The meditations in couplets that are the poems of April Ossmann so often take us to moments we recognize while leading to a depth that can surprise. Here she lets us in to a moment we recognize and ends with a question that we have no doubt in her ability to answer.


Whose Fragile Lips

I feel your watching while I wash—
gratitude, admiration—or regret?

First the glasses, whose fragile lips I trace
with a lover’s hands: glass too thin

at the rims, bottoms too round not to slip
my soapy grasp, though I keep thinking

I’ll invent a better grip. Do I press too hard—
or is the glass too frail?

I can not hold it gently enough.
Under my strength I see it breaking

like before, opening, and re-opening
the white crescent moon of my early injury.

Just seven stitches in a body’s life
of injuries, but I remember every time

I ease my hand into the soapy glass,
grateful, for each reprieve.

It’s not the severity, but the nature
of the injury, skin so thin there, bone

so near—the idea, that I do this to myself.
How shall I seek to embrace my weakness,

now I know everything I will ever believe
about strength, or love, is wrong?


“Whose Fragile Lips” is from Anxious Music, by April Ossmann © 2007.  Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books.  All Rights reserved.


Ossmann Photo CropApril Ossmann is the author of Anxious Music (Four Way Books) and has published her poetry widely in journals, including Colorado Review and Harvard Review, and in anthologies. Her poetry awards include a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and a Prairie Schooner Readers’ Choice Award. Former executive director of Alice James Books, she owns a poetry consulting business (, offering manuscript editing, publishing advice, tutorials, and poetry workshops. She has just returned from the January session at the new, low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Sierra Nevada College, where she is among the inaugural faculty members.


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