Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Three Poems, by Janet Buck.


Colored Crayons Fade

Poets in their 30's and 40's
have colored crayons
and salt-less eyes;
they write about daisies
unplucked and whole and ivory.
Years themselves are brand new shoes
and bunions grow
on someone else's aging feet.
We dart and trust like hummingbirds,
assuming ambrosial nectar will flow and flow
no differently than water running from a tap.
A forest fire is simply news;
it hasn't hit close to home.

As years progress, we take to
trading time for grief;
we take to wearing clothes in black.
Aunt Minnie has a stroke
and suddenly we're lifting flesh
uncomfortably close to the lip of a grave.
We bury the once ripe peach of youth
as a dear, dear Spaniel,
limping with a heaving breath.
There's a segue to shriveled ferns,
to absolute moments of thirst.
Old photos become thin wafers to hold
in the palm of a shaking hand.




When I was seven,
Father assigned a mother to me,
then set our unbreakable rules:
obey in silence, obey whenever,
whatever the circumstance.
But you are hard fragments of ice,
a glacier bearing daggers
to each passing ship.
Between the drugs and jiggers of scotch,
I learned to dodge your bitter words,
but swallowed them all
in the cruel hush of my bedroom walls.
When you call a child a burden,
that one firm word becomes
her first and last and middle name.
The venom and the sting live on.

My birthday was just yesterday
—the sun a perfect circle of yellow,
the patio at the country club
decked with fibbing fulsome flowers.
Spotless plates, napkins folded in envelopes
waiting for love we'll never drop in the mail.
All of a sudden an acorn falls on your plate,
a symbol from a nearby oak tree
and you're too stoned to fathom its identity.
I long to grow a family tree.

I listen as you drone about your pedicure,
outline your formal complaints
to the staff, listen as you banter about
what to wear to a party that night.
I'm staring at your sparkling sandals
because I cannot
look you straight in the eye
and lie about a deep rapport.
I wanted this poem to be clipped
like a photo to shred
and toss in the trash,
yet I knew it would grow
outside my hands.



The Karma of a Steady Home

I guess I finally plucked courage
like the last feather off a dead bird,
insulting my family
with my twisted version of truth.
I have no kitchen table at all
just an old brown chaise
and a large TV grace the scratched linoleum.
There is room for my dog on my lap.
When she licks the page of a manuscript,
I have to smile like ice plants
open in the morning sun.

I have broken the family rules.
Our dining table on Modoc Road seated twelve.
The legs and flawless antique slabs
just bring my wrath to a roiling boil.
Some memories aren't worth
paper and ink, but helplessly
I coin the steam despite that fact.
All that really mattered there
were crystal goblets, fluted
and perfectly matched, filled
with smelly liquid from bottles
I'm sure the maid would cautiously wrap
in tattered brown bags
—an effort to hide the volume of booze
from the men who picked up the trash.

Somehow I knew that dollar bills
floated the mansion's winding halls
like feathers from broken pillow seams.
My stepmother never caught enough
to bring her rows of Prada shoes
or Gucci bags, no matter how hard
my father worked. Despite excessive luxuries,
gratitude was chocolate melting in the sun.
We were always blamed for weeds
that popped up overnight,
for acorns falling from giant oaks.
The moon was never a perfect curve.
The biggest house was always small.

At dinnertime, I was the grasshopper
blending with our verdancy by will alone,
my laborious gait a plate of charcoal toast
no one could ever touch.
I wore just one red tennis shoe
—on the other leg, a brace with a crutch tip
for a makeshift foot.
I heard her whisper to my dad:
"We really have to amputate
or she'll never find a man."
When she opened her mouth,
I hated her tongue.
I treated my dolls like gods.

When I could, I'd escape to Patti's house,
where her mother poured milk
in plastic glasses, we wiped our chins
with paper towels, and she
glazed my cheek with a kiss,
as she filled my plate with rice and beans.
Even at the age of eight,
I smelled the karma of a steady home.

Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee. Her poetry has recently appeared in 2River View, Offcourse, Octavo, The Pedestal Magazine, and hundreds of journals worldwide. Janet's second print collection of poetry, Tickets to a Closing Play, was the winner of the 2002 Gival Press Poetry Award and her third collection, Beckoned By The Reckoning, was released by PoetWorks Press in the spring of 2004. Buck teaches writing courses for Rogue Community College in Southern Oregon.

For links to more of her work, see:

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