Kim Roberts


A jar is a divider,
a slim shell separating
air from air,
the nothing outside
from the nothing within.

A jar marks off culture,
the citizens protected
from the barbarians.
Everything outside the jar
is exotic, untamed.

This is not the jar’s fault.
A jar is simply sand
heated into the form
of a cylinder. The form
is imposed upon the glass,

both inside and out.
You could argue that a jar
is self-contained.
But every vessel has a purpose:
it is filled and emptied.

The jar exacts its claims.
The thing is itself
circumscribed by being
the object that confines.
It is jailer and jailed.



            for Stéphane Mallarmé

A barrier reef at night:
a solitary sailor under
a singular star
consults a crisp white chart

beneath a cup of sky
of such darkness, as stark
as his naked canvas.

Whatever he is worth,
what he merits most,
his friendship gathers
on the stern, on the stem,

under the small disquiet
of breeze that luffs
the cloth like a passing
preoccupation. The prow

pitches into a roll,
sumptuous, light as foam,
a fine inebriation.

We wobble in his wake’s
vibrato. A pale craft
beneath black immensity:
solitude, reef, star.


Downtown Twilight

The cirrus lets dusk slip
errant through her net.

Dusk rises up buildings floor by floor,
like dark water slowly filling a vessel.

Standing in the street,
there’s no sensation of drowning

but instead of letting go.
Dusk fills the streets

from the open mouth of night
so deliberately that I ascend too,

treading past mantled windows,
gasping and weightless.



The winged mapleleaf, the elktoe, the butterfly.
A person who studies mussels is called a malacologist.

The creek heelsplitter, the Higgins eye, the giant floater.
Freshwater mussels are the nation’s

most threatened class of organisms.
The fat pocketbook, the spectaclecase, the washboard.

23% of the 304 native species are endangered.
The purple catspaw, the snuffbox, the Lilliput,

The pistolgrip, the pimpleback, the Wabash pigtoe.
The female’s shell is usually more inflated,

more rounded, on the siphon end.
The sheepnose, the elephant ear, the salamander,

the wartyback, the monkeyface, the mucket.
The male mussel finds this ravishing.

© Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is the author of five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method (WordTech Editions, 2017). An excerpt from the title poem of that book was featured at the National March for Science in the Wick Poetry Center’s “Traveling Stanzas” project, and is now touring the US. Roberts has been a writer-in-residence at 17 artist colonies and retreats, including a fellowship sponsored by the Science Museum of Minnesota and a residency at Luna Parc Atelier in New Jersey. Roberts is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities DC, and the DC Commission on the Arts. She co-edits two literary journals, Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the Delaware Poetry Review, and the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes. Her newest book, A Literary Guide to Washington, DC from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston, is forthcoming from the University of Virginia Press in the Spring of 2018.

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