I should have let my hair go gray,
the color of plain river rocks,
which either sit or roll
with currents rolling them.
I can’t stand upon a stump
of old and worn eraser heads.
Walk/dissolve have equal signs
between the words,
between the efforts tied to them.
I swallow gravel spits of pills, dreaming
moss in blankets over aging brick—
undress myself while I still can.
Two surgeons spend the afternoon
trying not to break the news.
There’s nothing left that we can do:
three diseases in your back;
your shoulder’s shot, unfixable.
I tell myself it’s just a squirt gun;
bullets in my flesh aren’t real—
avoid by husband’s lowered eyes,
the sad reflection, sand in mine.
Both his knees are dribbling like basketballs.
He knows I’m now a water glass
slipping from his soapy hands.
Everyone is stuffing tears the size of plums,
even nurses I don’t know.
There’s no such thing as Holy Grail,
not here, today, not in this place.
I play the stone, swallow gravel carefully—
pretending it is only ice, that it will melt—
play the hose that saves the house
when flames are licking at the door.
Autumn Sometimes Comes in June
I am weak old grocery bags—
jealous of the Calla Lilies,
thick and strong, waving
bulging scarlet saxophones.
I’m the anxious Chevy truck,
stalled at stop signs, sitting here.
Bulging at the wishing seams,
wanting to be whole again,
fondling the garden soil.
Beatitude grows paper thin, photos torn
too quickly from the album’s page—
the snow of scraps, now freezer burn
from hanging on, white knuckling.
Remember breaking chicken wings?
Giving up the bigger part, so one of us
who needed luck the very most
could sack it for a stormy day,
hold it in a cross of gold.
Sisterhood should be the wind behind a back.
I made that up, merely felt
the hint of breezes in my sleep.
I’m awake, curled up like going shrimp
beneath the blankets piled high,
the tail of a squeaking mouse,
its stringy fabric caught between the door and jamb.
Yesterday, I tried to walk, failed
with old batteries that disappoint a ticking clock.
I slipped on last year’s autumn leaves.
I’m broken and I break again
each time I sense I’m pepper flakes,
something to dislodge or dodge—
hornets at a barbecue.
Like lovers dumped, I stare at voids,
twist a curly lock of hair until it snaps.
Glued to silent telephones.
The Rocking Bench
We’re in a park where ducks
dip noses in a pond—
considering the songs of swans.
Pressed together on a bench,
stiff as terracotta pots,
I feel the cracks inside my bones.
Clouds of starched white taffeta
line an endless sky of slate.
It’s getting dark, darker than it’s ever been.
Two surgeons gave us awful news.
I dream of gophers digging holes,
crawling into all of them.
Facing this is more than
ogling double chins.
It means complete paralysis—
compared to how I penciled life.
I’m useless as wool cardigans
in summer heat, useless
as a spoon without a handle there.
My husband pats the rug burns
on my only knee. I flinch, retreat.
Just when does one ask graciously
to be the limping horse they shoot.
Brahms lullabies are crackling fires
on stereos. Embers of what used to be
are red with heat—pale as a peeled potato
headed for the boiling pot,
I can taste the ice cream cone
of leaving earth; any flavor’s doable.
I take a quarter from my purse,
whisper in my husband’s ear:
“Heads mean go; tails mean stay.”
He turns his face away from mine,
watches ivy scale a wall—
says he spots a hummingbird,
even where there are no flowers.
The silver circle on the ground
is one he plans to leave behind.
The Locker Room
Painted toes in neon thongs
shuffle through the locker room—
conversation: casual, a cranky child,
a manicure that drew a tiny spot of blood,
a cruise gone sour because of rain.
They spot my stump, a crayon stub,
pale peeled potato white beside
their legs of solid bronze.
Someone smacks the locker door,
my old prosthesis up against the edge of it.
Down it goes: a thunderbolt, echoes
of a hundred crystal goblets jostled off a tabletop.
They shatter, split, then crush again,
as women step all over this with gaping eyes.
No one has a broom that works, including me.
They stare at what is left of failing body parts.
There isn’t much unless they count
rows of scars, bags of skin, open sores,
bruises of deep burgundy.
I’m some disease they might have gotten,
but they didn’t. Fingers cross around the room.
I’m templates for a tragedy. Did you know
that poor girl has seven, count them, seven
joints replaced, on top of losing her leg.
What an inspirat…
They don’t bother whispering.
I can’t finish listening.
I sense their bouts of nausea—white-knuckling
the luck they own—I’m the kettle whistling dry
that ruins perfect glass-topped stoves.
My artificial leg makes noise with every step—
peach pits in disposal mouths of kitchen sinks.
I don’t mean to be the wilting centerpiece.
When I arrived the sun was out,
a lemon plopped across a cerulean sky.
As I leave, the clouds are gauze—
no tufts of sweet alyssum seeds
a quiet breeze will send away.
Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee and the author of three full-length collections of poetry. Her work has won numerous literary awards. Janet’s most recent work has appeared in BLUE PEPPER and Boston Literary Magazine; more poetry is scheduled for publication in forthcoming issues of Offcourse, Mistfit Magazine, Antiphon, PoetryBay, and other journals worldwide.