Jeanne Wagner is a native of San Francisco, California. She has B.A. from the University of California Berkeley in German and an M.A. from San Francisco State in Humanities. A retired tax accountant, she began writing seriously in 1996. Since then she has published four chapbooks and two full length collections and has won several national awards. The chapbooks are The Falling Woman (Pudding House Press, 2001), The Conjurer (Anabiosis Press, 2004), Medusa in Therapy (Poets Corner Press, 2008) and The Genesis Machine (Sow's Ear Poetry Review, 2017), winner of the 2016 Sow's Ear Chapbook Competition. Her full-length collections are The Zen Piano Mover, winner of the 2004 Stevens Manuscript Prize, and In the Body of Our Lives (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010). Among her prizes and honors are the National Foundation of State Poetry Societies Founders Award, the Ann Stanford Prize, and the Frances Locke Award. She has also won the Hayden's Ferry Flash Prose Competition and the 2013 Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred.
Her poems vary in subject from the scientific to the personal, from nature to mythology, and they reflect her curiosity about and engagement with the world on many levels. In an interview with William Ruof, she reflects on memory: "Memory is like Schrödinger's Cat, it changes the moment you peer into the box where you think it is kept."
This week's featured poem is "The Disappearance of the Polar Bears," from her collection In the Body of Our Lives (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010).
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE POLAR BEARS
They were our saints and our hermits,
our ursine angels.
In exile they found a promised land
condensed under their feet and they
walked on it;
where they moved soundlessly as ghosts,
even under ice, the strenuous beating
hearts of seals.
Some journeyed as far north as the Pole,
that skullcap of ice,
its whiteness the imagined afterlife of
their bodies solid as icons: squared off
limbs, shoulders that
tapered to a muzzled head, dog-small
Yet who could fail to love their
born with the furred innocence
of harp seals,
or the way they swam, legs paddling
tractionless as the running in our
That's why I keep this image of
a single bear
standing on the pole, his white body
on the whiter ice,
like the pulse of something warm
inside the cold.
Could the problem be the airplanes,
when they scattered
the angels from their wisps of cirrus
cloud, while below,
on cruise ship tables, ice sculptures
slowly began to melt away?
Writing prompt of the week: Choose any compelling image from the natural world. While describing it, add in a supernatural or mythological image, the way Jeanne Wagner blends angels and polar bears in her poem.