Doris Henderson
 Photo: Truus Teeuwissen 

Doris Henderson’s first full-length poetry collection, What Gets Lost, is a work of stunning multiplicity, mingling jubilation and high jinx with a terrible sense of what gets lost, moving between glorying in the world’s beauty and exposing its follies and pitfalls, between reveling in the real and free-falling in a magically surreal realm of dream and fantasy. What holds it all together is a sensibility as witty as it is wise, a voice in love with the possibilities of language and metaphor. About these poems Kathleen O’Connor has written, “Doris Henderson’s What Gets Lost is a beautiful, reflective memoir in narrative free verse. The poems have a dreamlike, almost surreal quality, with an amazing cast of characters who both bedevil and inspire. We are treated to witticisms and warnings from dead relatives, as well as transformations in the animal and vegetable kingdoms—the ‘monkey inside my skull,’ the revolt of threatened weeds who ‘want it all back.’ Colorful friends and playful creatures will capture your imagination and transport you to a different time and place, yet one that is strangely familiar. This witty, precise poetry is accessible but deeply affecting. Ms. Henderson’s work has a place on every poetry lover’s bookshelf.” And this from Christine Beck: “Doris Henderson’s imagery is both striking and original. I savored phrases such as ‘the past...with its eerie blue light and green feathers,’ ‘wine glasses fidget behind glass doors,’ and ‘fall is...the broken doppler of a passing train.’ She writes with assurance of childhood, dreams, and love’s vagaries. These are poems to visit again and again, for the sheer joy of the ride.”

 Cover painting: Joseph Farris

Doris Henderson grew up in a very small town on rural Long Island. She attended the State University of New York at Albany and holds an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. A former teacher and theatre coach, she sees poetry as a performance art. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, as well as three chapbooks: Transformations, Leaving the Plaza, and Distances. Doris lives in Danbury, Connecticut, where she attends workshops with writer friends, does freelance editing, and serves as president of the Danbury chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society. She has four children, six grandchildren and a cat named Azure.


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ISBN 978-0-9823970-0-8
Copyright © 2009 by Doris Henderson

Length: 126 pages, 6" x 9" paperback



When I was ten, Mama put me to work
embroidering tiny flower petals
on identical linen towels, weaving stacks
of red and blue potholders, cutting dozens
of pale white identical sugar cookies.

Mrs. Davis didn’t bake identical cookies,
never did anything the same way twice.
Her living room was cluttered
with colorful books and magazines,
bunches of flowers picked from the wild
overgrown bushes in her front yard.

Every morning the Davis cows walked slowly
across Route 25. All the traffic stopped.
In the evening they walked back.
This had nothing to do with Mrs. Davis
or the records she played — of Tosca
losing her beloved, of Violetta dying.

She was the only person in town,
besides the minister, who’d been to college.
Her walls were covered with pictures
of famous authors, historical figures,
prized horses, reproductions of famous paintings.
The other women thought she was “peculiar.”

Mrs. Davis would talk for hours about her life
to anyone who’d listen.
Mr. Davis was not a listener.
He didn’t talk very much, either.
If I were a cow, said Mrs. Davis,
I might get some attention.

If I were Mrs. Davis, I thought,
I’d sit up all night reading those books,
listening to those records,
and never cut another cookie.


I have a monkey inside my skull.
He chatters and plucks at my brain,
pokes his dirty face against my eye sockets,
leers at the people outside.

He is strong — and supple.
He can roll my eyes where they’re not supposed to look,
spit improprieties off the tip of my tongue,
his heel wedged against my jaw.

He smells bad.
I try to say polite words;
he tickles my throat,
belches his foul breath
between my teeth.

Sometimes he gets out and walks around the house,
picking up dust and discarded objects
between his ugly toes.
Inexcusable shit-colored beast,
he insults my work, laughs at the pictures on the wall,
exposes himself in front of my antique statuary.

When company comes I have to sedate him
and hide him under the couch.
Still he sticks out his fingers
and makes obscene gestures.
I pretend I don’t see him.
I sip my tea and talk about books and art,
while he mumbles and drools on the floor.

Why couldn’t I have a pet bird, or a kitten,
instead of this creature?

I’d miss him if he left.


Sometimes I wish I’d never met him,
but it’s destiny, he tells me. His cat likes me.
What kind of guy lets his cat direct his social life?

I am curled up on the sofa, head propped
on a lumpy cushion, looking at one of his art books.
I roll to one side, trying to get comfortable.

Hold it! he says to me. Don’t move a muscle!
I want to paint you just that way!


No, no, just lie there, he says, go on reading.
He knows I can’t eat anything in this position,
anyway, there’s nothing in his refrigerator.

He has these excursions into the arts.
Last week he was learning to play the zither.
I sat there smiling, ear plugs under my headband.

Now the cat is walking all over me.
She’s shy, and avoids most people.
I am one of her rare choices.

The cat is fluffy, has an even disposition.
As for him, he’s moody, talks too much —
or says nothing for days.

I think the cat is tired of him.
Maybe I’ll just sneak out of here
while he’s cleaning his brushes,
and take her with me.


Close the door gently;
do not look to shut me in.
I dream of clouds drifting
over endless fields
of very small flowers.
Sleep is its own dimension:
in this brief night
I live a thousand years
under the shadowed aura
of the sustaining moon.

Into the endless void
my soul seeks space
and time for wandering...
Lie down beside me:
stretch to the soft down pillows.
Let the mirrors of your eyes
reflect the colors
of your most secret places.


In early May I find them,
along the walkway, underneath the porch —
fronds of wild carrot sprouting from the dust,
oak trees two inches tall, the acorns still attached.

I break my nails digging the crabgrass
at the edge of the parking lot,
in the long crack splitting the macadam
stuffed with green rushes like a giant fishmouth.

They fight back: small saplings cut red stripes
on my palms and fingers, a crumble of bloody leaves.
The tall ones line up at the edge of the blacktop,
waving their pennants in the wind.

Written in the curl of tiny roots,
cuneiform of the split seed, their memory:
lush primeval wood, fat snakes and possums,
beetles like fox eyes, black mossy streams,
the impenetrable green...

In June the heatherweed and Queen Anne’s lace
blow their heady fumes.
They long to put us all to sleep
for just a century or two,
with all the engines rusting in the field,
sweet William, tiny buttercups
sprouting from broken hubcaps,
wild grass over the dirtblown roadway,
sunflowers over the plate glass windows at the mall.

They whisper in the dusk,
when the dank mist rises in yellow moonlight —
They want it back.
They want it all back.


We can hike
over a whited trail,
arms, thighs straining
over rock-strewn hills
under heavy back packs,
laughing in the wind’s teeth.

Slowly we will savor the fish
caught in an icy mountain lake,
light candles at a small pine table,
amber light gilding faces,
our shadows merging
on the rough-hewn walls.

Later the curious moon
will pass white fingers over
abandoned plates, dropped shoes
warm rumpled sheets
lying like snow drifts.


Mona got married last night. To Rich.
He just sort of showed up, very congenial,
and they spent time together — you know,
and things were going so well he said
Let’s get married and she said Why not.

He must be a really resourceful guy, came up
with all the details in one day, the stuff
that usually takes months and drives you
crazy. He even bought her the gown,
a little off white, with shiny highlights,

a sort of one-size-fits-all. A lacy crown
topped it off. She looked in the mirror
and hardly knew herself, suddenly remembered
she’d been a pretty brunette, and her face
shone like the gown.

Rich took care of everything, invited
all his friends and his friends’ friends. The room
was full of people she’d never met before,
all uniformly friendly and enthusiastic,
the kind that thoroughly enjoy a party.

She was glad she didn’t know any of them.
The people she knew would have asked
a lot of nosy questions, and reminded her
of her last marriage, which had been
pretty much a disaster.

The dinner was the best part — lots of crêpes suzettes
and other soft, elegant foods that Mona enjoys,
especially as her teeth aren’t so good anymore.
The room was elegant too: brass and mahogany,
a big stone hearth — the kind of place you could get lost in.

She couldn’t seem to remember much
about the ceremony, or where they went afterwards.
Next day she was still snug in her old apartment,
wasn’t sure where Rich had taken off to.

Her mother and father showed up, and she decided
she might as well tell them she was married again.
Mother was quite annoyed she hadn’t been invited,
but the whole thing had been so spontaneous,
it wasn’t really possible.

They were going on a trip, mother announced,
and leaving Grandma with Mona. It seemed
everybody was arranging Mona’s calendar lately,
including Rich, who still hadn’t turned up,
but she was sure he was out there somewhere.

Her day felt crispy and planned, as though
she finally had some structure in her life,
being married and all that, and she hoped
she’d be able to remember her new last name,
if they ever got around to asking.


First the floor gives
way, the founda
tion disinte
grates, I am
staring down a ten
story hollow cav

The others are
having tea, and
it seems impolite to men
tion that the fur
niture is sliding
towards the edge of a prec
ipice or that the build
ing next door has
entirely disap


Scrawled on a back page, just one word — Suzanne
placed like a footnote, almost out of sight,
in my ex-husband’s unmistakable hand

(the strokes I’d studiously learned to duplicate:
great phallic loops, descending with a flair,
to sign his checks, and see the bills got paid.)

How clever, how discreet, to hide her there,
for future reference, in the interstice:
just flip the empty vellums, she appears.

Mysterious coed? Someone else’s wife?
I see a model’s pose; rich auburn hair
cascades behind her ear. He’d find that nice.

Was she the legal wiz he hired last year
to fudge the income he forgot to claim?
Or femme fatale from his aborted stage career?

Perhaps a faithful, sweet-faced, willing slave,
paster of scrapbooks, booster of his fame,
juggler of schedules, finder of lost keys?

Or clever looks, beneath a shining mane,
her observations sharp, and polished well,
like the perfected sibilants of her name...

I don’t know what about her caught his eye,
or why, at this late date, she rivets mine.
We have long since played out our history.

Hers was the only name I ever found.
I must confess: I hope she turned him down.


We could take the train...
hoist our bundles up the metal stairs,
ride backward in worn leather seats,
watching the snow flakes glance off smoky windows.

Huddled together, feet propped on suitcases,
plotting our route like happy fugitives,
I would lean close to catch your words,
breathing the earth scent of your warm jacket.

Riding the long anonymous miles,
swaying with every stop,
your gloves would lie on the seat next to mine,
the fingers gently closing.

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