Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I was struck with how this batch of poems seemed to reflect a certain ambiguity – the gray area of ambivalence that poetry often comes out of and thrives in. Reading these poems was a treat. Thank you, Persimmon Tree, for the opportunity.
Snow in March
Yesterday we hung up the birdhouse
on a bare elbow of the backyard maple.
Today, snow whitened its small roof,
its open circle large enough
only for wrens fleeing the city,
not for the fat robin
who will lay her eggs in a nest
above our back door.
It was a light snowfall,
like the feathers
of the birds themselves,
airy enough to let
the birdhouse swing slightly
in dark gusts of wind.
Where to land, to stay,
which domicile or island
to inhabit, is the question
we ask ourselves—which
which hillside that slid down
the mountain in the rain,
which cracked earth in a war zone,
which town built on a fault,
which country that does
or does not like strangers?
We’ve settled here with the birds,
just outside Chicago.
Wanting light and warmth,
we’ve set the clocks ahead,
hoping to breathe spring
into the garden, to seduce
the green tips of crocus
into a purple bloom
right through the snow’s
last call, up towards
the dancing birdhouse with
its little hole inviting wrens.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
I grew up southern with the South’s casual cruelty
and sticky love. I learned from the past
as it was passed to me and leaned on Evvie
who, when I was post partum, took me over
and crooned about spider web tea and how
it would be alright, honey, who never stopped
moving, petting, rocking, straightening, chopping.
In those days I lived with mom-worry
and a small bone of husband-fear.
Evvie’s face in the screen door was a soothe,
her palm on the sheets an ease. I leaned into her
bright blouse. We had little. She had less.
Who knows what she thought? I didn’t ask.
We had our ways to be and if she questioned mine,
she never said. For me, her kindness was the way it was
and if it wasn’t love between us, I never guessed.
the day I envied the cows
around the bend of the highway, on the hillside
suddenly, the cows: large bodies, parallel
to each other, as if posing for a picture, all looking
in the same direction. the prairie grass, withered
to September white, trembled in synch
with the fuzz inside their ears. could it be
that they all lifted their heads into the breeze
as if to taste it, to sense the possibility of adventure
out here on the prairie? that they greeted
the luminous day rising above their field? what do we know
of the cows except for their milk, and their flesh
when we need it? cow consciousness – it never seemed
more obvious than that day on the highway
when I looked at them with envy, then drove on
into town, to a job, a desk, a purpose
Didn’t Quilt for Pretty
Women bend over a wooden frame piecing quilt scraps –
feed sacks, faded jeans, cotton and wool – tired and threadbare.
Strip by strip the worn stuff is joined in fading light,
light that flows through the dusty west window
and basks on backs of those who have labored all day,
backs bent under hard Alabama sun beating on babies slung
in muslin or carried in wombs that lean toward the dirt.
The garden hoed and beans pulled, women baste backing
with even stitches to cotton batting, thick and soft
to lie beneath when frost clings to frozen ground.
Elbow to elbow women croon and quilt their worn fabric
with knotted thread to cover both the living and the dead.
Walking West on the Selden Street Bridge
I’m ready for my own street: young chestnut leaves,
chilled daffodils unready to bloom. I’m careful
not to step into snack wrappers or picked over
chicken bones. But this pale young man slumped
in clutter, limp as road kill, round-faced as a child,
seems asleep but not asleep, his inhalation shallow,
syringe fallen away from his palm. I call the police
and watch his frail breath, dandelion hair fanning
out like sunlight, like the headdress young King Louis
wore to dance Apollo’s triumph over darkness
in the Court Ballet of the Night. This youth could be
a royal twin dressed in jeans, dazzling in red cowboy
boots. Sirens gather until technicians carry him out
from his nest of trash and scraps. Below, traffic never
slows or stops. I whisper, Don’t slip under. Attendants
rub his wrists, make him stand. He won’t die today
on his couch of winter leaves and tin foil stars.
They won’t last long—
these two-dollar February daffodils.
Buds tight at first,
then swift to bloom.
I’m not ashamed of my reaching—
for light and luster.
I need these fistfuls of beauty to survive.
In the in-betweens
I teach myself to breathe
mouth these words—
Allow the wisdom of the body
to release what it no longer needs.
Give it to the sky to hold for you.
And then with a two-fisted reach, I gather
all they can hold.
The sky, the horizon a double-sweet
trifle of color
dawn and dusk.
The lark. The larksong.
My eyes rivet on the pond’s
circling koi splotchy
orange and black
white and red
bodies like loaves—
they are food
for the ravenous.
Cafeteria – 2013
Friday night at the hospital,
way past dinner time.
The Subway counter is dark
behind its metal cage. Vending
machines, always open, hawk junk
food and sodas. What’s left in
the food line is scummy water,
empty steam tables. Lemon
custard drips from the frozen
yogurt machine. The despair
of burnt coffee lingers.
A few shocked souls
in mismatched clothes
stare at turkey breast, corn and
cold fries. We point at food
we don’t want. Go eat. We
are told. You need to eat,
the nurses repeat to get us out
of the unit, out of Mom’s room,
out of their way.
We carry our trays to
tables in straight rows, sit
beside people we don’t know,
holding our forks as if
we have never seen silverware.
Judith Waller Carroll
My Mother Fixing Supper
Every night at suppertime, my mother sang.
Clues to what she was cooking were sprinkled like salt.
Cry Me a River she’d croon as she sliced onions,
slid them into bubbling butter,
We’re in the Money if she’d splurged on steak.
Once the food was on the table and my father seated,
it was napkins on laps and mind your manners,
but while it was cooking, our kitchen
was as raucous as a dance hall,
my sister and I twirling past each other
as we laid out knives and forks,
steam rising around my mother’s face
as she drained the potatoes,
another song beginning
as she scooped flour from a canister,
whisked it into hot grease, and still singing,
turned it into gravy.
Erdogan is strong-arming again,
changing Turkey’s constitution by decree.
Putin is plotting cyberwar and
Trump is in Moscow, glad-handing.
An eleven-year-old girl in India
is held captive by construction workers
in a luxury compound
and raped for a month.
Parents have no clue.
In Thailand, soccer team boys
get trapped exploring cave,
Divers plot rescue as
World Bates its Breath for days.
Nicaraguans march with placards in the street.
The killings begin.
Even the cedars of Lebanon are
ancient history dropping
brittle leaves as climate changes wreak
more havoc than just one
day’s newspaper can contain.
In the backyard
my dog does crazy-eights,
nose down, tracking
last night’s rabbit party’s lingering scent
As the sun rises, and
the day’s horrors from all across the world
as I slowly
turn the pages of the news,
sipping coffee too hot to swallow.
Here to see our daughter,
five-year-old Amy knocked on the door.
Midnight frost hovered
in the night air, about to settle like dust
on the prairie’s broken wheat stems
and her bare arms. In her white
undershirt and panties, she’d tapped
so quietly we almost didn’t hear that
small leaf scudding against the door.
Had my husband still been punishing me,
she might have frozen there. But he let me
take her in, pull a blanket from the sofa
and wrap her up, a tall doll delivering herself
to us, her blue eyes wide,
her blonde hair long and chill.
Clearing his throat, he called her parents,
who came from down the street, talking nervously
of sleepwalking and insufficient locks.
They took her home, and it was quiet.
He got another beer and looked around,
still deciphering that stern, small message.
Catherine Senne Wallace
what will you give me
for this moment
no longer moment
what will you bargain
for the moment to come
to come this one
not yet over
how fast will you run
to catch up to the past
that is not yet the now
and where will you run
to let go of it
Across Kachemak Bay
black mountains rise like judgment
towering above the inlet, black
streaked with snow. Black,
white. Nothing in between.
When suddenly like a phantom
floating across the water,
a fishing boat chugs past, and there
we are again, steaming out of Freeport
with Captain Charlie. Little family
bundled up against the cold.
And it must be close to noon
for there’s Mother doling out
the egg-salad sandwiches loaded
with lettuce for health and green
good fortune. The bay too, a green
bounty crowned by white flashes
of gulls skimming low over the stern
to eye what the wake churned up.
And look, there at the rail, chumming
for fish, that’s my father, roaring
his smutty songs with mother laughing
because they were in the open air
and free to let themselves be—Oh
dare I say it—happy. What difference
if the fluke or flounder weren’t biting,
for wasn’t it fluke enough their being
at peace for just this once? On the scales
of judgment, shouldn’t that day—snatched
from the angry current of the rest—count?
Add up to something? That day when the gulls
weighed in, balancing the light on their wings.