Laura Madeline Wiseman.jpg

Poetry from Laura Madeline Wiseman

followed by Q&A

Against the Horizon

The Martians wear spacesuits to the beach,

bubbled helmets, metallic gloves, and tubes

which ring their torso like hardened veins.


The Martians stomp the surf. They wade in 

ankle, knee, hip deep as black waves return 

broken moonlight and the red eye of Mars.


They beckon me out beyond the breakers 

where they tease the undertow, tread water,

and toe the sandbars haunted by stingrays.


I pace the slick shore edged with sea foam,

permit the crash to circle my feet and calves,

but I can’t. My eyes refuse to see their stars. 



What Martians Want

                             We drink tea. The Martians spot a wild turkey on

                             the neighbor’s roof. The turkey trumpets, walks 

                             down the shingles, crosses the street, and trots 

                             along the walk. The Martians leave

   game                the door open to tail the red-chinned, black 

                             feathered creature. When the turkey pauses, they 

                             pause and gobble. The next morning

                             the Martians roast fowl all day.


                             Before dawn, the Martians commune with

                             daffodils. In my driveway six Martians kneel 

                             before the yellow throats heavy with dew.

 worship            As I ride my bike to work, block after block 

                             I see the nodding heads, the green arms, bodies 

                             rooted to the soil below windows,

                             around mailboxes, by flowerbeds. I glance 

                             at the grey ruffles of sky and worry 

                             of late snow. Their large heads could topple.


                             The Martians claim the capitol. Some sit 

                             on the steps and watch the sower’s thrust 

                             into the pink sunset. Some study the falcon’s 

                             nest just below the tip. Every few days, some 

government       scale the massive shaft of Indiana marble, until a 

                              helicopter orders them down. I ask 

                              a nearby Martian, Is it the shape you admire?

                             Another Martian wags a finger and laughs. 

                             It’s our symbol, and points to a black tattoo

                             on the small of a Martian’s green back: ♂. 


                             The Martian tugs at the leash of a wild turkey, 

                             Come on little Phobos. The two disappear 

                             to a thatch of daffodils bouncing in the wind. 

   home                A group of Martians in copper armor begin to 

                             dance. They shake spears at the Nebraska state 

                             building and chant, Mars vigila!





Historical Study

I can’t stop the Martians from their climb onto the dwarf mammoth

—15,000 years old, three feet tall, and Sicilian. The skeletal cast bucks. 


One Martian scales the imperial mammoth by knee, thigh, up and up 

until the Martian lodges a foot into the hole of the pelvis and scrambles 


onto the tail. Another grabs the hard flares of shoulder, clutches a rib, 

puts a toe on the sternum, and clambers into the big bone cage. Look! 


I’ve been eaten by a mammoth. The Martian on the tail ascends higher

along the back to slide down the skull’s slope to the tusk. Watch this! 


The Martian swings back and forth to release into the air in a triple flip. 

I squat near the third Martian. Did you ever see a mammoth, for real? 


The Martian smirks and pokes me. How old do you think we are? 

I shrug, As old as sandhill cranes?(1)  The Platte River?(2)  The mammoths?(3) 


The Martian tickles my side. My skin prickles in the cool museum air. 

Older(4),  the Martian says, When the cranes sing, we know what they sing of.




(1)The sandhill crane is nine million years old. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia)

(2)The Platte River in Nebraska is 310 miles long, but young. It’s only 10 thousand years old. Millions of sandhill cranes stop on the Platte River yearly. (Encyclopedia Britannica; The Echo Maker)

(3)Human cave dwellers depicted mammoths in their cave murals in Europe. In North America, human hunters ate them. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

(4)No one knows how old Martians are.



Laura Madeline Wiseman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of three chapbooks, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010), Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has appeared in Margie, Permafrost, and The Spoon River Poetry Review, and prose in Blackbird, Arts & Letters, and 13th Moon. She has received an Academy of American Poets Award and five Pushcart Prize nominations. 



Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)

A: Because I believe writing teachers should write in the classroom, I always write alongside my poetry and creative writing students, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, the poem “Historical Study” was first inspired by a field trip I took my students on. We spent one class at Morrill Hall, a science museum on campus. One room in the museum is dedicated to mammoths. I like to touch things. You generally can’t touch things at museums. The inspiration for the poem was imagining what Martians would do if they were there looking at the mammoth skeletons. In my mind, the Martians wouldn’t only touch the skeletons, they would climb on them. They would know them inside and out.


How I take a poem from inspiration to completion changes. In recent months, my process has been to stay on notebook paper through several drafts. I write and rewrite the poem by hand until I think it’s perfect and then type it up. This process can take several weeks. Once typed, I edit some, hide it in a drawer for months and months, take it out again for edits after said time has elapsed, and then do one of three things: 1) place it in the submit pile; 2) put it back in the drawer for further, future edits; 3) abandon it. The poem “Against the Horizon” was a poem I put into the drawer, took out for edits, and returned to the drawer many times. 


Q: What did you collect as a child—rocks, insects, stamps?— and why?

A: I didn’t collect anything.


Q: Who’s your favorite Martian? 

A: I love all the Martians, aliens, and extraterrestrials. As a kid, I loved ET and Mork from Ork in Mork & Mindy. As a teen, I loved Sigourney Weaver in the Alien trilogy, Total Recall, and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This last year, my favorite has been Avatar.