Offcourse Literary Journal

Four Poems, by Janet Buck.


The Cleft Lip.

A doctor's loafers click the hall,
emphatic taps to balance out
drawing moans behind each door.
A nurse wipes oatmeal from your chin;
you blink once to say hello; then
the sockets clank tin lids like slot machines,
predictable with slipping luck.
I can't help drooling useless tears,
worrying if one goodnight
will lead to shovels poised in dirt.
Can't help thinking of your skin
like chipped enamel on a kettle
steaming loud and willingly
toward some horizon
I can't swallow casually.
Our memories are sparrow tracks
the slightest thaw might soon erase.

"Come sit with me" is all you say —
as if you are closing a book.
A simple request from a soul,
ready as ten-minute eggs,
to a witness scorched by handles of time.
Cat-eye weepy in the chair,
I squeeze a page to find a word,
fondle stacks of get well cards.
The bed grows huge as you grow small.
I force a smile like watermelons
split a tiny plastic plate.
Death, to me, is a cleft lip
the point of a scalpel should fix,
a stormy constant landing
everywhere but here.
Your cheeks of ash with calm resolve
consider the monster a song.

The Luna Moth.

I wanted grief to stay a skimpy litany --
a poem to finish, stash in a drawer
like a netted silver bass
slipped back to an eager sea.
Yet, when someone distant dies,
the face of our salty vigil returns
in pencil tracings of a hand --
one that shakes until I write.
I wanted grief to be a glinting luna moth
that lives a bridge of seven days --
a scrap of silk, a wing of lace
intent on mating in the dark,
then giving in to time --
a cerulean rhapsody tacked on
a painting I left in a room
with a door I could firmly close.


Lamentable Stone

You have always been awful with endings.
I remember our black lab,
her leg bone raw, the diagnosis hiding there
in sockets just above your nose.
Then suddenly, she is nowhere to be found;
life is ordered to move ahead
with arrogant sunlight and iron will;
every mousy, leaking cloud
pushed over to the neighbor's lawn.
There is no past but flowers in flawless bloom,
no aphids resting on the cusp.
Now that the final page could be yours
and we wait -- pin-pricked --
bleeding with secret love,
you take the predictable stand:
arms crossed, hugging your chest,
practiced armor all arranged.
Pupils aimed at magazines,
on something, well, less losable.
You made it your job to be stiff
in a world dissolving like soggy bread.
That solid steel countenance
we know as strength, admire and despise
all in the same kept breath reeks
from its long, long hold.
I wish I didn't see myself in mirrors you pass,
in doors you close, afraid to look.
Yet, here I fuss with fancy suppers,
pouring beer, folding napkins into fans,
proceeding along the same brick road.
"Maybe it's metastasized" --
alliteration in a poem my hands
might type, my heart won't read.
I've pasted your blindness into my eyes,
yet I'm able to label lamentable dark,
sorry about our fabric of stone.


The Dry Palette

It seems we've spent most of the year
avoiding this ashen room
where oxygen tanks hiss and tell,
where IV cords sit braiding hope
growing harder and harder to hear
like a windmill cheated of wind.
The world is taking stock of endings,
sifting through that time between
the starting place and closing doors.
A morphine drip taps its drum
against constricted silences.
All the words I had prepared
dissolve like snow in April heat.
Some seasons aren't negotiable.
You complain of itchy flesh,
fallow air and burning heels.
I pump the lotion in my palms,
as if this desert comes with rain.
"I need to wash my car," I say,
grabbing for anything trite
to strangle headstones moving in.
The only white magnolia left
sits in the shape of a paper hat
a nurse discards in a plastic bin
as she peels latex from her hands,
studies a singular diamond
cockeyed on a knuckle's roost,
rights it like a dying flower
whose stem is nicked by hail
but hanging on, hanging on.

Janet Buck's work has appeared numerous times in Offcourse. See also the review of her latest book, "Tickets to a Closing Play" by Robert W. Greeene, in Issue #17 and Janet's own review of Michelle Cameron's book of poems, in this issue.



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