Two Poems from Fences

Where I’m From, and Brother Lawrence and the Sheep, are from Cheryl Denise’s new poetry collection, Fences (Cascadia 2022).


Where I’m From


I’m from clotheslines off back porches,

from pickle brine and cook cheese

from a mother who made us kids sniff horseradish

at the first sign of a cold.


I’m from shape notes, knitting needles and pickling corn,

ink stains and silver typeset

Dad’s Heidelberg press forever snorting

like a stallion in the old chicken coop.


From neighbor kids flooding the backyard for hockey

imagining ourselves as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr.


From a giant white Bible on a coffee table

with a picture of Solomon about to split a baby in two.


I’m from home-sewn bathing suits, accordion lessons,

breaking curfew and smoking Players,

Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Farrah Fawcett hair.


From a mother who had two dates in one night,

a father who snuck out of the parsonage

to see South Pacific at that verboten

movie house.


From a grandfather who refused to go to war,

sent west to fight forest fires instead

while his wife gave birth on a poultry farm.


I’m from recycled ancestors—

the ones I can’t name

and don’t understand, but who somehow

survive in my bones, grounding me here,

to this place where I’m from.



Brother Lawrence and the Sheep


Eight a.m. I stumble to the barn

in my old high school stoner jacket

with the missing black buttons.

The weeds no one ever seems to pull

or hoe or mind sway in the grass,

wild as my boss in a temper tantrum.


In the warming sunlight, fat borer bees

begin to chew holes in the rafters,

like the board members who took away

Good Friday as a holiday. I swat

them with that tennis racquet

that lies on the hay bale, feel the satisfying thud,

watch the stunned bodies in the dirt winding down.


I sweep manure from mangers,

clatter the feed can and the flock flows into the barn.

They rise, plant their front feet in the troughs,

throw their heads heavenward,

a bleating hungry choir.

I tap my metal scoop, raise it like a baton

and sing my old Sunday School song about patience.

As choir director, I should commit to the words.


It’s been years since I sat inside the barn

waiting for a lamb to sniff my legs,

cock his head, one ear drooping with the weight

of a yellow ear tag —

waiting for the ewes to take me in,

to plop down almost near and chew their cuds.


It’s just chores now.

I imagine Brother Lawrence hanging his head

as he creaks through the weathered walls,

Practice the presence of God, he chants,

If I could doing dishes, you can tending sheep.


But I’m no monk, I retort.

Unlike you I have a real job, and my boss,

he doesn’t give a shit about poetry,

or barns, let alone my soul, and I’m late.

I hurry back to the house, Larry one step

behind, reciting a homily on holy habits.

I plug my ears, change jeans, gulp coffee.


Larry shakes his head as I zoom down the lane,

God is everywhere, he heralds over the fence,

It’d make the day easier if you’d start

by saying hello.



Where I’m From, and Brother Lawrence and the Sheep, are from Cheryl Denise’s poetry collection, Fences, forthcoming publication Dec. 2022 from Cascadia Publishing House, DreamSeeker poetry series, Telford, PA.




About the Author

Cheryl Denise Cheryl Denise grew up in Elmira, Ontario. She went to the red brick Mennonite church beside the white clapboard Old Order Meetinghouse. After nursing school, she went into VS and worked as a public health nurse in La Jara, Colorado. Then she and her husband moved to Philippi, West Virginia and became leaders for the Mennonite Service Adventure program for three years. Now they live in the intentional community of Shepherds Field in a timber framed home they built when they were young and brimming with energy. They are members of Philippi Mennonite Church. Cheryl is the author of the poetry books, Fences, (2022), What’s in the Blood (2012) and I Saw God Dancing (2005), all published by Cascadia Publishing House, DreamSeeker Books, Telford, PA. She has a spoken word poetry CD, Leaving Eden (2012), with music from Ben Regier, available on Amazon. Visit her on Facebook at Cheryl Denise, poet.