January 27, 2021KR OnlinePoetry

Three Poems

All Summer

We ate what we had not planted—
partook of bounty we had not sown.

Heirloom tomatoes on slabs
of bread, bundles of zinnia

for friends and neighbors,
pepper strips dipped in hummus

or tossed in pasta and vinegar,
hides gleaming sugar and oil.

Faux fishermen who had no
rod or reel, knowledge or map,

we’d haphazardly spray
a little water then proudly

kneel beside another catch,
which—through an unerring

procession of humid afternoons
and evening thunderstorms—

had the wherewithal
to keep weaving itself—

steadily drawing from
soil and sun even as we

rushed forward to claim
our prize with one quick

cord cut—mercilessly slicing
through tender belly—

the embarrassingly pale
band between flesh and rind

white as the worms
twisting inside those globed

thimbles hastily plucked
from the unpruned thicket.

 

The Glory of the Morning

Hog-tying the fence then leaping
down to strangle another bed
of defenseless tomato plants—
blather even more pathetic kisses.
A greedy lover, it tendril-lashes
the victim it chooses, not one
but three or four times, curled
cords clutching, possessing—
desperate to possess at any price—
the kind of ill unbridled behavior
even children, bored and cross-
legged on the library’s stained
alphabet rug, know to boo and hiss.

After lunch I rip away vine bare
-handed, tongue all but clucking,
then head into the garage to take
the wheelbarrow off the wall
—suddenly uneasy—sticky
green heartbreak still staining
both palms. Have I ever done
it even once. Willingly let go.
Of anything. One thing.

 

White Bluffs, WA, 1943

After asking for more sons
to slaughter, the government
needs our apricot tree, politely
informing us by letter it’s our
patriotic duty to relinquish our
newly painted kitchen cabinets
and carefully sanded living room
mantle, the cracked fencepost
I stand beside every evening
gazing out at the chalk cliffs
and that one curve of river
whose vast, placid expanse
can almost smooth out my
features—perpetually perturbed
since the stroke last spring.

The government just has to have
those five minutes of dusk I use
to wash away my husband’s kiss,
perfunctory, dry—the one place
I’m able to forget how he treats
me as a child after fifty-four years—
voice inflated with false cheer
when others are present—slack-
dismissive as soon as they’ve gone.

This afternoon I sit in the truck
while he runs errands in town,
half the buildings on this street
already boarded up—the school
and bank—as trickles of neighbor
keep spilling over the half-rolled-
down window sill, curious where
we’ll move, people talking too
loud and slow as I nod, no one
in charge offering more than
vague rumors why our houses,
barns, gardens, and orchards
must be the ones turned over
to help “speed up the effort.”

Fearing the oncoming twitch
and tremor and puzzled by what
good thing grows inside secret
walls without any sun, I try not
to think too much, try practicing
forgiveness and sweet forbearance
until the afternoon my husband—
deeming it too much trouble for me
to sort through scraps in my febrile
state—begins tossing old calendars,
photographs, letters, and sketches
into a large pile by the lilac bush,
grown from Maud’s cutting, and lights
a match. Who is he to me now
but just another who did not ask?
When he glances up and notices
me watching him, he waves then
looks back down. May he die alone
on an uncomfortable bed hundreds
of miles from here. May it be the last
thing on earth he sees: my face wildly
twisting in the wall of flame between us.