Between the Stars


For a long time, we went on living.

We were casual about it—not wanting

to draw attention to our good fortune.

We asked so little of the universe—

only that it leave us alone, that it

pass us over this year and then the next.

After a while, we seemed invincible.


When our bodies began to betray us,

we were as surprised as they were, looking

into mirrors at faces we didn’t

recognize.  Now the distance between the stars

mattered to us, and now it didn’t.  Time,

as always, was the villain, with his scythe

and crooked knife.  Oh, how we hated him!


In Iowa City, One Night


I swear there is only one cicada

in Minnesota—no choruses in the trees

as there were in Iowa City

the night we drove in from the East,

racing the golden light

down the interstate

to arrive at evening and walk the streets

near Prairie Lights Books. 


It was a Sunday night,

and the lights in the store were all out,

but in the window display

we could see the names

of the latest and greatest poets

in America—their books

poised like beautiful

paper mannequins.


Afterwards, we found a place to eat 

down and around the corner

from the Deadwood, where you used

to come looking for your son,

and I know you were afraid back then

and did the only thing you could

think of, because waiting

is not your style,


and you will always try to find

the lost ones, those who have missed

the last train home, those who

might be grateful for the ride

that comes along when all hope

is gone, for the shadow

coming out of the night

that turns out to be you.



Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. Her first collection of poems, Straight Out of View, won the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; Coming Back to the Body was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award, and Naming the Stars won a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. She is one of the co-editors of To Sing Along the Way, an award winning anthology of Minnesota women poets. Her most recent collections, Modern Love & Other Myths (2015), is a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award. She is the second Minnesota Poet Laureate, succeeding Robert Bly.