Sheryl St. Germain

In Recovery: a Suite




We used to think there were no words

that could reach us,

unknot us from the cage of our lives,
only the music of substances,

            the pulsing, breathless,

            of what we had become.


Now, something in us has paused.
We’re commas, dashes—

even after twenty years or more
still inside a prepositional phrase

always in remission,

always praying for grace


we will never arrive

at past tense.



And anyway,
it’s the wrong word for what we are. 

We’re not re-covered


           we are revealed.





What else we are: 

broken things


shells, wrecked against
an apathetic shore

                                    the inner whorls of our lives

crack, revealing
our most intimate



we are
            sea glass:
                        bottles shattered

                        lips worn to a dull shine


            we hope
            someone will scavenge for us, see beauty
            in how damage has shaped us



we are
           cracks in ancient walls

            where small flowers

                        have rooted


we are

            loose tiles in the floor of an old building
           that sing when you walk over them


we are
            gnarly knots in trunks
            where once were branches      


we are

crevasses in the glacier
  of a ravaged heart—


we are


            here, here is the very place

           to enter us.







            there are days you grit through

            wishing for that one thing

            that would allow you
           to not be here now


                        days when you are
                       to have woken at all





you work on a scarf knitting
and unknitting, starting again
so many times

you feel like Penelope


you write one small new thing,

clean one small room.




We are Buddhists and gardeners,

yoga instructors and hair dressers,

teachers and real estate brokers,

we are writers, painters, musicians,
bartenders, waitresses, comics.
Some of us are still funny. Some of us
are still sad. Some of us get our kids back.
Some of us do not.

Sometimes someone we knew in that other life

dies, a lover or a son or a dear friend,
and some of us relapse and some

of us do not.  Some of us travel as far
away as we can: to Alaska, or Indonesia,
some of us stay home,
going to meetings and mentoring other lost ones.


At night, sometimes we close our eyes
remembering the best and worst of it,
the ecstasy in the blood, the taste

of dying.


We are not happy, exactly,

nothing, as someone once wrote,
as simple as that.


When the dawn calls roll,
our bodies respond:  present.


And we often wake
grateful for breath
in ways we never were in that other life,

believing again in the journey.

Sheryl St. Germain’s new poetry collection, The Small Door of Your Death, was released in Spring 2018 with Autumn House Press. A collection of her essays, Fifty Miles, is forthcoming with Etruscan Press in early Spring 2020. Sheryl has authored numerous books of poetry and two memoirs. With Sarah Shotland she also co-edited Words Without Walls: Writers on Addiction, Violence, and Incarceration, (Trinity University Press). Sheryl directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University where she also teaches poetry and creative nonfiction. She is the co-founder and director of the Words Without Walls Program.