Janet Buck: Four poems

The Morphine Drip

Death's presence seemed too lazy to you.
It needed a needle. A pinch in the ass.
Thinning flesh, now sheets of phyllo on a plate.
A pastry losing smooth pecans.
Cloying tombs aren't lyrical.
All that muggy helplessness--
a climate that devoured me.
The hospice nurse seemed useless here.
Freezing hands upon the breast
of respiration's morbid gasp.
That drip had such incessant tunes,
bullets clicking through their rounds.
I wanted fingers in my ears
and walking sticks to change the ground.

Your eyes drew closed--
a china doll suspended
in pockets around a prayer.
I wanted to floor the pedal of pain--
push it through long yellow lights.
Erase the red. Reverse the dark.
I wanted to speed it up at times.
At others I wanted to yank it out.
The waiting bowl of oatmeal cold.
I picked at barely papered walls,
played with sloppy silver spoons
in tubs of yogurt greasing down
those pastures full of wrinkled sheets.
Wished your pillows into crepes
you folded nice for Sunday brunch.
I raced through books
like flyers in a magazine--
searching for a story's triumph
leading me away from this.

The End dispensed the way you planned.
Your wicker rocker scraping up the even paint.
I wanted your wit to quilt my tears,
bring back health, open up a closing page.
Your hair in pin curls set on stone--
that mute white calm and cool marble
lighting up long cloister halls.
Your garden hat of brittle straw
was full of dirty tools and weeds.
I rinsed them in the bathroom sink,
watching muddy swirls like blood
in clots around true heroines.
Words were plastic ornaments
and glitter on a Hallmark card.
My busyness--outdated yeast,
baking time to make it pass.
Steeping like a bag of tea
in algae of your slow reverse.
Love without the plumbing skills
to shatter moods of long eclipse.

Questioning Clairol

To dye my hair or let it go.
I can't decide.
Ashen streaks are drying pastures.
Primping ain't the joy it used to be.
Hands on hips of mindfulness
have more to do with poetry
and less to do with shades of lipstick
blocking out a crusty sun.
I remember the day you said,
Clairol's going in the trash;
I'm sixty now; it seems a joke
to mask the even spritz of time.

We looked at Twain's biography.
His photo stained with coffee rings.
Hair bleached sand
at home on beaches of his head:
He looked like a kitten
with wrinkles chasing
around a ball and string.

So you'd gray too, as gracefully
as ashes on a black briquette
aware a summer's feast is done.

I shake the jar of Cover Girl,
smear beige film between the cracks.
Wipe it off and wash my face.
It feels like someone else's skin.
I pet it as I would some dog
in nervous heat of crawling
underneath a fence.
Maybe I'll grow into gaps
and pockets of passage
beneath wide eyes.

Swimming in Secrets

***For Linda

Facts first: age 17.
Graduation night.
Sloppy sex.
Pushed into first gear
by raging hormones,
curiosity, and telescopes
of predictable need.
Fear way off
a Richter Scale.
A delivery of
shame to be trusted
to man and wife,
not single girls
without a dime.

33 years of wondering.
Swimming in secrets
calling for walnut crackers
and the bliss of
knowing the meat
of that miracle.
Carrying that first born
hiccup like saddle bags
across a desert.
Bearing the hump
of its respiration
suspended in webs
around a prayer.

(608) 623-0809.
I want to find my son.
The agency calls:
We've found him.
We'll tell him.
It's up to him.

The waiting bowl.
Every ringing telephone--
a razor blade
too close to throats.
You drop the vacuum,
run on shaking easel legs.
Thinking of what
you brought the world
but never held.
A slow, slow dance
of autumn rain
like bullets in a B-B gun.
I want so much to give
this story all those
soupy denouements.
You linger in oppressive seas.
Wetted and salted
by whimpering heart--
beats so loud
I hear its thump
in outside air.
God, I crave those
lily pads of fairy tales.
For you, not closures
of words in
inanimate sense
pressing out
some shallow rose.

Bristles on the Brink of Death

Flesh so thin--nearly
a see-through negligee.
Old age was a fact you didn't expose.
I wasn't prepared for
bristles on the brink of death.
A rooster rubbing against sharp wire.
Crazy chickens in a yard
came crowing as the silence bloomed.
The signs were there.
Days were like those filler pages
tucked between chapters of closing books.
You couldn't read without your eyes.
Yesterday I dawdled some;
today I'm in reverse again.

I played with gears
like children fumble with a car
before they take their driver's test.
Your hair had turned a moldy white--
like calm brioche that falls
off backs of bakery trucks.
You couldn't see the Revlon red
I painted over drying lips.

Flesh so thin--a bruise emerged
when fingers brushed across its scales.
Insisting on early birthday gifts
in case, in case the fiddle
has no second chance to play
a round of thank you notes.

Unacquainted with tombs as I was,
protected by you from raw eclipse.
I wish I had been in the room
when you left. But didn't have
the wherewithin to dwell
in time's receding tides.
Your death caught me
naked and balance-less.
At a selfish crossing of surety
assuming reveille was near.