Wanda S. Praisner
author photo by Robert J. Praisner  
Despite their courageous facing of dire fact, the poems in Wanda S. Praisner’s Sometimes When Something Is Singing open vistas filled with childhood delight and love. They look terrible loss squarely in the face, but while passing through an Inferno portrayed in Dantean detail, they also demonstrate the restorative powers of travel, the ocean, and wild nature. The song of joy, muted at times, always returns. In the end, whatever has been taken is given back, and we are allowed a vision of “a past ever present.” Maxine Susman comments that “Wanda Praisner’s elegiac new book, Sometimes When Something Is Singing, reflects on a lifetime of close family ties and far-flung travels, with an eye for local color, period detail, the surprise flash of memory. She brings unflinching candor to poems about the death of her son, and her own survival as a wife and mother in the intervening years. It is a book of clear-eyed courage.” And this from Nancy Scott: “In Praisner’s poetry I am awestruck by the precision of her words, her formidable knowledge of the natural habitat, what she has learned about herself in extensive travels from the Serengeti to Green Turtle Cay and beyond. I was especially drawn to ‘The Young Women in Saris, Khajuraho to Agra,’ where a group poses near the lotus basin at the Taj Mahal: ‘In water that wavers like old glass / their colors bleed together.’ From that image, it is possible to grasp unity, as well as fragility, in all that we know. Here, as in so much of her writing, Praisner has shared every drop of the world as she perceives it with her child who died young, always ‘beside me, my son’s empty chair.’ ”
Wanda Praisner cover
  photo by Robert J. Praisner

Wanda S. Praisner is a recipient of poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has been nominated seven times for a Pushcart Prize. A finalist for the MARGIE “Strong Medicine” award as well as the 2012 and 2014 New Jersey Poets Prize, she placed second in the Allen Ginsberg Contest and the 2013 Musehouse Poem of Hope Contest. She won The Devil’s Milhopper Kudzu Prize, the Maryland Poetry Review Egan Award, First Prize in Poetry at the College of New Jersey Writers’ Conference, and the 2010 Princemere Prize. She was a featured reader at the Governor’s Conference on the Arts and at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Her work has appeared in many journals including Atlanta Review, Lullwater Review, New York Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Slant, and U.S. 1 Worksheets, where she served as editor. Her books include A Fine and Bitter Snow (Palanquin Press, USCA, 2003), On the Bittersweet Avenues of Pomona (winner of the Spire Press Poetry Chapbook Competition, 2005), and Where the Dead Are (CavanKerry Press, 2013). In 2010 she was inducted into the Curtis High School Hall of Fame, and in 2012 she received an Alumni Fellow Award from Wagner College. Wanda Praisner is a poet-in-residence for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She lives in Bedminster, New Jersey.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-70-2

Copyright © 2014 by Wanda S. Praisner

6" x 9" paperback, 60 pages


copyright © 2014 by Wanda S. Praisner


Afternoon Walk

Sun ignites specks in macadam,
the leftover salt, roadside ice-covered snow,
and I remember how as a child I picked up
shiny bits of broken glass
from the hillside by grandpa’s house
mother named: topaz, zircon, aquamarine –
the way my granddaughter seeks out
opaque pieces of sea glass along Gillam Bay
I name: tourmaline, garnet, peridot –
my childhood gems rinsed, kept in a jar,
raised to the light, and then to the camera –
a faded photo of me and my treasure
in the family album, corner fasteners unglued,
flecks from the black pages falling to the floor,
of all the smiling faces, only mine left –
my shadow before me on the pavement taller,
more erect, and though without substance
it walks almost with a swagger
as though the way ahead continues on forever –
two of me, until I turn to go back,
move forward toward the light,
and my ghostly second lags behind.



for my father

No one’s born or buried here.
Scientists dig, Greeks supervise,
tourists visit. Guides describe
a mosaic floor on a museum wall:
“Athena in a helmet, masks decorate
the border.” One intact and realistic face
smiles out, haunts me, but how to recall a past
I cannot reconstruct.

Fig trees rise from empty cisterns,
stairs lead down to a fountain
green with algae and croaking frogs.
Once, ten thousand slaves changed hands
daily in the agora. The sacred lake drained
for fear of malaria, overgrown with tamarind.
A tall palm marks the site where Apollo was born
to shiver in island wind.

Purple, parchment-like statice covers hillsides.
I pick a sprig, pocket a white stone
and suddenly realize you were here,
fifty years ago, and did the same,
later asking me to print DELOS, 600 BC
on your souvenir, glue on the purple flower.
I did. I’d forgotten.
You, unearthed – we, for a moment, restored.

The Love Ring

Whatever advantage the future has in size,
the past compensates for in weight
. –Franz Kafka

Your father and brother would have no part
in a boy buying a gold Cartier Love Ring,

went on a gondola ride to cool off. I stayed.
The Mori struck the hour, pigeons scattered,

you admired your gleaming band. Later,
on the ferry, you let us hold it, feel its weight.

You tried to sell it to me the fall
you needed a new bike to get across campus.

I said it was manly, it was yours. You wore it last
to the first night of Open Swim, wrapped

with your lanyard and whistle in a beach towel
just above the lap lane where you drowned.

I wear it now. Your father clips out ads
showing how the ring increases in value.

Monday, September Fifteenth,
Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Someone said pain carries no memory,
you will forget it.

Still summer. The park crowded, mothers
with strollers, men with dogs. I don’t run,
even jog, not a cadence count
to my movement. Twenty-two years ago,
my son’s last day alive. I try to imagine
what it was like, then try not to.

The meadow’s lush again after tropical
storm Hanna. White snakeroot blooms.
But water gurgling over rocks brings back
his drowning in the college pool –
three lifeguards closing up to go watch
Monday Night Football, leaving him there.

I leave, return in the evening, my thoughts
on a Mexican altarpiece I once saw:
Mary in a silk magenta gown, glittering
scroll trim, navy lace mantle; glass eyes,
glass tears; a silver crown to echo
the sword thrust into her heart.

Dusk now, I’ve circled the trail again,
my car alone in the lot.
A young buck poses still as a garden statue.
I hurry, almost 7:30 – his last hour
in the lap pool – 7:30, when the automated
park gates move inward, clasp shut.

In Sweden: 2002

The pallbearers are Kurdish women
dressed in black, heads bare, faces white.
They sustain a sister – her refusal
to enter an arranged marriage.
A matter of family honor, pressure
from clansmen. No matter her pleas
to Swedish police, politicians, the media.

In the black and white news photo,
the women carry a meter-high head shot
of Fadime ahead of the coffin.
She stares out to the right of the camera,
resignation captured on her comely face,
dark eyes opaque, already dead,
wide open, having seen her father’s eyes,
having pictured her father’s gun at her head.

The Young Women in Saris,
Khajuraho to Agra

More than the tigers or temples,
it’s the young women I see,
rich and poor alike draped in fabrics
wound around bodies and heads,
colors riotous as roadside markets:
coriander, turmeric, aubergine,
mango, lemon, lime. No two the same.

Regal as maharanis, they walk by
fields of wheat, chick-pea, and mustard,
tiny shrines to Shiva. Branches,
water jugs, baskets of dung cakes
carried on heads. Some perch on backs
of motor bikes without holding on.

Roads clogged with cows, trucks,
camel-drawn wagons; dust, dirt, garbage,
death there too. I snap picture after picture
as I move past them. We don’t speak
or touch, though with smiles I admire
their saris: peacock’s neon blue,
kingfisher’s aquamarine,

the coral-fuchsia of bougainvillea
climbing palace walls, silver-gold
sequins blinking in sunlight – saris
washed in sacred rivers, dried on rocks,
smoke rising from distant cremation ghats,
chanting, the beat of drums.

A group poses for me at the Taj Mahal
lotus basin – bound, licorice-black hair
trailing down sapling backs. Like the lotus,
they bloom in pristine ponds, polluted canals –
unopened blossoms offered in temple marriages.
In water that wavers like old glass,
their colors bleed together.

Trinidad, Cuba

June, 2012

It’s as though time itself had broken down –
like the rainbow-colored finned cars from the ’50s
we pass. Horse carts. Dogs, friendly as the people,
roam free. Violet thunbergia and gold allamanda
climb decaying walls, poinciana and plumeria
hug houses painted in sherbet shades.
Porches with rocking chairs, men smoking.
Ahead, a hundred vultures circle something dead.

We pass a cemetery. Our guide, Gustavo
tells us the island dead are buried in the ground.
He looks and sounds like Ricardo Montalban did
on Fantasy Island, but isn’t dressed in white,
though a man crossing the cobblestone street is.
“A santero.” Gustavo says.
“White worn for a year to purify the soul.”

At meals we’re served Havana Club and colas,
mojitos, or Bucanero beers as musicians
play “Bésame Mucho”—a song I haven’t heard
since Aunt Hilda’s wedding that hot June
afternoon in the ’40s – she an angel in white,
bridal veil to satin shoes, who danced with me,
let me taste her rum and Coke
in the small smoke-filled second floor restaurant.

January Sixth

The past is never dead.
It’s not even past.

– W. Faulkner

The sky’s flaccid as my thighs,
once firm in cheerleading days –

a winter storm warning in effect for tonight,
a delayed opening for schools tomorrow.

Few in the park. Summer weekends
families and runners crowded the paths.

My fingers numb by the time I reach the river,
eyelet-edged in ice – orange cones block the trail.

As a young teacher waiting for bus 206
on Cebra and Victory, only fur-lined gloves

kept my hands warm. At my boy’s bench,
I brush off the snow, sit a moment,

then detour along the frozen meadow
past empty bat and bluebird boxes, nearly stepping

on a fallen bird nest – three inches,
fashioned from thinnest grasses and hairs,

a single white thread woven in like some kind
of manmade imperfection – no way to know

where it came from, enough that it was once
part of a larger purpose, a past ever present.

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