Two Poems

Poetry / Jennifer Richter

:: Trending: Seismologist Explains How to Make an Earthquake Early Warning System With Cats ::

Lately I have more cats in my Cloud than kids 
in real life two kids no cats but now no kids at 
home so cats are how we stay in touch if their 
phones ring they huff mom why’re you calling 
but when I text my son a tabby in a taco bowtie 
he texts right back maybe a chonky ginger and 
I know he’s okay that’s a thumbs up for today 
since the kids left I’ve been using cats to predict 
disaster as the seismologist says it’s tricky you’d 
think cats parkouring through kitchens crashing 
trashing everything would mean it’s all falling 
apart you’d think a cat reeling with cheese stuck 
to its face might be a cry for help but when he 
sends those I know my son’s actually laughing 
that day my daughter had a fever and a French 
final I texted you’re the best with a moustached 
munchkin she sent back a show-posed golden 
Persian someone had captioned yo for real this 
cat looks like the grandfather of a croissant how 
is it only 16th best ha I thought okay she’s okay 
when they don’t respond I’m suddenly back 
in a too quiet house with toddlers I worry if 
one sends the same meme two days in a row 
what’s so distracting I worry getting bursts of 
Norwegian forest cats in the snow from my son 
it’s tricky you’d think all those dreamy scenes 
might mean he’d found a little peace this week 
but the last winter he lived at home it vanished 
the neighbor’s cat with ears like that slept only 
on our deck only ever let my son get close then 
one day left no warning just didn’t come back 
that winter my friend left too you never know 
seismologists agree meanwhile we chase hints 
of what and when like red laser dots we won’t 
ever pin down a guy online actually analyzed 
a thousand cookie fortunes found very few use 
predictive language mostly they offer random 
observations about you like my daughter when 
I visit her wow mom at my outfit means either 
the heart-eyed cat emoji or the crying one now 
my son texts kittens spilled from a takeout box 
rice like snow on their noses my friend’s hands 
on my body used to shake with jolts that rose 
he said from deep beneath his feet okay you’ll 
be okay he said anyone can heal anyone then 
pointed to a shadowed corner sighing oh look 
at all their wings so I squinted like I do at my 
phone now at one of the sticky snarling kittens 
chewing a fortune you are surrounded by angels 
it says wow mom they’d say if my kids saw me 
always staring at my dark screen like that corner 
look I’d say I’m okay every day you light it up




:: Message in a Bottle: Dear Future ::

Stunned to still be here 
after emergency brain 
surgery my friend kept 
weeping kept palming 
her chest to feel the rise 
of her actual breath oh 
future maybe by now 
your earth is fissured 
as a cortex maybe your 
west coast has become 
a sedated brain wiped 
clean by waves oh dear 
future if like my friend 
you wake in a shaken 
state may you recover 
like her surrounded by 
beloveds repeating the 
word fine and experts 
nodding at the word 
stable may it be still 
too soon to say what’s 
been irretrievably lost 
may your memories 
resurface like hers 
just the sunny ones 
floating back so far 
dear future how are 
you I seriously think 
about you all the time




From the writer


:: Account ::

In the win­dow­less depths of the Cal­tech Archives, I read this ques­tion in hand­writ­ten fan mail to Charles F. Richter, inven­tor of the earth­quake mag­ni­tude scale, and knew I’d found the spark of my next col­lec­tion: “I was won­der­ing how you feel about your name being asso­ci­at­ed with a disaster.”

I grew up in the flood-prone, tor­na­do-swept, wind-chilled Mid­west; it wasn’t until I moved to the Pacif­ic North­west twen­ty years ago that I began hear­ing the term “Richter scale” thread­ed through pub­lic broad­casts and pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with increas­ing fre­quen­cy and urgency. These two poems come from that new man­u­script, The Real­ly Big One, which has become a con­sid­er­a­tion of the ways we—as indi­vid­u­als, as fam­i­lies, as communities—cycle through peri­ods of shat­ter­ing and heal­ing. In both of these poems, the lan­guage and imagery of seis­mol­o­gy helped me approach the entwined sub­jects of fam­i­ly, fear, and the future; at the heart of each poem is the beau­ti­ful and brave leap of faith we take each day, trust­ing that every­thing will be okay.


Jen­nifer Richter’s first col­lec­tion, Thresh­old (2010), was cho­sen by Natasha Trethewey as a win­ner in the Crab Orchard Series in Poet­ry; her sec­ond col­lec­tion, No Acute Dis­tress (2016), was a Crab Orchard Series Editor’s Selec­tion, and both books were named Ore­gon Book Award Final­ists. Her new work has been fea­tured in ZYZZYVA, The Los Ange­les Review, The Mis­souri Review, and The Mass­a­chu­setts Review. Richter teach­es in Ore­gon State University’s MFA pro­gram.