Tuesday 8 November 2022

Five Poems by Celestine Woo


The Sound of Silent Snow

Brushing off the foot of fluff

atop and round the car,

I balance on the snowbank to reach

the roof, grateful for white stuff

easy to brush, that lightly wafts, whumps

onto snowdrifts obscuring

lane lines, reshaping

parking slots.

I return home for breakfast, listening.

No one ever told me snow makes music.

The crunching, whirring, and mumbling of

walked-upon snow forms chords of frost,

the adagio for my stepping balletically on dots

of salt, the rosin of a wintry sidewalk.

There are two footpaths: the snow blower leaves

a perfect trough in its wake,

evoking the concrete sluice of the empty river

in my bone-dry desert hometown.

The less recent path, unploughed,

is dusted with powdered frosting

already blurring others’ bootprints.

There’s a blot of snow in the crotch

of a tree, an icy fig leaf endeavouring

to conceal its nakedness.

My balcony table wears its own winter hat,

round and fluffy like a child’s

woolly cap.

I toss a pinecone onto its peak

like the fluffy ball adorning woollen

caps. I listen for its tiny splat.

Crackling branches, icicles tinkling,

xylophoned by wind, dried

leaf husks whispering along the pavement,

and the pat pat of thick, soft woolly soles

orchestrate into snowy symphony

quietly audible and comforting

like a purring cat.



My Mother’s Wedding 


You made the flowers out of toilet paper,

Scotch-taping them to walls, pews, altar,

helped by just-met friends, because real

blooms were too expensive. 


You had always yearned for a close-knit family

but had none at your wedding.

Newly arrived in a strange country, devoid

of friends, your groom newly glimpsed 

after two years of letters and prayers.


A tiny ivory gown, straight lines and hems.

None of the lacy elegance you might have revelled in

had you allowed yourself one stray moment to desire.

The waist had to be taken in, and you resisted, 

ascetically, a rosette or flourish 

you couldn’t afford.

Your life savings had bought the plane ticket

and your first car: a black used VW Bug.


I hope at least the music was good:

classical pianists run in the family,

so you would have deferred to their choices,

out of ignorance and Christian humility.


Was there any excitement? Quivering anticipation? 

Or just more of the prayers and Bible verse sharing

that had been your first date?


You are still tiny, your 92 pounds

on your hospital file

not weighty enough to anchor

desiccated dreams.




for D.M.

… is the word you taught me to capture

how this piece should sound, resonating

with a cantabile touch like lace.

It was either Chopin or Schumann,

or both. Two of us loved two of them,

picturing in Schumann’s Kinderszenen the child

falling asleep, my wrist rocking

like the cradle, right hand crossing

into bass clef father’s voice gentling

into pianissimo whispers.

“Important Event” so opposite, each chord accented,

pulsing energy out fingers halfway

between legato and staccato.

You taught me the musical eras, gifted

me the Chopin biography, ocean blue cover

nubbly hardback that I loved running fingertips

over, like Braille, a thumbless slow glissando.

You identified and developed my perfect pitch,

chuckling at yourself when you asked how I knew

it was an E. You mused that it must be

like being asked how I knew something’s colour,

gifting me a metaphor.

Later, in college Music Theory Lab,

I amused myself trying to nail the pitch

when all we had to do was identify intervals.

Prof. Loucks never noticed.

You would have.

Too pricey and serious for my sister, you stayed

reserved for me, the weekly trek,

Mom’s conscientious scheduling unappreciated

by my tween self.

You had no use for gimmicks like the others:

stickers or smiley faces on each mastered piece,

competitions amassing points and prizes.

Just the naked fugue, all adornment

written into clefs, accidentals,

grace notes, and turns.

You’d never had a student whose favorite era was Baroque,

so you hooked me on Scarlatti.

We shared the same delight

in Bach’s Variations as in Schumann,

liking the interlinking, nuances, multiplicity

of themes in transposition.

I’ve come to know that teacher’s elation in imparting

something beloved and rare:

your love of words, connotation,

creative expression in counterpoint,

pitch perfect

launching me

Da Capo

into emulation.



Three wasps made their way

into my living room last

month. I fly-swatted one.

The other two I trapped,

slamming down the window sash,

leaving them to buzz between

glass and screen, dwindling

from frantic to desultory

in their separate cages.

Dead, their black and yellow bodies upturned

reproved me each morning,

one in my breakfast nook,

the other in my south window,

greeting me with death and silence each

time I gazed down at the courtyard

until today, I used my holiday morning

to clean away their carcasses.

Carapaces dry and brittle,

they rest in pale brown paper sarcophagi,

float downward into my rubbish,

cushioned among desiccated

artichoke leaves, sucked dry as bone,

brownish purple like autumn leaves

curled like skeletal claws,

their spikes amid the soft fluffy yellowing choke.

A dead pigeon splays itself on the asphalt,

red glimmering insides still wet

echoing the July heat.

Like Georgia O’Keeffe’s bovine skulls

nestled in sand softly curved, gritty

carcasses of wasp, artichoke, pigeon

calcify into driftwood, petrifying.



False Lashes

My false eyelashes rest

on their pink plastic bed: crinkled

insect limbs, or striated wings.

Their centipede shadow another set

of minuscule legs in creepy can-can.

Hooding one’s gaze,

propelling one’s performance,

they squat on my lids,

fat pompous bugs

batting the stagelit air.

Lashing a boat to a pier

anchors it--

stillness in motion:


to ensure future performance.

The stalking cat

lashes its tail--

warning in motion

amid predatory stillness.

Stripes of the cat o’nine tails.

99 lashes inflicted

on the Iranian adulteress,

seductive and false.

Double standard whips out irony

falsifying windows to the soul.

False beauty

painted women

praised then punished

allure shackled by artifice

starving models paraded forth,

snapped by cameras, strapped

to male desires,

lashed into submission.



Celestine Woo is an English professor and dancer. She teaches in Newark, New Jersey, and has published a chapbook and poetry book, as well as numerous poems online and in print journals. 


  1. Hi Celestine! I really like Filigree. It is so close to my thoughts on my uncle, who fostered my love of Classical music. Congratulations on being published! MHS 85

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, I had fun writing that one. I have always wondered what happened to my piano teacher. Who are you in MHS'85?


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