The Size of Fruit


When I was born

with disappointing body parts,

Mother cried in tears

the size of full green grapes,

did her best to hide their shapes,

make me smile like slices of a cantaloupe.

They hired surgeons by the herd,

combed the country for a plan

to help me walk, certain it was just a dream.

Because they didn’t quit in

centers of that prayer, I’ve stood

and walked for many years.


When Father read the fatal slide—

Leukemia with all the dots,

he couldn’t, wouldn’t try to talk.

Mother’s death at 33 left him there

in kitchen nooks with tart green olives

in a jar, martini glasses empty, clean

and put away, nothing left to celebrate.

He cried in plums, but kept them all away from us,

like pit bulls famous for their teeth.


Silence robbed so many years.

I told him straight I wanted some

acquaintance with her countenance,

the size of sweaters in her drawers,

the way she touched piano keys,

filled the room with sweet ballets inside his ears.

He played deafer than he was

the times I asked, punched his stomach

way too hard with question marks.


When death took him,

I wandered through a wilderness—

no figs on trees, no leaves on hope,

no corn beneath the stalks and strings,

no avocado under skins;

what scraps were there were bruised by then.

Desperate is desperate. I learned too late

dumping grief is not the goal—

you follow ivy to a grave and sit with it—

let the weeping willow weep.

My tears the size of coconuts,

I shook the tree and set one loose,

broke it quickly on a rock,

drank the milk, then found a plum,

seeded it, chewed the meat,

squeezed the juice and guzzled it.


If only I weren’t thirsty still—

I suck on ice all day long.


Give Me Grace I Do Not Have


The only thing that’s green today,

a heavy tank beside the bed.

He sucks on borrowed oxygen—

I bring him ice cream, watch it melt.

The final day of Father’s life,

a catheter runs his leg like caterpillars

up a branch, his fingers scratching

at the tape. I lotion skin around the edge.


I’m listening to piercing screams,

crows inside a muted glimpse

of Hitchcock films in black and white.

Pills will yield a scrap of rest,

but not for long. The real scuffle is with God

and what he says will happen next.

I pace the floor, leave the room,

return when I can breathe again.


His eyes are closed like sleeping owls.

I hear some noise, a vacuum sticking to a rug;

it’s sucking dust I want to stay,

anything to cover this.

“I want to die at home,” he says.

I sit up straight—a Blue Jay startled from a fence.


To steer myself away from wrecks,

I scribble on a notepad just inside my purse.

A poem smells old—mothballs in a dresser drawer—

all I own for coping skills, shaking stilts.

I’m not standing tall enough.

Times like this are not for kittens

whining for their mother’s milk.


I hold his hand, wishing it were mine, not his

inside this tome, between the shale

and blooming poppies in a field.

The quilt I was to keep him warm,

losing stitches one by one.

The hospice nurse suggests

we sing “Amazing Grace.”

A eunuch in the land of love,

I have no voice.


You can read more poetry by Janet I. Buck here