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,

waiting there—

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.