Cryptic Crossword Poems by Holly Painter

Holly lives with her wife and son in Vermont, where she teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. Her first full-length book of poetry, Excerpts from a Natural History, was published by Titus Books in Auckland, New Zealand in 2015. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also been published in literary journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the UK.


Note: The clues in the first part of each poem yield the answers that make up the haiku in the second part.


Cryptic Crossword XIII


Standing and glaring,
constant queue outside government camp
harasses addicts

squatting at asylum’s center, engrossed in scoring
smuggled intoxicants, keen on
oblivion or retreat to covers,
riots, upsets, or beliefs.

Hateful line starts to curse a number of
down-and-outs knocking back endless mescal base and glues.


Rank lingering hounds
settling into sleep postures
loathsome vagabonds


Cryptic Crossword XXXVI


Rookie officer at bar
listens to singers’ runs.
Alto vocalists go on to a scale out of the country

song on The Voice.
Quivering slow ebb reverberates
as banter at end of pitch
warm-up reveals police
joiner. Band, having no opener,
launches itself into medley in no time.

Croaky mumbly fellow does cowboy
drawls about redhead who captures
man’s fancy (devastated, wife leaves).
Chatty beginner cop exits, dropping “thank you” tips in Stetson.


Colt canters away
Air wobbles with heat and flies
Horseman grabs his hat


Cryptic Crossword XXXVII


Frenzied hives drone in English countryside.
When the scones are served, conversations about golfing start:

One game or another, albatrosses and eagles,
trimming, swings that produce a flyer.
Tan young man says
he’s singular in duffing and stands out
putting straight tap-ins. Draws,
common on the green,
reward golf that falls short, but beginner

delights, leaps foolishly around, positive
about being part of photo finish.
Youth prances, beams, filled with quiet lunatic smile.


Devonshire teatime
Birds wing; sun shines, paints park gold
Pleasures of springtime


Cryptic Crossword XXXVIII


Asinine dare and lover
cataloguer, inebriated liar in bar –

advance unfinished plot about nothing:
you and me; America;
good character;
rehashed, bland musing; or a coming of age story

concealed by half-illusions. “Enough
empty ululations!” we object.
Finished, boy escapes pub, retreating
in possession of a tiny bit of scrappy
dignity, left with piles of delusions.


Dear librarian
loan us a bildungsroman
fill us up with dreams