2000 by Sue Silvermarie

David and Papa Joe

My son stands at the
casket of my father
Their shared birthday
fifty years apart
enclosed me between.
Now the bracket breaks
I'm yanked into space
unbound and unsteady
My son takes my hand
and asks me to place
in my father's pocket
a going away gift.
A bead of blue and yellow
strung on a leather thong,
his emblem of liquid
basketball moves.
My son feels my father
lingering confused.
As I bestow the bead
he whispers toward the casket:
Go, Papa Joe.

Copyright 1999, 2000 by Sue Silvermarie

Getting Up Glad

From whence my hope, I cannot say,
except it grows in the cells of my skin.
In my envelope of mysteries it hums.
In the sheath so akin to the surface of the earth
it whispers. Beneath
the wail and dissonance in the world,
hope's song grows. Until I know that

with this turning we put a broken age to rest.
We who are alive at such a cusp
now usher in
one thousand years of healing.

Winged ones and four -leggeds,
grasses and mountains and each tree,
all the swimming creatures, and
even we wary two-leggeds
hum, and call, and create
the Changing Song. We remake
all our relations. We convert
our minds to the earth. In this turning time
we finally learn to chime and blend,
attune our voices; sing the vision
of the Great Magic we move within.
We begin the new habit:
getting up glad!
For a thousand years of healing.

Copyright 1999 by Sue Silvermarie

Out of her own body she pushed
silver thread, light, air
and carried it carefully on the dark, flying
where nothing moved.
Out of her body she extruded
shining wire, life, and wove the light
on the void...
   from Grandmother by Paula Gunn Allen


She spun her two threads to cross
at the world's center and so came the quarters:
directions and winds, elements and seasons.
Then the spinning spun and spun
and never will be done.
Impossible, falling out of All. But how we rock
in Her wondrous Web. Nestled
in its cradle we sway
to the quiver of infinite links.

Is the Great Creator amused
as we now pretend the Net
is of our own making?
Toddlers we are, beginning to grasp,
honoring with mimicry
what aloud, we dare to doubt.
The web unbounded within and without
will bring us to the truth of Her
to owning up and bowing. This
Net will never let us succumb to separation.
Belonging is its name.

Copyright 1999 by Sue Silvermarie

Music to Soften My Mouth

My unyielding mouth
eases as she
transports me past all shields.
To her the softness
dwelling in me
reveals itself.
Hindrance falls
from us both and our desires
omit no opening.
Last night we clung in love
like ancestors,
and I thought of him.

I won't die before
my mouth reaches repose.
I will not wait
as Daddy did, till his mouth at rest,
astonishing in his coffin,
remade his face.
His lesson, once flung by me
at heavy cost into rubble,
his modeling of the body, his
tangle of omnipotence with passion,
arises clean! Leaves desire
raked of domination.

I won't die before contentment
melts the frozen fears
from the muscles of my mouth..
He will never hurt me again.
I can cling in love without
the diction of my first teacher
bewildering me.
From the ruins of his model:
only ardor, the fervency
of flesh, hands drawing from piano,
music of the body, songs
to soften my mouth.

Copyright 3/23/98 by Sue Silvermarie

My Father Who Art Transformed

My father who art not here,
are you a kinder creature now?
Are you laughing, Daddy,
at the cramped and hampered self
from which you flew?
The cocoon of control you
finally outgrew?

May all impatience learned
at your knee die. May
every impulse to judgement
modeled and praised
in the family courtroom
with you die. May
my terror of you Daddy,
be buried now forever.

My father who art transformed,
your emergence makes
me love my pupa stage,
curled all soft into
flesh and form. The treasure
you once robbed all mine again.
Both of us finally free, Daddy.

Copyright 3/16/98 by Sue Silvermarie

The Calendar Round

--a period of 52 years in the Mayan calendar

When a rainbow casts a pink haze on your 52nd birthday,
your face is changed. You can't refuse
the new path.

It plants one shimmering foot on the slope
of Mount Sally, the other
in the high meadow.
As the rainbow arches its transparent back,
and the willow is my witness,
something marks me.

From my green chair among strawberries
I hear the Kickapoo River agree
I must serve now.
I snap a stem and bring it to
my mouth, the berry barely
aware of leaving home.

I sit into nightfall. Promise becomes invisible.
Demure fireflies flirt. One vaults
to kiss a falling star.
Can my heart span light and shadow?
It must it must, it must it must.
I smell the tender moon.

Birthday plans must be surrendered
to unplanned unfolding, flawless.
Botched, I thought
before the rainbow inscribed
my being. Now I am still.
The calendar round

swings through its gate of stars,
makes me a beginner. I listen
for my new name

Copyright 2000 by Sue Silvermarie

Shaman Journey

I break through
the membrane of earth
and dart exuberant
A wisp of fire!
Stars greet me
as a piece of light
Enough room, finally,
for my true size.

All alive I
hear stars singing like
whales in the galactic sea.
meridian the Milky Way
and its black womb cradles me.

How can I hold
such luminosity?
I fall back toward the atmosphere
Fall fast, back
to my disguise.

Copyright September 18, 1999 by Sue Silvermarie