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Image by Josh Felise

Ellen White Rook

After sunrise

The daughters had beautiful names
and I was one of them
They loved to say our names
but it was because of sound
the way the throat fell open soft and loud
and how ears hummed to hold
We had nothing to do with our names
They had been collected in advance
underlined in books
penciled onto lists
There was an order of preference

There is no order in my name
Frequently misspelled and mispronounced
even though the letters fall simply
one after the other
It means dawn or light
derivative of the name of a great beauty
who was only a pawn
She looked out over the water
as ships burned the sky bright as morning goldenrod
She looked out over the ashen earth
one ruined place and another
as names change
Can a woman ever truly have a home?

The name was chosen before she was born
We name places by where we think we are
so we can find ourselves again
Sometimes we want to change our names
We could be like a cat and answer to anything
if we can make the mouth move
the ear sing

Night Terrors

The Boston Strangler escaped
from Bridgewater State Hospital the night
the cast of Waiting for Godot slept over.
Vladimir, played by Paul Benedict, took my room,
the smallest, which elbowed
rose-trellised walls around the stairs.
It was a closet with a closet with a mirror
on the door. The window leaked blue winter
and streetlamp fire. The radiator sputtered
but did not heat. He was 6’4”—
how did he fit under the fuzzy candlewick?
Into the slippery pink sheets? Downstairs
in the after-party haze, I lay lock-limbed
on the new avocado couch
afraid my mother left the door unlocked, again,

but more afraid to move.


Years later in another house
another murderer is on the loose
All the sons and daughters hide
behind that same couch in the midnight living room
When morning comes each child pops up
like a stick puppet rising to the stage
sleep-dumb mouth, unmoving eyes
until the last appears
neck cracked, head lolling
to one side, like a rose felled
by frost or wind


That was my mother’s dream
not mine. She used to advise
Don’t let the sun set on your anger
but she was always angry
when we were awake


About Ellen White Rook

Ellen White Rook is a poet and teacher of contemplative arts residing in Albany, NY and South Portland, Maine. She offers writing workshops and leads Sit, Walk, Write retreats that merge meditation, movement, and writing. She also teaches ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. Ellen is a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at Lindenwood University. Her work has been published in New Verse News, Red Rock Review, Black Fork Review, New Note Poetry, Trolley Literary Journal, and more. In 2021, two of her poems were nominated for Pushcart Prize. Read more of her work at

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