Janet I. Buck
Mugs of Tea with Hemlock Leaves
I’m here to place the last
of yellow marigolds to keep
the insects off romaine.
Here to water what is left.
The hose is crimped, its rubber
far too hot to touch.
An August sun that comes in June
could fry a slice of bacon
spread on lids of garbage cans.
I raise the blinds, stretching
out what sight is left.
Pods of lilies pop and bloom.
Their stems are 8 ft. tall at least.
I beg my husband: “Please buy stakes,
some sturdy rope.” He doesn’t see
our garden shows how seasons walk,
trip and fall. Dirt to daisy, then
to petals dropping off.
Embedded rocks along the grass,
once a trail to pleasantries,
mutate into shale and cairn.
Our neighbor has a hemlock tree.
Trumpets vines along the trellis
just outside our windowpane,
one deceased or getting there
in shrinking, melancholy strings,
the other wears a symphony.
The screen and view
insulted by a cobweb’s map.
Black widows or a brown recluse—
either way, the bite is sitting,
some stray arm will come too close.
Empty Answers—Empty Drawers
Liver Cancer started this.
Spreading fast like poison ivy—
lymph nodes to her burning ribs.
A prayer chain and a team of doctors
working hard to build a bridge to promised health
are not enough to calm me down.
Sending gifts—this fruitless fruit
of 13 scarves, sweaters for the trips to church,
all that tea, quiet music making noise
when rest is all she dreams about—
this isn’t very practical, when someone
spends entire weeks curled beside a toilet bowl.
Someone on the prayer chain types: “God is Big!”
Well, I am small, cannot sleep, lost inside a queen-sized bed,
twilight comes, then all the hours attached to moons
grow thick like building calluses.
I suck on pens, guzzle tea, notice that I haven’t touched
our black remote since March arrived
and this is June. Dozing off, head first into dinner plates,
I wipe the oil & vinegar, mashed potatoes off my face,
thank my husband for the towel.
It’s 2 a.m.—I haven’t hit the pillow yet,
grabbed a shower, answered e-mail, paid my bills.
I open windows, gulp the air to wake me up,
eavesdrop as the crickets sing, their clicking slippers
made of glass and fairytales.
I throw my laptop on the mattress, pick it up,
try again to write about what should not be her destiny.
It could be a Hallmark card or putting down
a facile pen, pinning ears to baser truths
that halted sterling symphonies. I don’t know.
She doesn’t say. Both of us are weak and tired
from tragic times divided only by their themes.
I’ve Googled every niche and corner
matching roads where this might lead.
When she calls, we listen to the silences
longer than we ever have—
breathe and sigh, a quick duet.
She’s got the guts to call it Cancer;
I’m the one who calls it IT.
We’re two birds that fly by strange
coincidence down chimney flues,
end up in the kitchen nook—
no idea where to go, losing feathers,
running into furniture and painted walls.
A whistling kettle on the stove
is making sounds I cannot hear.
I want to be a marching band
that hurries ‘cause it’s raining hard.
All she says is: “Aren’t you tired
of playing strong no matter what?”
We agree like matching socks.
I will sit until a fleet of hummingbirds
comes tapping at the window glass, self-assured
that nectar’s still inside a Calla Lily in a vase
poised upon the dresser’s wood.
Empty answers. Empty drawers.
Full of stuff, too much to move and organize.
I carry crystal with both hands to water
what is still alive. My husband turns the faucet on,
tells me that I need some sleep. Of course he’s right.
She’ll need me in the breakdown lane.
Hustle, Hustle—Hurry Up!
On this one day, I hated the shapes
of both our phones. Even tore one
off the wall, then put it back.
Stared at my insanity — until one rang.
Vomited beside the bed
before I ever answered it.
I have Cancer in my liver,
in my lymph nodes, in my bones.
My best friend’s voice hit me
like five olive pits thrown inside
disposals in the kitchen sink.
The silence gap—Grand Canyon style.
Then I can tell by listening,
she’s fighting hard, hard enough
to win some war, busy in a distant land.
She lives too far away to touch;
since all the gifts I mail off
aren’t medicine and she has that,
I stand between the shale and cairn.
She’s been a living, breathing angel
all her life. Every move is hurting her.
I understand why Rimbaud
scratched upon a brick on Paris streets:
Merde a Dieu! Artists try to be polite—
sometimes life destroys a clause.
Never certain when to call—don’t
break minutes when she sleeps—
they’re weak saltines. Don’t crush a second
in the day, where Cancer isn’t
what begins a sentence rolling in her head.
Pitch the stupid pansies in their pony packs;
buy perennials in bloom; grab the shovel,
move the dirt. Hustle, hustle, hurry up—
find that God-damned Northern Star,
cradle it in bubble wrap,
double check your address book—
ship it Fed-Ex Overnight.
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 and she has published roughly 4,000 poems and non-fiction essays in print and internet journals around the globe during her 18 year writing career. Buck’s most recent poems are scheduled for publication in forthcoming issues of The Milo Review, Mistfit Magazine, The Ann Arbor Review, Antiphon, River Babble, PoetryBay, and other journals worldwide.