Shirley J. Brewer

Beneath the Pomp of Circumstance

—after Dorothea Berck, Wife of Joseph Coymans,

oil on canvas, Frans Hals, 1644


Dorothea, I know you crave fuchsia,

a gown with spaghetti straps,

glitter butterflies above each breast,


mauve on your lips and lids. I see

in your eyes the desire to lighten,

take off that stiff white cape


pinching your neck, those cuffs

like arm restraints. You toss

your missing glove at the artist.


Wipe your brush with this, you call

as you plot the next garment

you’ll remove, something heavy and black.


Three and a half centuries you wait

for me to coax you free.

Let me drape you in a whisper of feathers,


cheer as you leave your frame—buoyant,

no one left to judge your dress.

We will primp in a gilded mirror.


When the guard scolds us, let’s giggle,

girlfriend, and take him out to lunch.




My Glass Slipper



Cinderella’s legend beckoned

in that green land where I came to study poetry.


I found her shoe—kissed by a pink flower,

a golden heel—atop a pedestal


at a shop in Kinsale, a town on Ireland’s

south coast. Pale blue storefronts


vied with lemon, lilac, lime. The air

tasted like candy and the sea.


A glass slipper so easily broken.

I held back. With a wave of his wand,


the shopkeeper wrapped my treasure

in safe cotton. Eighteen years later,


I gaze at this fragile souvenir,

marvel at my perfect choice:


I am still a girl in love with words.

I dip my toes in the language of bards.                


How long will a glass slipper carry me?

How far will I dare to walk?




What the Terrorists Do Not See

                                    Esther Nora Gibson, 1962-1998,

                                                  Sunday school teacher and oldest of 11 children

—from an obituary in a Dublin newspaper

Later, the mother drew comfort,

steeping those moments in her mind:

morning light on Esther’s face,

her perfect complexion aglow—

on the way to Omagh

to buy her wedding pearls.


They had lingered over lukewarm

cups of Irish breakfast tea

in the sun-soaked garden where roses leaned

against the wrought iron bench.

Mama, you know I’ll find peach beads

the color of my favorite dawn.


In town, the car bomb explodes

a short distance from the shops.

Night reveals a fragment of moon—

a shard of glass pinned to the sky.

Shirley J. Brewer serves as p oet-in-residence at Carver Center for the Arts & Technology in Baltimore, MD. She also teaches creative writing workshops for seniors. Recent poems appear in Barrow Street, Chiron Review, Comstock Review, Gargoyle, Poetry East, Slant, and many other journals and anthologies. Shirley’s poetry books include A Little Breast Music (2008), Passager Books, After Words (2013), Apprentice House, and Bistro in Another Realm (2017), Main Street Rag. In January, 2020, Shirley was interviewed at the Library of Congress by Maryland poet laureate, Grace Cavalieri, for her long-running series “The Poet and the Poem.”