Janet Buck: Three poems

With Pedigree

Social drinkers. Never drunks.
Even passed out on the floor.
With pedigree came secrets stashed
in watertight nice lineage.
Swollen truth a brand of nodes
our fingers would not welcome home.
Quilts and lace of gentilesse--
a marquee with an elephant perched
in centers of a handkerchief.
Underneath ran nasty currents,
dark around malignant moles.
When proof in its liquid iniquity
became the hand that turned on clocks,
when dinner burned and no one cared,
when creaking doors of poetry
made too much noise and laughter worked
like sets of studs for winter's icy urgency.
A diocese of self-absorption
running from its human warmth.

When death arrived like ice picks
in a pumping heart,
we toasted life in spineless ways,
immersed our tongues in surface stats,
lied to white sheared grieving sheep.
Hyper-text of wet dismissal
shooting from the taps of kegs.
A family tree of weeping willows
tenderized by popping corks.
Our hats would always match our shoes;
we had a place at Sunday Mass.
Perched behind black mourning nets,
haunted hides that crave false sleep.
Money for deliverance
and clean escape for salad forks.
Alcohol ammonia squirts--
gammon ruled plush living rooms.
Hypabyssal influence
with clemency in every shot.
Another glass--a salt lick for reclusive cattle,
teasing torture with relief.

Witnessing a Question Mark

A muddy helmet on center strips
of beaten road
was a surprising symbol
for a poet to grab.
Mud-caked. Tipping back and forth.
Rolling like a coddled egg
in plasma of eternal fire.
Where was his head? In surgery?
In Disney dreams distilled in ether?
Business meetings with a bottle?
Fate and fact were question marks.

Beside the helmet sat a shoe.
A lampshade minus wired light.
Its laces tiny syllables
in stanzas I could not arrange.
Painted with spray from passing cars
that underlined impending dark.
Fifty feet from busy junk yards--
urban's tally of defeat.
His isolation captured there
woke me up to my insides.

Loneliness meets loneliness.
Despair rear-ends intact despair.
My ears grew cold, exposed, and blue.
Time between the traffic spurts--
Big Big Ben with slow clock pulse.
I was a silent witness now
seeing more than I deserved
like perky maids who
change the sheets in cheap motels
where love had slept
but time escorted to its grave.

Skin's Wilt

      Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself
      to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.

                  Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)

Sinful wrinkles harbor here;
a woman signs for surgery.
Beatitude in urban wells--
the face-lift dims what light
recalls as rainbows on the tails
of storms. Flats and sharps
of living's score
were sand in castles of disgust.
She read locutions
of the moons in flour sacks
beneath her eyes as if
they were just dandelions
in patches where
a rose should grow.

Stitching quilts of humanness,
deciding colors of its blush
are not superior enough.
Envy is a roll of dimes;
age is busy slot machines.
Shrivled skin is seed
for flowers: all wild,
precocious, shades
of gray that underline
the stretch we've made--
a border guard of evidence
reminding us (as
full-length mirrors
and bathroom scales)
how much we'll weigh
when ravens pecking death
approach with rattles
of the judgment day.