Poetry Month Spotlight

Debra Hall



I came to Rome with a lover
who held a secret he didn’t know,
his fate a whisper in a catacomb
a torn note tucked among bones.

When his sturdy legs
stumbled weak upon stones
I took him to a hospital on an island
in the Tiber River.

A place of old miracle
where the god of medicine
drew venom from snakes
mixed an elixir to thin blood
to heal the heart—
a pill on the tongue of the ailing.

After doctors found a tumor
in my lover’s brain,
I asked Panacea—the goddess of cure—
to bless him with a healing rod.

She told me to find a priest
to anoint his brow.
I was given a rosary instead,
a souvenir of her apology.

The late autumn sun
followed me home.
I unpacked his clothes
with tears that rinsed
the smell of his skin away.

One night I crossed the bridge
tucked myself between the railing,
held a space for chaos—
a pill on the tongue
of a wild churning river.

Bear Bells


It is midnight in a tent
in the mountains.
Tonight, we prepare
for backpacking in Montana—
to sleep in wild places,
smell like trees.
I bought bear bells
to wear on trails,
hikers say it prevents surprise—
let animals know I am here.

As my ears tune to wind,
as night animals awaken,
as a pine tree
brushes the side of our tent.
As cooking gear rattles
with a snort, then a growl,
as you wrestle in a sleeping bag—
scramble for glasses,
then find the zipper—stumble out.
And I follow your underwear
with my flashlight.

As I spot a raccoon
just beyond the tent.
As he suckles peanut butter
from a squeeze tube
beneath the tree where
we hung our food—
a rucksack
suspended in high branches.

As the raccoon sniffs the air,
tries to gauge your intent,
as you lunge at him with kayak paddle
and he lumbers away.
As I try to remember when I agreed to a trip
more rugged than romantic.

And I drug my feet then,
as you ran forward—
bought me a new backpack
and kissed me hard to seal the deal.

I hoped the trip was an opening—
that I might find a branch
that holds your wilderness
held under tooth and claw—
that you might drop your guard.

Then I would untie the knots
that hold your secrets
and I would watch them drop—
wait until dark
to stealthily explore you.

Last Rites


I didn’t recognize the priest
as he walked up the driveway
in a soccer shirt
and Adidas pants.

“Be not afraid, I’m here to give
your mother’s Last Rites.”
he said.

It was 10:30 at night.

I saw something in his eyes
as if he’d found
a fruit tree
in the desert.

As if he once arranged chairs
around a table
where he was
the main course.

And I let him in the house,
followed his prompt—
called to old saints.

Words to thatch
a nest—
a respite for her long flight
as she labored
in breath—
a rattle in the lungs.
As she primped
her wings—
a way out.

About the Poet

Debra Hall is a past Poet Laureate of Racine County and has been featured in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP) 2023 and 2024 Calendars, WFOP Bramble, and A Wreath of Golden Laurels (Local Gems Press). She holds a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. She is completing a chapbook about resilience after great loss. Currently she works as a high school Spanish teacher at Horlick High School in Racine. You can find her reading her poems on YouTube channel @DebraHallerBack.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month


Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by Anton Volnuhin on Unsplash