Monday, January 27, 2014

#114: Three Poems by Bernadette Geyer

~This poem was previously published in The Evansville Review (2008).

Fire Ants Invade Hong Hock See Buddhist Temple

No one ever said
the path to enlightenment
would be easy.
Nor did they mention
it would be strewn
with fire ants
falling from the sacred Bodhi tree
onto the backs
of worshippers seeking shade.
No one warned
that letting go of pain
would be a daily koan
to wrap psychic arms
around in holy embrace.
But there they are—
real as wounds—
a colony of fire ants
the monks cannot kill,
knowing they could
return as one next time.
The vacuum transfer
was a failure. They can’t even
flick the beasties from their skin
(Do no harm).
Welts rise like prayers.
The worshippers decline
in numbers; something
must be done.
The monks say
if someone comes unbidden
to get rid of the ants
it is the will of the universe.
They’ll just be over there,
praying, eyes closed
tight against seeing.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#113: "Car Wash" by Joseph M. Schuster

 ~This story originally appeared in Missouri Review (1988).

            Thief wonders if it will rain.  The smell of it fills the air. Miles to the west, beyond the town limits, a line of black full-bellied clouds moves into the valley.  He stands up to look at them from where he is working on his mother's roof. Two blue jays flap angrily around him, swooping and scolding.  Thief is trimming branches from the tree where they have their nest.
            "Yes, I see it," he says, waving his arms to drive them off.
            The branches are low. If there is an ice storm this winter, the weight will pull them even lower until they scrape the shingles. They could put a hole in the roof. Thief has cut six branches from this tree and another dozen from other trees that surround the house.
            He has also caulked the flashing around his mother's chimney, and cleaned the debris—dead leaves, maple seeds, twigs—from the gutters. Some of the seeds had sprouted in the decaying leaves. Thief pulled them out, tiny trees with three or four leaves and thin white hairs for roots.
            He used eighteen trash bags to collect it all.  As he filled each, he tied it closed, and threw it off the roof.  Some split when they hit the ground.
            He's been at work for three hours and has another hour to go, if the light holds.  It's 5:30.  He still wants to weed the flowerbeds on either side of the front porch. The statue of the Virgin in one of the beds is dirty, covered with cobwebs.
            Thief has tried to take better care of his mother since his father died six months ago.  He works around her house every Saturday, mowing the lawn, fixing leaking faucets, painting rooms, laying new tile in the bathroom.  He's told her she should sell the house and, even though she says she won't, he wants it ready to put on the market.  It is too large for one woman.  There are four bedrooms. Two and a half baths. Thief thinks of how the house will look in the shorthand of the real estate ad: W of O'ville. 2-story. 4 br. 2 ½ b.  fin bsmt. amenities..
            The amenities are a new dishwasher, a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer with an icemaker and a cold-water tap, a new gas stove. Thief gave them to her from his hardware store.
            His mother never uses them. She doesn't cook at home.  All she keeps in the refrigerator is milk for her cat and a few beers for Thief.  She likes her meals out, she says; she doesn't like eating alone.

Monday, January 13, 2014

#112: "Her Favorite Book" by Jonathan Weinert

~This poem previously appeared in The Kenyon Review (2008).

Her Favorite Book

smelled of Red Astrachan apples and rust,

smelled of library, the long untethered afternoons

made, like any book, a door

She gripped it as its red
skin puckered from its spine,
she cradled it, the gold
                                      stamping on its boards defaced
                                      by her attentions

Big light blistered through the cunning trees—magnolia,
white ash, Carolina silverbell with sawtoothed leaves     Sharp
electric smells of severed grasses mixed

          with smells of watered dust, of dusted rain
          Little balled-up fists of rain
          hanging in the highest leaves     Hush-a-bye babes, don’t you cry

          she sing-songed to herself, a practice mother
          trying on a kindness

          like a Sunday dress

She read, in August heat, and felt the stitching of her shorts-hem
bite into her thigh     She tasted metal

in the socket where her last front tooth
had fallen out

                          imagining herself a hundred years ago
                          and ten years older—capable, mature,

                          as she and Clara Barton
                          bound up men’s strange wounds with husks
                          there being no more bandages

The book smelled of care and chloroform and suffering,
of pain and battle and the cries

of wounded soldiers bleeding in Antietam mud
or freezing in the drifts at Fredericksburg,
                                                                     swarms of black flakes
                                                                     falling in their faces

Shoeless, gloveless, ragged, wringing blood out
of her laden skirt, she waded to the far
red bank of Acquia Creek with loads of biscuits
and supplies

Virginia, bring that saw and lantern here     She bent above
the vague white faces, speaking to her

now and then of mothers, daughters, sweethearts, wives    

It pleased her to be tending men, despite the grimness
and the strain, to earn their gratitude and curb their pain
Her father, dead already seven years—
beyond her help, beyond her memory

She bent above him, in her favorite book, and sheared
his ruined limb away     Hush my baby, don’t you cry

—each stroke of the saw blade

binding her to him, letting her inside him,

cutting her to bone