jThe Widest Eye poems by Brooke Herter James

picture of Brooke Herter James
Author photo by Frances Lewis  

In their lively combination of wit and wisdom, the poems in Brooke Herter James’ The Widest Eye ring every change from jubilation to grief, with love for all of creation as an underlying continuum. About the book, Matthew Lippman has written, “Brooke Herter James’ poems sing with the true spirit of the everyday. The poems in The Widest Eye move between showing the here-and-now and something more metaphysical and wonderfully elusive—that magic spirit which is love. It is a love of family, food, and animal; love of a world that is breathtaking; love which pulls the reader into each and every poem. The truth informing James’ work is conveyed in a style vibrating between acute imagery and lyrical dexterity. These are moving and fantastic poems.”
  the widest eye cover image
  Front cover photograph by the author.

Brooke Herter James won her first creative writing award in eighth grade and her second some decades later. In between, she graduated from Bowdoin College with a BA in English Literature and from Antioch University New England with an MS in Teaching. After a stint as an educator with the National Park System, she pursued a nursing degree and worked for many years as a public health nurse. Five years ago, she remembered that eighth grade story and decided to circle back to what she loves to do most: write. The Widest Eye is her first collection of poems. She is also the author of a forthcoming children’s book, Why Did the Farmer Cross the Road? James is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a student in the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and a graduate of the Yale Writers’ Conference. She lives with her husband on a small hillside in Vermont.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-16-2

First Edition 2016

5.5" x 8.5" chapbook, 40 pages



Copyright © 2016 by Brooke Herter James


Hot Dog

I’m gonna bite you. Hard.
And when I do
I’ll be coasting down Comm Ave
on my rusty red Raleigh,
dragging a faded blue sneaker
just in case the brakes don’t work.
I’m gonna bite you,
and when I do
I’ll hear my mother say
Don’t ruin that shirt
as a big blob of mustard
follows the ketchup onto my jeans.
I’m gonna bite you,
and when I do
I’ll be watching Big Papi hit a homer
under the lights at Fenway,
or bench-sitting in the Garden,
or riding the café car somewhere
between South Boston and NYC,
looking out a grimy window
at the dazzling sea.
I’m gonna eat you in three chomps
and wish for a for a fourth.
I’m gonna bite you
and every time I do
I’m gonna be happy.

Some Pig

I am the piglet in crate #637.
Not the bathed-in-buttermilk pig
pushed in a baby carriage
by a girl named Fern.
I am a piglet with a chopped-off tail,
torn ears and broken teeth,
no room to twist or run.
Once the rusted doors opened wide
and a gust of warm, sweet
clover air rushed through.
Hundreds of little snouts
turned upwards in
solidarity with spring!
Then quickly downwards again.
I could be Some Pig, too.
But pick me isn’t what we
squeal around here.


Up early, my husband pours our coffee while
I leaf through the travel section of the Times, pausing
to consider the improbable beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Later, I stare out the window, watching a man climb
down from our ancient apple, having pruned
away the smooth suckers, leaving only old wood.

At bedtime, I stop while brushing my teeth and lean in
towards the mirror, wondering why I’ve never admired
the spectacular lines across my forehead the way I –
just hours earlier – glorified the Grand Canyon
and marveled at the bark of a tree.

True, no great river has etched its way into my brow,
but there has been weather all right,
and children, parents, friends, dogs,
all at the door, all coming, then going.
All taking a turn with the chisel.

Baling Twine

Howard came right over
to shoot the rabid raccoon
living under our porch.
After the deed was done,
he stayed for coffee.
We wandered out to the barn,
mugs in hand. Your barn
is cleaner than my house

he laughed, then added
Didn’t use to be that way
when I had a wife.

Seemed like a good time,
one farmer to another,
for pointing to the pile of
baling twine laying in the corner
next to the grain bins, and asking
if he didn’t hate that stuff.
Always making its way into
the manure pile only to wrap itself
around the tines of the rototiller
the next spring.
Or grabbing hold of a hoof now and again,
hobbling a sheep
on her way out to the apple tree.
I said someone should come up with
a good way to use it.
Someone will, I remember him saying.
We finished our coffee,
I thanked him for shooting the raccoon.
He got in his truck and drove off.
Now I roll every strand of baling twine
in a tight little ball and
stuff it in the trash can
at the back of the woodshed,
having heard just last week
that he went and hung himself
on a summer Saturday afternoon.


The Widest Eye on Earth

On the same lazy summer afternoon
that a fisherman, drunk with sleep,
drifted across the median at 40 miles an hour
into the silver Geotracker that held my daughter
snug in her seat, radio on, windows rolled down,
the sweet smells of Clay County Kentucky grass
blowing in;

on that very same afternoon
all across the globe
eyes were closing for the last time:
24 in Algiers, bomb,
4 in southern Greece, earthquake,
74 in Ukraine, collapsed mine,
14 in Tokyo, stabbing spree,
310,000 in places unknown, other.
Who could possibly have foreseen
the fisherman’s would be added to this tally?

She swears no recollection, but
surely my daughter knew not to blink.
Years later, her left eye still won’t close.
All manner of doctors have stared into
the pupil, forever huge and round and black,
with only this to say:
You will have to protect yourself against too much light.
To which she replies:
No such thing as too much light.

My Mother

I am sitting
on this deep-cushioned
comfy white couch
looking for my mother.
She’s in this room
in this summer house
overlooking Folly Island
and, on a northwest day,
Isle Au Haut beyond.
Let me start by saying
she is not everywhere
in that Unitarian sort of way.
She is definitely not
in the Harlequin Romance
that a renter must have squeezed
into the bookshelf between
Ngaio Marsh and Graham Greene.
She is also not in the big red
fire extinguisher next to
the wood bin. Only her daughters
would have put that there,
a weapon in their endless, tiresome
antismoking crusade.
If she is in the game cupboard,
she is certainly not in the slightly
crushed box of Risk, watching
her son gleefully consider
global domination.
But possibly she is in the little
wooden lobster boat on the mantel,
reliving her wild girl days with
the Hill boys on the
rolling waters of Casco Bay.
Or wandering through the yellowed,
pencil-marked pages of the shelved
Oxford Book of English Verse,
recalling a college beau with whom
she spent countless evenings reciting Chaucer.
Or perhaps on this very couch,
bare feet resting on the driftwood
table her husband built?
My money has her lingering in the
tangerine raspberry curtains
offsetting the slate gray of barn board,
the blues of sky and sea.
She, of course, would snort loudly
at the thought of this exercise,
rejecting the conceit of immortality.
But secretly?
She would approve of my conclusion.
My mother never had a single regret
about picking that color.