Friday, February 1, 2008

Janet Buck

Absence & Ashe

If this were plain old age --
that ugly, stubborn customer of all
our whittled destinies --
perhaps I could sleep
after watching you struggle to walk.
No hands. No feet.
So cheerful as they bring you legs
of carbon, and plastic and screws.
Your elbows swing like hangers
without shirts in a trailer
shaken by storm.
The vacant air, your silhouette
of avid sadness lingering
with cobwebs on the graying walls.
At twelve, you’re far too young
to memorize how sunlight
blisters verdant leaves,
how clouds deliver piercing hail --
way too young
to wear mortality’s sleeve
in empty pockets where fingers
should dangle and dream.

*First Published in Octavo

Beckoning by the Reckoning

My finger lodged in slamming doors
should teach me to leave knobs alone,
but some rooms win by virtue
of size and weight -- of course
your past is one of those.
Time is that hairbrush I cannot toss
no matter how messy the web.
Your penmanship on mealy notes,
runes and Sanskrit meant
to trip a fountain in my acrid eyes.
Combing margins of old books
disturbs a heavy layer of dust
and so much more.
Beckoned by the reckoning,
I remain the stray, stray cat
clawing arches of the light.
I stumble across a photo of you
sipping on gin, reading beside a roaring fire.
Grief gloats like an opium pipe,
its gray/white swirl
in the furnace of August heat
too stuffy to bear, too viscid
to finger away.
Once again your deathbed grows
a sea of posters thick enough
to make itself my Alcatraz.

*First Published in Retort Magazine

Some Stones Hurt

I was ten years old
when I saw the Venus de Milo
posing on clean gray tile.
Shutter clicks were going off
like car alarms.
And I was ashamed of her stone.
Of the air where her arms
were destined to be.
I wondered why she had no scars.
If she hated the eyes --
their rabid dogs, their
pigeon-dropping cloying orbs.
I wanted to give her my clothes.
Pass her a bottle of glue.
“She’s broken,” I said to my aunt.
“Why is she here -- in a place of respect?”
No answer emerged from her tongue.
I thought about my missing leg,
its carcass and its animal.
Later I would share her shape.
Duck cameras like a waiting knife
pressed to a throat of crumbling sand.
She must have taken a fall.
“Someday we’ll chat,” I said to her,
“over a meal of oysters and art
about the presence
of grit in the shell,
about the impotent rage.”

*Winner of the Kota Press Anthology Prize

Camels & Sand

A strange mélange of curves
against the thorns and barbs of war.
Dog-eared berms wrestling
with another storm.
A soldier sleeps against
the barrel of his gun,
dreams of cherry trees at home.
A white picket fence inside this world
is concertina wire and guards
in suits of glaucous camouflage,
bombs for crickets
singing in the evening light.
Camels pass in dusty colors,
their instincts blend
with parched terrain --
they’re born prepared --
and we are not.
Sand is all the grass they know.
They wander by so casually,
an orange sunset at their heels.

*First Published in Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry

The Mask

I see you there -- seated at the vanity.
Crow to peacock. Mouse to Eve.
Refined as cashmere worked from wool.
The mirror is clean.
A powder tin for snow on dirt
as if some palm could ever resist/reverse
palettes of storms licking their chops,
snapping the bendable branch.
Science of preserving youth --
a formula for dressing
plain truth in silk and gabardine lies.
You'd underline a strength you saw,
perhaps a curve, a sexy mole.
A plethora of busy trays --petrie dishes growing hope
where none existed to eyes.

I admired the way you sat -- then rose,
born again by $60 throat cream
and a string of false pearls.
Salsa of rouge on your cheeks.
I borrowed your chair and your hands
when you left for a luncheon
of salad and wine --
played in your dollhouse,
testing the thickness of walls,
writing my name with eyeliner sticks.
Pleasant as these gestures were,
they didn't slay serpents of doubt,
fill empty pant legs dangling like spider webs.
I was still shadows chasing residual light.
I was still homeless surrounded by paint.

*Previously published in Red River Review

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