Jacqueline Schaalje

Vegetation Story

'Time's Tense Conjugations' is on our hymn sheets.

It's been a while but the benches are still aching.

They have new translations again

and brave settings, but I can still sing this: 

‘Help Us Livelong Grief’. ‘Meditation on Space in My Soul.' 

And my favorite: ‘Just Try to Move Your Lips.'

Replacing time is a job, 

I whisper to myself and steal a glance up at papery

Dad. He's not on organ duty and cannot smoke 

so doesn't pipe up. His lips don't take custody. 

They bombard his brain with collateral. Due to too 

much papillary toccata his faith reverberates right out of him. 

My mother feels duped since her parents' deaths

weren't the happiest events, not before and not after. 

They raged at the dark, did not smile in their coma. 

I don’t want to tell her, but I think it was because they 

hadn't been good. Not bad either; just preoccupied.

The sermon centres on the suicide

note from the Anti-Christ in Daniel 8: 

Sorry about trying to grow more horns than the Prince. 

On my right, I see my sister's salivating when our vicar, 

who is my uncle and can be droll, but like a czar, 

only at home, extemporizes a ram and a goat. 

My aunt gives her husband a wary look, Deliver 

the goods for a week of gossip around our end-of-the-world-village.

My sister is crazy about animals to the point 

she wants them in her soup and in her arms.

I love the army of stars, especially since

they rain down and get flattened.  

We have a melodious interval: 'Interpretation

Is Sane.' Instead of the men and women psalming back 

and forth with the choir, we go by right and left pews: 

clarity at last. My mother would like to be in the choir 

but they don't welcome her menopausal falsetto

doomed to be bumped by a vacuum cleaner. Although this too 

is a question of belief in one's abilities; 

we Calvinists are taught to take everything with grace. 

We really are the modestest! If we ever disappear (soon), 

I'm afraid the population won't be interested 

in the nitty-gritty of true stories. 

They'll start to eat white bread again.

I don’t even want to think about drinking blood.


He Gives Me a Pear from His Garden

He gives me a pear from his garden. 

I don’t have to sleep with him. 


He shuffles a plastic box with cut-up vegetables. 

I can’t make out whether they are from his garden. 

I might have to sleep with him.


We go hiking in the Golan Heights, a garden

of fruit in summer. All the red ones hang low.

I pick one for my own use, which conforms to farming law.


He picks a grape, dusts it off on his T-shirt. 

It's been sprayed with gibberellic acid

and is rounder and plumper than it would normally be.

Its bitterness makes my lips pucker.


Another plum that he picks from an overhanging

bough is tricky to weigh for me.

It's small, but I'm already full. 


The pokeweed berries can give you stomach cramps

but I only rub them on my palms, bride-style.

Like a warrior that got a little sick,

he marks his nasolabial folds bloodred.


I pay for the hummus at the eatery

where the sun dapples the lake. We get the coffee 

free, Druze-Arab hospitality.

He says, "Thank you."

I don't need to sleep with him.


Jacqueline Schaalje has published short fiction and poetry in the Massachusetts Review, Talking Writing, Frontier Poetry, and Grist, among others. Her stories and poems were finalists for the Epiphany Prize, in the Live Canon and New Guard Competitions. She has received support and/or scholarships at the Southampton Writers Conference and International Women's Writing Guild, and One Story and Live Canon workshops. She joined the Tupelo Press 30/30 project. She is a member of the Israel Association for Writers in English. She earned her MA in English from the University of Amsterdam.