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Judy Kaber

Caught in a downpour

 

of years, I ache under ancient hip of sky,

everything in disrepair, despair swarming

like blackflies as if spring squalled in February,

as if I am lost in a ground fog of blame.

How can anything be the same when

you are dying? Lay the spoons on the table.

Put the apricots in a bowl. Expect high tide

to overwhelm the breakwater, to flash

against pilings, drive boats onto land.

I’ve left behind the atmospheric river of youth

with iridescent-edged clouds. Now I hug

the beaufort scale, hope for breezy instead

of catastrophic. I wrap myself in layers

of cotton and wool, nubbed hope,

and tattered resolutions. Ground full of ice

and treachery. Every day, gray and dense

with collapsing pressure, veering winds.

It’s hard to know which way to face.



Women’s Work



It’s born in me, the fabric of spit and survival, how I need to shovel compassion, make a bucket of sympathy and carry it


across the parking lot of everyone’s grief. Learn to sweep

at a young age. Learn to hold my mouth at an angle, to purse it


as if I sip on a straw. The time I knelt before the toilet, a blizzard

of words blackening my head—mirror, dinner, knife, red. Sometimes


I think about my life as a chair without a back or legs, nowhere

to lounge. Time gives me children, smelling of sour milk and powder,


presses me up at 2 am, my mind stiff as a marble statue as I rock.

If I’m not careful, one son may turn into a turnip when I make stew.


My stomach roils, but I remember steam rising as my mother taught me

to iron, each slit stiff, not a trace of softness left. I sprayed


starch over each stretched garment. When the car stalls, my job

is to stand by the road, raise my skirt higher. At the copy machine


I never let a man’s inky gaze stain me. But in the closet, I sometimes

replace the mop, let some man wash me clean with his hands.




Waiting Room



On the wall a TV frames tropical homes, sand, rooms


with white walls. A way to mute missing. olive


chairs. My cell phone plugged in. The power at home



out, lines down. Here all the lines are straight, angles


always right. What can go wrong in such a world?


Are you listening? What can possibly turn out



rough or troubled. Voices from the TV just barely


visible. Each time the door opens, we look up.


Each time, someone calls a name, we all



look away politely. Sometimes you can hear one


side of a cell phone conversation. The black and white


time on the clock beside the TV whispers, but



what is there to hear in a hospital waiting room?


Good news is relative. I’m just waiting. Out the window,


a brick wall stretches in sun. Possibly warm.




Rooster


Maybe he had a name, a way to call him across the gravel


drive, free range and half-wild, but he came to us


unwanted, disheveled, any name long fallen into the wide


yawn of nature. A rooster is disorder, disturbance, shape-


shift of feathers that pulls you from dreams with his rough-


throated crow. We hated him. But we kept him. Until


people from the city came to visit in their shiny jeep with


the German shepherd dog that wouldn’t harm a flea, that


managed to slip out the half-open window, grab the


rooster, a deep bite into its back, not quite killing it. I never


blamed the dog. Any yellow feathers the rooster had now


black with blood. My husband wrung its neck, handed me


the body. My eyes watered from the smoke of the fire as I


dipped him in hot water, swished, and the cells holding the


quills released. I knelt, plunged him in cold water, let the


scent of the lilac bush wash over us, wrapped him in a


towel. The only decent thing to do was cook and eat him. I


stuffed him with a mix of onions, walnuts, raisins, spices,


baked him the way I would any chicken. Outside the


weather never changed, each day robed in sun. He tasted


fine. Not tough. When he changed form and only bones


remained, I spread the relics beneath the lilac bush,


crushed petals in my hand, let the trace of those blooms


follow him on his journey.


 

Judy Kaber is the author of three chapbooks.Her poems have appeared in journals such as Hunger Mountain, Poet Lore, and Spillway. Recently, her poem“Sword Swallowing Lessons,” was featured on “The Slowdown.” Judy won the 2021 and 2023 Maine Poetry Contest. She is a past poet laureate of Belfast, Maine (2021-2023).






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