Peggy Sapphire
 Photo: Robert Feinberg 

In her second book of poems, Peggy Sapphire again shows herself to be one of the most humane, honest, generous-hearted poets now writing, and one of the most spirited. In the End a Circle will give the rueful heart a change of mood. Although these poems show how much there is to rue in the world and although Sapphire holds back nothing in telling of it, she also writes of her joys with enormous gusto, reveling in sensual pleasures of all sorts. Always the poet’s passion for social justice and her love of others shine through, be those others children, the elderly, or loons on a midnight lake who against all odds continue to prevail. She demonstrates in this new book that she too continues to prevail. She is one who has not been undone by the pain and sorrow she has experienced; one who is incapable of bitterness; one who when faced with an ending, turns to the embracing circle of loved ones; and one who, though wise from all she has experienced, in the end circles back to the sort of unadulterated passion she felt before the fall. She becomes once more the “fisherman’s daughter / breath-taker / love-maker / barefoot again.” The gift of simplicity and directness the poet shows in the hours and days described in her poems is also evident in her writing style. These poems are a delight in their lack of clutter and pretension. There is purity here, a purity often lacking in contemporary poetry; and there is a Merwin-like spontaneity to the flow of thoughts and images. Peggy Sapphire’s virtues, both personal and poetic, have delighted all who have previewed In the End a Circle. Here is what they have to say:

  Cover photo: Peggy Sapphire

“Whether considering death or lust, abuse, shame, family, love, grief or acceptance, Peggy Sapphire’s intimate, conversational poems are sassy, tender, and sexy all at once, turning a wry eye on American culture and embracing the good, bad, ugly and beautiful alike, wise in the maturity and compassion of a fully-lived life. Reading these poems is like meeting a lifelong friend for a gourmet meal and catching up. Pull up a chair, and prepare to make a new friend.” (April Ossmann, Poetry Consultant)

“Set amidst cities and rural Vermont, the poetry of In the End a Circle comes to us with evocative glimpses along the arc of an engaged life—the nurturing and difficult relationships, the wounds that are endemic in living day to day, and the consoling power of memory that through its reinvention as poetry is lifted beyond the purely personal.” (Merrill Leffler, author of Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love).

“Here is a musical book that comes full circle, from ‘The Merciless Truth’ (Grandpa Victor’s dictum that when we die, we’ll all certainly be out of breath) to the bittersweet ‘Hereafter’—when the beloved is gone, and home’s no longer a bearable place to be. Peggy Sapphire’s poems don’t blink when it comes to lust or love, sensuality of the body or the death of it; she keeps her eyes open, and leads us round past steamy Sundays and April moons to our own mysterious destinies.” (Meg Kearney, author of An Unkindness of Ravens)

“Peggy Sapphire’s poetry engages soulfully, artfully and unflinchingly with the hard realities. ‘The heart is not a bone,’ she writes, and one feels that bittersweet wisdom in these poems that shake us up and let us down firmly but gently—wiser and gladder for having read them.” (Baron Wormser, former Poet Laureate of Maine)

Peggy Sapphire has been writing since she discovered the salvation of writing, beginning with good-bye letters when her family moved often—to Costa Rica, New York City, and elsewhere. As the first-generation daughter of an immigrant, union-organizing father from the “old country” and a stalwart feminist mother from the “new,” Peggy was educated in the ways of leaving, losing and keeping secrets. She became her family’s curator, transcribing, at their request, their oral histories. Together with her own, family history is the fulcrum of her first poetry collection, A Possible Explanation, published by Partisan Press in 2006. After almost thirty years as a public school educator, Special Education counselor and adjunct college instructor, Peggy went against all legitimate financial cautions and retired fifteen years ago. Her poetry has since appeared in numerous journals including Connecticut River Review, Maryland Poetry Review, and Caduceus, and has been widely anthologized. Her short fiction has appeared in The Underwood Review, and her work has been awarded recognition in several competitions. She has served on the Board of Trustees for The Frost Place and as Editor of the Connecticut River Review. Peggy, and her husband, Robert Feinberg, designed and built their home in the Northeast Kingdom, of Vermont, two miles up a dirt road and three to the nearest country store.

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ISBN 978-0-9823970-4-6
Copyright © 2009 by Peggy Sapphire

Length: 104 pages, 6" x 9" paperback



On Saturday precisely at noon
she waited by the Lions     their Lions
to meet her father
his laboring week finally done
paycheck deposited

Swarms of shopping crowds
split a path as the broad-shouldered man
his Fedora tilted just so
strode like the hiker he was
to meet her on the chime

She’d taken the subway from home
gauging the time as he’d taught
brown paper bag in hand
home-made sandwiches
and a Macintosh for each

They sat together eating
taking only a nook’s worth
of the library steps
congratulating themselves
on the sunny day they’d chosen

Then north up Fifth Avenue
to the Museum of Modern Art
her long legs keeping up
reminding him
of himself and his purpose

They sat together again and he whispered
This one is “Hide and Seek”
find the children there

trusting she would
an art lover of his own making

She was his oldest child
and it was on her shoulders
he laid the cloth of his trust that day
she entered the tangled world of Tchelitchew’s tree
a sanctuary of hidden children

who could not flee the war-front
as the painter had     as her father had
to the land of New York
to the peace of contemplation
the blessings of survival

She found so many lost children
within the painted tree     counted
recounted     backwards     forwards
as if she was their rescuer
never let him down double-sure.


This is how he wooed me
courted and seduced me
right there in his small-town diner
early on a Tuesday morning

me just grabbing breakfast where
I hoped it would be decent
where I saw locals parked

on my way home from a weekend
in rural Pennsylvania     don’t even
remember who it was I stayed with
or why

but I remember Romeo at his grill
sliding his spatula straight back
in a single push     clearing bacon grease
making room for my two over-easy
and a side of his home fries

Romeo cranked his head around
spotted me alone in the booth
sipping his coffee     he smiled
past the faces of his regulars at the counter
called over how I’d get a free fried egg
if he broke a yolk     house rules

how’d he know I’d been staring at his back
wondering how often he washed
those short-order whites     wondering
who smoothed his creases
every morning     played with the curls
on his tan neck     who convinced him
to grow a pony tail     and if
he could guess my name.


His runner’s legs
splay naked along the blanket
as he lounges sideways
towards her
his ankles crossed
he leans on an elbow
chest bare above his swimsuit
his mouth open as if
this is his moment

She looks out & beyond
as if to say Yes
he’s mine
her bare legs folded closely
her slender arms behind her
taut with leaning back
her bosom proud
her one-piece fitting
her everything

I hold this faded black&white
virgin image
from his faithfully unopened box
he pulls from my hands
as I ask who she was

I am hearing his life story
before it’s too late
Oh, we learned about life together
staring back at her still

He tells me
he can’t remember
her name.


Simply move
change your address
get an alias
write Return to Sender
on all incoming

Let it overflow
till the postmaster
is disgusted with you
refuses to deliver
crosses you off
her list

Do what Vermonters do
drive by     slow down
and let your hammer do
what hammers do

Take a paintbrush to it
make a dragon’s mouth
flaming tongue
spitting venom
sword teeth
and slitty eyes
ugly green
with slime dripping

tie ribbons
soft blue
maybe mauve
flowers tumbling
from the bows
ready for love notes
letters of Yes!

Fill the box with chocolates
wrapped in foil
set in golden bowls
cherries within
for what
life could really be.


You come on foot
on thick-wheeled bikes
and coughing motorcycles
from San Ysidro
and Río Pachuga
at the foot of Arenal

You hitch rides in lurching pick-ups
after a day in El Jefe’s garden
hauling fruit
or fixing cars
fixing your own
you bring milk and cheese
from your cows
as gifts a su profesora
feed your babies
tend your business
and all the while
your purpose is like
a seed of corn in your own fields

You sing songs
memorize Dylan
knock knock knockin’
on heaven’s door

see yourself driving a newer car
bought with wages from your
better job
but always long
to be home again

You come in the hammering rains
of Costa Rica’s winter
sit with puddles at your feet
metal roof roaring above
strain to hear my voice

En su futura you have dreams
you make new words
stretch your tongue
your ears follow Inglés
I will
I was
I want
I won’t
I like
I think
I can
gracias con mucho gusto
see you tomorrow

You offer a handshake
like a promise
that you forgive me
though I have talked
when I should have listened

You’ve placed your faith
in this student teacher
who practices here
in El Invu
who comes and asks
your name
your work
your family
your dreams
then leaves before you are ready
to say good-bye.


We constituents pay your bills
before we fill our prescriptions
and bury our dead hopes

We constituents     our footsteps
in the same streets where
earlier immigrant fathers intoned
Tomatoes     Fish     Work Boots
where immigrant mothers hung
workshirts still gray with coal dust
and young immigrant girls
tied kerchiefs to keep their hair
from the gears of sewing machines
but could not from the leaping flames
where the shirts were sewn

We constituents
we march on Monday
congregants with banners at hand
norte to Swan Lake past the zoo
to Strawberry Fields and the old carousel

We sing si se puede
yes we can     so simple
our voices soaring
how wide the river
how small the boat
with justice for all

just a second     just a cigarette
or so my little girl thought
until I sat her down
to sing si se puede with me
this eager seven-year-old chica
no reason to disbelieve

Let it be me
who breaks that spell
or lets it be

We constituents     our heirs
and theirs want no more
than to find our chicas
safely home from school
mothers from the market
fathers from war     from work
still willing to sing old songs

In dreams we are fearless
of open windows
our doors with no locks
delirious with the night
we are wrapped in sheets
drowsing     not dying

sweet clean sheets of our sweat
scent of our faith even in darkness
papers in our pockets
this is all we want.


She’s dead now
but not from
too much chopped liver

its dripping dollops
of schmaltz with eggs
mashed     plenty of salt
and onions wilted
in butter

Aunt Ida not only thrived
on old country recipes
she nourished us
all those Sunday afternoons ago
with Yiddish and kasha

Her dining room oval
in full leaf     overflowing
her Houston Street living room

whose lower East Side casements
faced a movie billboard
announcing simmering island lust
Jane Russell sumptuous
amidst sweet pineapples
as her bare-chested lover’s
cigarette smoldered
along with the rest of him
Jane’s bosom spilling
over the edge of her crimson
bodice like coconuts
on a slender palm

I served Aunt Ida’s porcelain
overflowing with niagaras
of pot roast and kugel

and I knew
Aunt Ida had been loved
in a tropical way.


All that survives
survives with me
I am the remains
of your hand upon
my hand     your humming a tune
from a time when
all there was     was us

when you taught me
a rhyme     a limerick
when you were sick
and all failed except
the lullaby I crooned
& you slept

I believed you’d wake
in the morning     a new day
another day      we’d have
and another now teaches
I must hold
this vial of ocean

This sea of you
wants me
dresses me
in white lace

beyond the tides
a cradlesong.


She has carried her miniature self
five hundred non-stop miles
across the Gulf of Mexico
and I have climbed a mountain
with generous time-outs
for water

She the one with innate powers of speed
and me the one committed to gravity
she the one with genetic wide-angle
me the one with mere peripheral
she the one whose brain
is the largest in her kingdom
and me whose brain
may not rank at all

I can claim to have
superior weight-bearing feet
while hers are trumped
by wing-beats second
to none

She will speed-feed on a thousand flowers
a day while I manage
to punctuate mine with three meals
aided by utensils
a napkin
perhaps a flowered pattern
upon my plate

Every morning she trolls
my garden hovering
in perfect winged suspension
at the mouths of lilies
and the trumpets of blooming hostas
scanning the globes of heliotropes
and phlox not yet showing their colors
She descends
the heights once more
in winged figure eights
to dine on daisies
the honey within the lupine

She has already scoured
three hundred flowers
to my one breakfast this morning
And this morning in haste
I’ve come to await her
but unprepared

She’s the one on auto-focus.


Watch out for electric eels Dad said
meaning the electrophorus electricus
and I believed him in 1948
fishing the shallows barefooted
scanning for brook trout
in the serpentine Genesee River
still moving easy
to this day

All these years later he’d warn
stay away from the Electric Eels
this time Tokyo’s shocking heavy-metal
band wired to the max
plugged-in guitars
& frenzied shanks of sireen hair

Too late

I am sworn to a plumber
a master of flowing waters
with his plumber’s snake
yes an auger plumbers call
their electric eel

And he is sworn to me
Aquarian mistress
fisherman’s daughter
barefoot again.


Look for me in the woods
in old growths of pines
or beneath the last fifty years
of maple leaves I’ve made
my peace with rain frost
my nakedness wears like moss
still sweaty with August sun

September rain solitary nights
flights of owls loons skimming
the lake where we floated
by day
you and I
our voices private
hovering with us

I’ll be waiting near
maidenhair ferns
but not among them
they are virgins and I
am not I’ll be listening
for leaves beneath your feet.

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