Melissa and Poe
Photo: Bill Crofton
If ever there was a book which is pure epiphany, Melissa Croghan’s Cliff Walk is it! We are presented with the blessings of an island where motorcars are not allowed and where forebears, family, and all manner of islanders (dogs, horses, and bats not least of all) are intensely alive, whether past or present. The author’s zest for life is infectious. Understanding the darker sides of life, as evidenced by her depiction of the terrors of 9/11, but choosing joy over despair, the poet/painter says “we are all like seeds turning to the uncertain / filtered light.” As in the final poem of the book, “Hungry at the River,” she is hungry for more, more. Early readers of the book have been delighted by the energy and brilliance of its poems and paintings. Molly Peacock writes, “Melissa Croghan’s lively double art catapults across the pages in Cliff Walk: Poems and Paintings of Mackinac & Beyond. Refusing to choose between the two arts she practices and loves, Croghan reinvigorates the whole notion of word painting in this sparkling book of lyrical images and painterly poems. Welcome to her Mackinac Island, where ‘Balance helps, and so does—’ the poet painter says, ‘a good dose of stubbornness.’ Here Croghan lives her spirited motto.” And this from James J. Bogan, Jr.: “Melissa Croghan’s lyric poems, enhanced by paired paintings of bluff, horse, and atmospherics, capture the ‘lost edges’ of Mackinac. They will remind lovers of the Island of the sources of their reverence and will introduce newcomers to the veins of joy that run deep in the Straits.
  Cover artwork: Melissa Croghan
The ancient combination of poetry and picture is a double-barreled stimulation for the reader to join in the creation of an imaginative apprehension of Mackinac.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Melissa Croghan is an award-winning poet and artist whose work has appeared in numerous journals and publications. Her novel The Tracking Heart, published in 2012, has received critical plaudits from Kirkus Reviews and has had popular readership. A former editor at Boulevard, an English professor, and a Poet-in-the-Schools in Connecticut, Croghan holds Masters and Ph.D. degrees from The University of Pennsylvania. With her “Mother America Series” and her most recent excavations in poetry and art, Melissa Croghan is a poet who breaks new ground in the interdisciplinary boundaries between art and literature. For more about her artwork and books, visit Melissa, her husband, and her two dogs and cat divide their time between Connecticut and Mackinac Island, where they are often joined by their family.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-68-9

Copyright © 2014 by Melissa Croghan

7" x 10" paperback, 116 pages


copyright © 2014 by Melissa Croghan


Cliff Walk

To the end of the lawn, to the cliff’s edge
my sister and I marched. Rascally
bike-trick girls
mere slips of youth
when we stood arm in arm
swaying backwards, allowing the wind to push us
just so far. We talked of growing up and how it must be
to marry, how it must hurt to give birth.
And the sun — I can feel how it was early those Mackinac mornings,
a careful bath of light washing our thighs and bellies
and the breeze lifting our flannel nightgowns,
ballooning them high above our legs.
We were blooms, we were planted. Forward and back
we bent with the sun and wind,
great pretending, for at heart we were shy
of fixed roots and fertile future.


Poe on Mackinac

I live on an island with a ban on cars — all is
horse and carriage here, where each morning the drays go
up Mission Hill, drivers resting their teams midway
to make deliveries or pick up trash.
And each morning about the same time
I walk my dog, Poe. He makes a beeline
for where the horses rest right outside my house. He’s good,
he doesn’t spook them, but watch how he sniffs their
every action.

Poe and I, we traipse down to the harbor, we climb
the bluff, and yet all is not as perfect as it sounds.
I grow tired of being stopped because I walk
a movie star,
a dog so ugly that he’s beautiful. People stop me
daily to say: “Basset ! — what a fit basset!” And most of all
“May I stroke his silky ears? May I just — touch them?”
While the rest of us human sods struggle to make people happy
Poe blithely goes the movie star one better —
he wags his tail
or chooses not to,
he wears no false eyelashes
and couldn’t care less if you don’t appreciate his favorite
horse manure perfume. He likes to eat it (only if it’s fresh)
and will roll in it
for extra pleasure.
Tourist fingers touching Poe’s face —
I elect not to tell his fans
what company he’s kept.

The Sidesaddle Habit

And boom,
she blew out of the steep switchback
and onto the path around Fort Holmes,
highest point on the island.
The visitors to the fort had heard a terrific snorting and stamping. They saw the powerful chest of her horse first,
and then her top hat with a twig sticking out, a leaf plastered
at the corner of her mouth. Crop in hand, Daisy had come straight up a cliff never meant for horses —
but there she was, sidesaddle on her seventeen-hand thoroughbred, in 1939. “Sidesaddle. It’s been decades since women rode like that. And that funny horn sticking up on one side — how can she be balanced; won’t she fall?”
On another morning, this was 1941, visitors to Mackinac were shocked when this woman of good age, yes — Daisy
burst out of the forest onto Bluff View trail,
sidesaddle, of course. She refused to ride any other way.
Had she really come from below at Eagle Point Cave — we don’t know, but Daisy was capable.

Balance helps, and so does —
a good dose of stubbornness.

Aside from her high jinks riding, she was
a doer of good deeds on the island, a quiet
behind-the-scenes worker, perhaps not out of choice
but necessity, as ladies like children
were to be seen but not heard, and your highborn lady to be seen —
when she was young; corseted, cosseted — pretty as pie
and heard not at all.
But Daisy worked her magic, from the charity of Daisy Day on
Mackinac to building first sidewalks in the dust and sand storms of Florida, not to mention transforming her front hall and living room in Washington
into a convalescent home for veterans in World War II.

So what if she rode sidesaddle half way through the twentieth century? Daisy Blodgett saw that habit and invention — an unlikely pair — make a good marriage. This is good news for habit-inclined people, me for instance,
my morning coffee sipped from Great-grandmother Daisy’s
Wedgewood teacup. Then off on my bike, an early ride to Morning Snack trail, and still pedaling in my brain, home to invention, to
poetry & painting.
One’s riding habit is all, and I
come by my stubbornness honestly.

Sensing Where Things Are

We squealed, they squeaked, the little browns of my youth,
diving for their dinner on the cliff walk, cleaning up the bugs —
and when you think closely on the squeal and the squeak
it is only an L and a K that makes them different, neighbors
in the line-up of the alphabet, neighbors in the suspects’ row of Guilty
or Not.

Us and the little brown bat,
us and them.
Once one of them got caught on my shirt when I was flying down the hill on my bike; my shirttail blew up and I felt the fuzzy down, like a duckling,
I felt the little brown and its fear of me.

Us and them
on this island together
their radar
our foghorns
safe passage

The Sweet Potato Sizzle

Sound like an unlikely dance?
Well, it goes like this:
in our new place on the island I revel in the garden — the pinkest
cosmos, nice spiky zinnias, and as for the studio
where my filberts, brights, and flats direct my hand to the canvas — it couldn’t be more sublime. Yet sadly there is a flaw,
there is trouble in Whoville.
Across the street is an industrial strength hotel drier
that never gets turned off. I tell this to Tim, on the phone.
“What?” he says. “Who? I can’t hear you over the drier next door.”
Busy, busy that hotel with its machinery that obliterates
the foghorn, is bigger than the wind, gives more rattle than the carriages,
and is less soulful than the tree frogs.

Don’t remind me — hotel guests do need clean sheets —
and while I’d like to talk the proprietor into stringing clotheslines
from pillar to post,
it could be a hard sell.

But tonight
my ears brighten, and yes
I hear the birds, above the racket.
All is not lost.
Sharply sweet, this birdsong — I hear it larger than the infernal drier.

Thrilling, thrilling
until I realize it is not a bird, not remotely —
it is my sweet potato
singing, a high-pitched, musical hiss
that says, Do not think drier
Think Supper —
all is not lost
you have a sweet potato in the oven


A woman who drops by my studio
says to me every so often:
“That Childhood oil painting — it’s not sad, but it bothers me!”

In it the trees churn, the child’s eyebrows are stilts falling
and clearly, the kid is engaged in something beyond our ken.

“I do like it, but it bothers me.”
Her eyes enlarge as she speaks, her mouth forms a stern margin.

As for me, I can hardly contain my glee,
for what is art if it does not make your
eyeballs pop.

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