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A. M. Juster Seven Poems

Cancer Prayer


Dear Lord,

                   Please flood her nerves with sedatives

and keep her strong enough to crack a smile

so disbelieving friends and relatives

can temporarily sustain denial.


Please smite that intern in oncology

who craves approval from department heads.


Please ease her urge to vomit; let there be

kind but flirtatious men in nearby beds.


Given her hair, consider amnesty

for sins of vanity; make mirrors vanish.


Surround her with forgiving family

and nurses not too numb to cry. Please banish

trite consolations; take her in one swift

and gentle motion as your final gift.


First published in Edge City Review.



No, not this time.  I cannot celebrate

a man’s discarded life, and will not try;

these knee-jerk elegies perpetuate

the nightshade lies of Plath.  Why glorify

descent into a solipsistic hell?

Stop.  Softly curse the waste.  Don’t elevate

his suffering to genius.  Never tell

me he will live on.  Never call it fate.

Attend the service.  Mourn.  Pray.  Comfort those

he lacerated.  Keep him in your heart,

but use that grief to teach.  When you compose

a line, it is a message, not just art.

Be furious with me, but I refuse

to praise him.  No, we have too much to lose.


2007 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award winner.

Note from Echo


Narcissus, I no longer haunt the canyons

and the crypts. I thrive and multiply;

uncounted daughters are my new companions.

We are the voicemail’s ponderous reply

to the computers making random calls.

We are the Muzak in the empty malls,

the laughtrack on the reruns late at night,

the distant siren’s chilling lullaby,

the steady chirp of things that simplify

their scheduled lives. You know I could recite

more, but you never cared for my recitals.

I do not miss you, do not need you here —

I can repeat the words of your disciples

telling lovers what they want to hear.


2000 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award winner.

Moscow Zoo


We saw the mass grave at the Moscow Zoo.

A sullen man dug up a human skull

Then held it high for journalists to view.

Forensic specialists arrived to cull

Remains and clues from this forgotten plot

On which the zoo still plans to cage a bear.

The experts guessed these prisoners were shot

For special reasons; no one was aware

Of comparable scenes at urban sites.

No one knew if these bones belonged to spies,

Suspected Jews or zealous Trotskyites,

But none of us displayed the least surprise

When bureaucrats emerged from quiet cars

To hint this might have been the work of czars.


1995 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award winner.

Falling for the Witch


He did not hear our warnings. In his world,

his heady world of rapture and withdrawal,

what she demanded promised ecstasy.

He thought that others did not understand.


His heady world of rapture and withdrawal

sustained delusion. When he dreamed of her,

he thought that others did not understand,

although her grasp grew stronger. Over time


sustained delusion when he dreamed of her

was stripping him of everything divine.

Although her grasp grew stronger over time,

he did not feel her fingers on his throat.


Was stripping him of everything divine

what she demanded? Promised ecstasy,

he did not feel her fingers on his throat;

he did not hear our warnings in his world.



There’s shouting by the stove (it’s Plath & Hughes)

as Wystan wanders off without his shoes

and Whitman picks the Cheetos off his beard.

The Larkin-Ginsberg chat is getting weird,

and after countless hours they have found

bizarre pornography is common ground.

Old Emily is not

As prim as billed—

When Dylan finds her bra-hooks—

She is thrilled.

Poe strokes his bird; Pound yawps that it’s a pity

Eliot can’t sleep without his kitty.

Rimbaud’s on eBay searching for a zebra

while sneering, “Oui, a cheemp can write vers libre!”

The Doctor’s soggy chickens start to smell

and Stevens has insurance he must sell.

The readings are spectacular, I know,

but is there any way to make them go?


First published in Barefoot Muse.

A Kay Ryan Fanboy Poem


At first

few of us see

the wry

in her verse

the zen

or the why.

No glance


long enough

to trust dips and slants

that wring the world

for a chance at truth.

Hocus-pocus like hers

is rarely discussed

even as blurs

come into focus.

Neurons adjust.


First published in Southwest Review.

A. M. Juster

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