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Sample Poems by Michael Cleary

Adam and Eve Make Love

Paradise gone
for good.

Each other’s

a private
gloom and frizzle.

At last,
longing un-numbs,


squeeze and thrust.

Their sin

original fruit—
making love

out of what’s lost,
a world

out of nothing
but one another.

Warm Outside the Gates of Eden

Though my mother complains she’s tired
of telling those worn out sob stories, her life
had the bleak twists of a Dickens tale

starting in the Depression at 9 years old
when her mother died, leaving 8 kids
to their alcoholic father, a worthless

hard hearted 100% son of a bitch
who sold 2 sons for adoption,
tried to hang another, abandoned the rest.

They were stuck for a while, though,
when he wasn’t off on a bender.
When floors and water pipes froze

and 10 blocks of wind waited to slice into
the girls’ bare legs and everyone’s thin jackets,
they all skipped school and snuggled

like puppies under a heap of blankets.
Now, 80 years later, she knits woolen caps
for babies in the maternity ward.

She favors pink, yellow, white, blue
because, she says, they’re spring colors
and who doesn’t love spring?

Bless the Child in Any Juke Box Bar

Bless the woman at the juke box
singing along softly
with broken heart songs.

She dances, sort of, alone,
swaying slow, eyes half closed.
Deep inside, the song stirs

(It hurts so bad…hurts so bad)
like a nerve tensing her belly,
writhing her hips.

For the moment, she’s back
with her girlish ghost
who craved that ache

mouthed into the mirror,
each lovelorn syllable pleading
for a hurt so bad just to feel alive.

Tonight, men’s eyes touch her
all over like a silken scarf
teasing her body, tormenting

ticklish skin like child’s play.
Most nights, she leaves alone.
Most nights, she likes it that way.

The Prodigal Son’s Brother

Father trades the swineherd’s rags
for robes of gold brocade.
Father’s jeweled ring now
gracing the hand so gladly

pleasured with flesh of whores.
Always I have followed
Father’s commandment: sacrifice
the one true road to salvation.

To honor unremarkable virtue
and the justice of consequences:
the faithfully oiled hinge,
the cultivated field.

Him. Him.
Mercy’s Golden Child.
Sinner celebrated as saint.
Him they will remember.

Tonight the homecoming feast.
Father has ordered me
to slaughter the fatted calf.
Would that I should cleave

my brother’s heart to bits
and reveal his bankrupt grace,
that Father find me worthy
and grant my rightful place.


At last, a week’s reprieve from tiresome nuns.
Better yet, the retreat leader no solemn
parish Father from Sunday sermons
but a young Brother from Rome cheerful
in Friar Tuck monk’s robe and cowl.

Brother Juniper’s sessions in the Great Hall
began with jokes unspoiled by hokey morals.
When he sprinkled his talk with movies
and rock ‘n roll, it felt like holy water
blessing our heathen obsessions.

Faith lifted him up on wings.
Suddenly, it was cool to be Catholic.
Girls fluttered about him, tantalized
by James Dean looks and celibacy vows.
Boys yearned for a vocation and charisma.

Last day, he crouched over a piano
banging out a Jerry Lee Lewis scorcher
‘til there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
and laughter rang out like a choir.
For months, our hearts remembered that sound.