Poetry Sunday: ‘Omens,’ by Danusha Laméris


Out here, we read everything as a sign.
The coyote in its scruffed coat,
bending to eat a broken persimmon on the ground.
The mess of crows that fills the apple tree,
makes a racket, lifts off.
In between, quiet and the usual loneliness.
The winter fog is a blank.
I wish I could make sense
of the child’s empty bed,
of the bullet hole though my brother’s heart.
The mailman drops a package
on the front stoop and the neighbor’s dog
won’t stop barking. I tread
down the stairs, lightly.
Because we can’t know
what comes next, we say,
The plum tree is blooming early.
There are buck antlers lying in the grass.
A mountain lion left its footprints by the bridge.

 First Published in New Letters, 2015.


Danusha Lameris_10-15-15


Danusha Laméris’s work has been published in American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Letters, Crab Orchard Review and The Sun and as well as in a variety of other journals and anthologies.  Her first book, The Moons of August, was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the 2013 Autumn House Press poetry prize and was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Book Award. A poem of hers received a special mention in the 2015 Pushcart anthology and her work has been featured by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She lives in Santa Cruz, California and teaches private writing workshops. More at danushalameris.com.


Danusha Lameris book cover_10-15-15The Moons of August can be purchased here.


Poet’s Notes

I’ve been living in a converted barn on three acres for the past five years. In the time I’ve lived here, I’ve been coming to terms with the deaths of my brother and my son. I’ve also had a more intimate relationship with the cycles of birth and death through the natural world. I can see how the Greeks came to read their fortunes through the innards of birds. There is a way in which the external environment comes to hold our interior landscape. This poem came from the juncture and vulnerability of where those worlds collide.


Notes on “Omens

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

In 17 brief lines of free verse this author paints a masterpiece of image and tone. The title and first line are as effective as any I’ve seen in the way they create suspense and at the same time teach us how to read the rest of the poem. An “omen” is something that portends a future event; technically, that event can be evil or good, but I am perhaps not the only reader to associate the word with another it sounds like, ominous. In any event, the first line and title tell us that everything we see in the poem will mean something else, something larger and more universal than itself. Lines 2-7 present four images from the natural world (a coyote, a persimmon, a flock of crows, and fog) each made stark, vivid, and powerful by the author’s judicious and restrained use of descriptive language. Two images—the crows and the fog—are presented without any adjectives, the birds evoked by their actions—the shape they fail to constitute (a “mess”) and what they do (fill a tree, make a racket, then lift off)—and the fog evoked by means of the noun it resembles (a “blank”). That “mess of crows,” by the way, reminds us of the more familiar collective term “murder of crows,” borrowing the power of that cliché without resorting to its tired expression.

When they are used, the adjectives in this poem are chosen with great care. I normally think of persimmons in a positive, life-giving light (the mature persimmon tree at our new house being one of the great consolations of our down-sizing), but a “broken” persimmon is something else altogether. The only other adjective used in connection with the first four images is the “scruffed” coat of the coyote, and even that modifier (a participle rather than the more usual adjectival form, “scruffy”) carries the active charge of struggle and suffering. And it also slant-rhymes. Because we’ve been coached to read these images as omens and because of the very powerful way in which they are presented, we understand that coyote, persimmon, crows, and fog mean something larger than themselves, something perhaps like desperation, tragedy, death, and despair. Read More »

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  • Marian Dornell March 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you for introducing me to this poet. She is inspiring. Her poem is brave and honest in the face of great loss. I shall be a fan!
    As usual, your explication is helpful as the reader finds her own way to the heart of what the poem means to her.
    Thank you both!

  • Liana Badr March 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Wonderful poetry

  • Anne Arsenault March 6, 2016 at 7:19 am

    A haunting poem which speaks more and more every time you read it.
    Thank you, Rebecca