top of page

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.


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).


bottom of page