Months after I had cleared her clothes from our apartment
and delivered them to a homeless shelter as was her wish,
I drove to our cabin in the mountains to gather her last shirts
and sweaters, socks and tights, sneakers and slippers. I was
weary of all the searching, finding, sorting, folding. Weary even
of the touching. I could not stomach one more trip for charity.
Death, you see, had made me a coward. I just jammed everything
in three thirty-gallon black plastic bags, which I tied off tightly,
left for next morning pick-up at the end of the driveway,
flanked by six-foot banks of ice-skinned snow. An hour’s nap later
I saw through the window that crows had come, torn open the bags,
dragged their contents all over, confused perhaps by wisps
of sweat and perfume, thinking who in his right mind would put
anything but chicken bones and pizza crust in such beguiling sacks.
One had her lace panties in its beak, shaking it like a battle flag.
Another was chewing the sleeve of her pineapple tee shirt.
A third was back at the bags, manically scrounging for more.
I walked out calmly with a shovel. The birds flew away.
I had visions of leaving it all for a next storm to bury,
re-collecting the debris after spring thaw and burning it into
a biblical pillar of smoke, soaking the ashes in the stream out back.
Instead, I climbed the crusted banks, roamed the neighbors’ yards
and snowbound streets, picked up the pieces, placed and cinched them
in new bags, left them as before. The birds came again and again.
Again and again I gathered, each time working more slowly, each time
the pieces smaller. Until the sun was gone and I stood by the last bags
I owned, slightly less full. I stood there all night, the crows laughing
and I laughing back, their amber eyes flashing in the new moon dark,
neither stupid nor cruel, though I had thought them both.
At first light, men with boots and gloves came in a green truck.
One said Good Morning. Another took the bags away.
Ken Haas lives in San Francisco where he works in healthcare and sponsors a poetry writing program at the UCSF Children’s Hospital. His first book, Borrowed Light, won the 2020 Red Mountain Press Discovery Award, won a 2021 prize from the National Federation of Press Women and was shortlisted for the 2021 Rubery Book Award. Ken has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the Betsy Colquitt Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in over 50 journals and numerous anthologies. Please visit him online at http://kenhaas.org.
This town has a rusted roof gas station,
a store shelf where you would find
charm and shame sitting side-by-side,
as inseparable as lovebugs,
buy-one-get-one for the last 50 years.
You can still buy a scratcher ticket – or twelve,
and sit, welcomed, on the sidewalk
with your dreams of a less-debted life,
or watch as barefoot beauties walk west to work,
carrying babies bulging with
Dollar General budget-nutrition.
Don’t forget your manners if you’re just visitin’,
one proper and polite nod to say,
“just like my daddy did,”
to all those with their collars blue
just like the sky-paint on the gulf.
“Poor, rural, and southern”,
is meant by most
to sound scary and scabbed
just like the shallow intimidation
of pitbull pups scratching and slobbering
against their chain-link boundary lines.
But to me it sure looks a lot like
lovin’ and learnin’ that the things
worth having take the most time,
saturating slowly like sun tea
brewin’ in the porch-pitcher.
I spent a decade patting makeup
onto the warm red tones of my neck
to conceal a crime of culture,
instead of questioning
why moving up
had to mean moving away.
These memories had a lesson for me,
like a neighbor pulling my ear
back to my mother for new wisdom,
chastising me for talking to strangers,
forgetting my manners,
and not listening to my father.
These memories are like mangrove mud,
hugging my ankles until I am stalled,
anchoring me to mindfulness of a moment
tinged with something sour,
like that sulfuric smell across the marshes,
that is hard to romanticize – yet still cues a smile,
when its rotten earthiness tells me that I am home.
It is only in this pause,
the stillness before a shifting tide,
when I can clearly recall and recite
the scripture –
the allegory of me,
and where it was written.
It was composed here;
In the nimble thank you wave,
at a neighbor kind or neglectful enough
to turn an eye as I swiped citrus slices
from yard overhangs,
to rub into my vulgar mouth,
with dirty hands.
On the sweet-wind steeped from
magnolia blooms and orange blossoms,
the perfect perfume to compliment
a blushing heat-sick face.
It was spoken over the rumble of thunder,
during the can’t-miss primetime storm watch,
hurricane season 2004,
sung with the intoxicating breaths
of the gulf stream,
scented with pheromonic petrichor.
They say that one man’s white trash
is another’s treasured upbringing,
and through the catharsis of return,
a lowbrow renaissance,
I know both to be true.
My only infallible faith is in the
beauty visible from the gutter,
and I will celebrate each day
in the midst of a perennial
like the Christmas lights draped
on fences, roofs, and trailer tops,
hanging on with staple-gun hugs,
all year ‘round.
Elizabeth Curley lives a dual life as both a poet and a social work researcher. Elizabeth received a Silver Medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2012 and is still writing a decade later. Elizabeth’s time is spent consuming, collecting, carrying, crafting, and quantifying the human experience.