To The One Holding The Cleaver

by Kushal Poddar


The fat street dog says
something good about
the butcher. All I hear,
a woof, has days, months
years of love streaming
upwards. The butcher
has blood on his apron.
Because this day I
have a banquet at home,
I see smileys, red.
And the goat head smiles.
The dog’s curly tail
too, smiles. The butcher’s
cleaver blinks a sunny day.

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Night Telephone

by Kushal Poddar


The clarity of a call
burns a hole in my soul.
I turn and turn, find no
door to the bedroom
where the old telephone
wakes up from its sleep
once or twice in a year.
My feet are hooves from
slaughterhouse truths. I move
in a circle whose
corners slash me, chop me
into seceded desires.
No image. Nothing
except the telephone
in the bedroom where
a linen sea swells, ebbs
again and again.

The Cardboard Box

by Janet I. Buck


I tell the world: “Stop rushing by without me there.” Don’t walk as if you love the ground, do not feel gravity. I ask our peach geranium, named Mabel Marvel in a pot: “Please wait to bloom” until I’m standing straight as pencils sitting on eraser heads. Until I’m wandering the yard and watching you unfold your petals one by one, instead of guessing how you look. I tell our grand Catalpa tree, don’t show your ivory silk bouquets until I’ve walked the stepping stones, stood close enough to touch what’s green. I tell our lace alyssum shrubs, don’t die on me before I’ve washed the dirty windows of my eyes, driven somewhere down the street, anywhere three feet away from cages that I’m living in.

I beg pink roses not to bud before my back can bend and hold, spray for insects crawling toward their perfect circles deep inside. Arthritis chews upon my bones like lobsters eating neighbors in a tank they share—a bucket full of supplements cannot restore the frozen statue than I am. Seven folded joints replaced, with coupons from a mailbox and very gruesome surgeries. It all seems so predictable. Expiration’s coming up like headlights aiming straight at trees in heavy fog. The speed is 60 mph.

I told my doctor just last week: “My life is like a landing plane without the wheels.” “Medicare will pay for scooters, other stuff,” is all he said. He really has no single clue about the engine running hot, night and day, beneath a hood and chassis too that’s broken like a cardboard box because the rain has made it soggy, weak, and tired.

I don’t get the why’s and all’s of painting “hope” with lipstick on a bathroom mirror. If I read it upside down, smear it with a paper towel, at least I’ll know the word is there.

The Turtle Shell

by Janet I. Buck


“Did you know that women in Afghanistan wear marbles in a net tied to their thighs, so they can shift a certain way and have a climax now and then.” That was all the doctor said, expecting me to laugh, I guess. I tried, but felt a hematoma brewing under pale skin.

Suddenly, I turn to stone. Thinking of their cloister robes of dark black wool, wire mesh across their eyes, probably a chestnut brown no fabric dye could ever match. Young women sold to cruel men like garden tools or quiet slaves that move without a single noise across the dust where floors should be. The clothes are dry—time to fold the laundry now—he likes his socks a certain way. She darns them through the midnight hours.

Has she ever known deep love, except to hold her children close? Does he ever brush her hair, kiss her gently on the neck? Does she know what sugar is? Has she ever had a meal beyond a bowl of sticky rice and dog remains? Living in this turtle shell, I do not know. Extrapolate from news bands over CBS. I think of all the bruises covered by the cloaks, think of all the whispered anger brewing there—she could be noodles at full boil, burned by heavy mists of steam. If she somehow rubs him wrong, he could pinch her like a gnat that’s landed in his cup of tea. Where’s the box where tears are kept, or does she leave them under lids, heavy with the weight of them.

The diamond sitting on my hand catches light, enough to blind me with its girth. I complained just yesterday, “Our lettuce is not green and crisp.” I shut my mouth, keep it closed. One woman punches through a wall, teaches children in a schoolroom tucked inside some hidden place. There is no board; there is no chalk; paper is a luxury. If she’s found, they’ll hang her in the city square. And so they did. And I complained for many years of students coming late to class. Shrink back in my turtle shell.

Dirty water’s heating up; she’s fixing supper once again—marbles shifting as she moves, a second of some pleasantry she practices to keep her sane. Hoping that his earthquake steps will stay outside their hut of clay.

The Paper Punch

by Janet I. Buck


It’s important to note my paper punch
is 25 years old, maybe even 30 now.
It has a sloppy plastic back.
This machine is tired, but it works, only
if I take a fist and press it down, across
my other withered hand, hard enough
to strain my wrist. I refrain from
stuffing too much paper in between
3 spaced and busy metal teeth.

I’ve filled a notebook full of poems
in less than 60 quicksand days—
breathing out, breathing in, yet not enough
to keep what’s dizzy under thumbs.
Publishing a pile full of anxious words
that leave my thighs slipping off
a bare-skinned pony, fidgeting too near a cliff.

The back comes off the paper punch.
Little dots stick everywhere—in floating air,
on pee-stained carpets, ragged sleeves,
a bygone quilt, pajama pants. A thousand circles,
dimes so bleached they might be moons—
slipping through a pocket’s hole.
I leave them there—
alyssum seeds of where I’ve been.

Soliloquies I Did Not Plan

by Janet I. Buck


Watch that Blue Jay on the fence,
tall green grass that’s grown a foot in just two weeks.
A curly, plush geranium the color of a pomegranate
getting ripe inside a bowl—I place them both
where suns rise near an eastern window,
letting light in fast enough to feed my hunger to survive.
I roll an orange in my hand, pretend an angel
or a ghost dropped that coin right on my bed,
to cheer me through the shadow days, bounce it
like a tennis ball—it feels rough and knows the ground—
it’s just the size of all my brittle memories.

Life is never what it was, but I can’t seem
to love the garden growing here.
Arthritis going after bones—shapes of all the dwindled disks
that run my back, cartilage I wore out like old underwear
each time I struggled with a step. It’s catching up,
seems too close to punishments I didn’t see ahead of me—
a six-car wreck from traffic jams, more than just ten bumpers lost.
My spine is now the corkscrew minus bottled wine.
No one knows how dark it is in cellars that I’m sitting in.
And I won’t spell this shade of black.

The moan, the groan, the pinching wince—
this evidence of bodies sulking in disease
that stirs my lover in his sleep—shrapnel from soliloquies
I never meant to read or write, let alone
admit out loud like barking dogs.
On telephones, I scale down the doctor’s news
to whispers of an issue here, an issue there, summarize
so much that truth becomes a misty fingerprint.
Then I stew and wonder why—no one worries how I am,
feeling obsolete and lost, planets in another orbit,
hapless and so discontent. I’m the ugly rubber troll
I played with as a little girl, never could quite fix its hair
or dress up legs that didn’t move, no matter
how much felt I cut, hours spent in sewing rooms.
I always tell them, “I am fine”—
to keep their eyes from seeing black banana peels,
bedsores brewing on a knotted shoulder joint—
their noses clear of musty piles of folded clothes
untouched or moved in dresser drawers.

The Fruit Market

by Wayne F. Burke


I got sent to work
at the Fruit Market
on the Chelsea-Everett line
where I sat in a shack
and checked-in trucks
entering and leaving.

I wore a sky blue cop uniform.

One day before work
I stopped in the hotel-bar
across the street from the market
for a quick one
and realized,
after I entered
that everyone in the joint had suddenly
become quiet
and I drank my beer quickly
and left.

During the shift a truck driver
and his wife
came up to the shack window
and he told me they were from
Nebraska
and that they had gone into the hotel-bar
across the street
looking for a room to rent.

An old guy wearing a soiled fedora
and a self-effacing woman
cut from out a Grant Wood picture.

“I didn’t think they let things like that
go on in Boston,” he said.

“Things like what?”

He nodded to the hotel-bar.
“That place is a whorehouse!”

I lost that job soon
afterward
because
while putting up the American flag
on the pole behind the shack

I unthinkingly let the flag touch the ground
and the boss man—
a red faced prick who looked like he had not
shit in a month
fired me.