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Tag: Janet Buck

“Stuck in Detroit: A Memoir of Christmas Past” by Janet I. Buck

Spending the holidays in the Detroit airport is an overrated experience, no matter how many faces of happy customers they have pasted in the corridors. Mark and I hadn’t seen his parents and siblings for three long years and we were looking forward to some great big hugs and long-awaited homemade pecan pie, only to be found in the confines of Dayton, Ohio. To make a long story short, we never made it there. The rest of the saga made a Chevy Chase Christmas look like a free honeymoon in Hawaii.

Now, Dad did warn us that they were having a little snow back there — courtesy of some lovely photo attachments sporting him toying with his neat little snow blower on the driveway. Since we get about two snowflakes every three years here in Southern Oregon, I thought the whole thing looked like a precious Rockwell painting. “Just a little snow,” as it turned out, stretched from their doorstep right up to New York City. Unaware of the rapidly deteriorating weather, we put a few magazines and a book in a carry-on and headed to the Medford airport.   Continue reading

“Near the End,” a memoir by Janet Buck

Near the End

Janet Buck

Your skull is packed with razor thoughts, as Father is dying a horrible death, his camel chin, so tired of rising to meet your buzzard eyes. And yes, you have the power to take a papercut, turn it to rivers of blood. There’s a catheter bag taped to the hair on his leg. You know, when pouches of urine pull on the tube, it hurts much more. “I’ll empty it” is all I say. You’re busy with some young woman, bleached-fried hair, doing your nails—donning a silk-slick negligée–clearly the skin of a Python with those aging spots. Next she’ll dye your old coiffure, see if she can change the world. Yours, not his. I hate that fact.

You treat his dying as if it’s yours. He doesn’t deserve that Hell-made pickle of your tongue. None of us deserve your tongue. But go ahead, do what you do: tear down shrines, release the memories of lives that matter, toss them with that snotty tissue in the trash. When he’s gone, it’s free-fire zone. I have a mouth; I’ll use it then. Because of you, every step I make to hold the conch shell of my father’s hand is a field of mines. I’m the one who scratches the genie’s itching head, rubs his shoulders with all the power in my wrists and fingers, in my arms, as he quietly reads the news. Do you know your sour words are bile and hairballs in his throat? I make him crêpes for breakfast when you refuse to switch on morning coffee pots, but manage to open a gallon of scotch, telling someone watching you drink from a bed stand cup: Oh, it’s only apple juice, you say. And we pretend that we believe to save him from the whipping post.

I hate the thought of my father making love to a woman built of shale and splintered wood. That heavy clay horse in the pompous living room you never use but had to have—like six mink coats—will do just fine. I could come up from behind, knock at the door of a head filled up with pharmacies you never needed from the start. And you. You over there—the one with eyes glazed over same as donut holes, the one who will not hold me when he’s gone—I’ll bet you’re stealing his morphine pills.


It’s over now. I stand beside him, stumbling over syllables. “A Love Poem to My Father” is the piece I wrote. My wrist too weak to hold the frame, a hospice nurse helps me out, reaching underneath to steady the paper pinned by glass, now hit by cold November winds. She knows these cracking cricket sounds will live forever in my voice. You are screaming, Get that body off my bed! I wish it were some bullshit job of paraphrase. Where’s that horse? A thick, black zippered body bag is on a stretcher telling me there’s no tomorrow.


Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee & the author of four full-length collections of poetry. Buck’s most recent work is featured in The Birmingham Arts Journal, Antiphon, Offcourse, PoetryBay, Poetrysuperhighway, Abramelin, The Writing Disorder, Misfit Magazine, Lavender Wolves, River Babble, The Danforth Review & other journals worldwide. Her latest print collection of verse, Dirty Laundry, is currently available at all fine bookstores. Buck’s debut novel, Samantha Stone: A Novel of Mystery, Memoir & Romance, was released courtesy of Vine Leaves Press in September, 2016. Janet lives & writes in Southern Oregon—just hours away from Crater Lake, one of the seven wonders of the world. For links, announcements, and interviews with Janet, visit her new website:

“The Rocky Road of Moving Pens,” by Janet Buck

The Rocky Road of Moving Pens

by Janet Buck

I almost die, lose my pen, disappear, come back to life a little bit. Somehow, perhaps by the grace of persistent boredom and a two-minute glance at reality shows, I find that precious stick among tsunami-sized piles of dog hair and shredded Kleenex under the bed, and voilà, the writing world has changed its clothes. It’s been more than five years since I’ve written or published much at all, so I’m hungry for that feeling of putting together a poem without losing a piece of the puzzle to the puppy teeth of our new Yorkie. The Ars Poetica floating on the internet was always a pretty dicey glass, half-empty, half-full, but I was under the comfortable delusion I could hold the cup without it slipping from my hands.


The water is now on the floor, our puppy’s licking up the mess, and I am left in dizzyland. The pastures I’m familiar with have grown new grass and added weeds, thistled ones. Poetry is a slinky woman wearing a thong; editors want short and terse, nothing over 30 lines. A complete sentence in a poem is considered excess grit. The bulk of guidelines threaten me with: “Don’t do that, do this instead, we like this, we don’t like that, we hate the part of reading fifty pounds of subs—and e-mails are a presence that will get you shot, or hanging upside down in the town square, with people throwing rocks at you. We don’t pay you; you pay us. But please submit; we want your work.” I fall for it like a three-scoop ice cream cone in my favorite flavor.


Fairly early on in the game, I was smart enough to realize that getting paid to expose my soul just wasn’t a “happening” enterprise, rather like setting up a lemonade stand at the North Pole and expecting people to fork out a buck for more damned ice. I’m the first to admit I fully applaud the invention of submission fees because journals without fiscal support go down in flames, and I feel sad when I read giant messages on my screen that say, “We’ve drowned and no one came to rescue us.” The fact is that we’re all together standing in the breadline out in the cold.

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“The Size of Fruit,” and “Give Me Grace I Do Not Have,” two poems by Janet I. Buck

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

Poetry by Janet I. Buck

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.

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