Tag Archives: Janet I. Buck

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.

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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.

Traces

by Janet I. Buck


I hurt with what I’ve lost and look for everywhere, like wallets dropped
between two cushions on a couch, which hold the cash I sorely need
to pay the rent for living on a perfect planet full of paintings someone tossed.
I’m looking for the twiggy nests of Mourning Doves she left in place,
under eaves to keep them safe from wind and rain. This poem is meant
to move like feet approaching graves, with deep respect and cautiousness;
it’s meant to droop, then come to life as daffodils
that find clean water and some light even under heaving clouds.

She left her notes inside a book, always with a pencil’s tip,
in case she changed her lucid mind, read some passage differently.
When I was seven, we threw away my Barbie dolls and rubber trolls,
read Wordsworth on a messy beach among the driftwood and the ants;
sounds of every rolling wave would interfere with syllables.
This only made her raise her voice, so we could hear the music and the song itself.

She taught me that a diamond shines, but isn’t really valuable,
compared to castles built with sand an ocean flattens as it rolls.
She saw the dust on dresser tops as mere excuse to touch
the ancient, cracking wood surviving distant centuries.
So what if drawers were always stuck; so what
if slivers poked the sweaters folded there. We could wash them later on,
if there was time enough for that, which never happened anyway.

She architected everything, moved furniture around the house
no differently than neighbors changed their clothes for church—
again, again because an outfit wasn’t right or had some lipstick
on a sleeve. Ripping out a wall or two or three or four
to make more rooms for window glass—drew her to a pick
and axe, smashing things until the dust replaced the air.
The bigger the mess, the more we laughed
like rowdy kids, bored in some old schoolhouse,
wanting content flying by between the stuffy lecture notes.
This would be the sight of eagles miles away, featuring their 6 foot wings.

At cocktail time, I brought her gin in tumblers of her Waterford,
got to pour my coke in mine, though she knew a fall or two
would shatter crystal on cement. We always sat upon the porch,
even when the seasons changed and sunlight was a rusty penny
lost in shaggy carpet hair. The more she drank, the stories grew as high
as Rhodies by the fence, took their shapes with every leaf and blossom real.
Her husband’s flawless heritage spoke volumes of his character,
a heart as soft as cotton balls, arms strong enough to mow the fields.

A lawyer in a three-piece suit working seven days a week,
standing up for drivers of the railways cars,
who filled their lungs with poison smoke, pushed hard
to feed their families. He could have spent the midnight hours
counting up his salary, but numbers weren’t of consequence
unless he witnessed masses and their suffering.
All these decades come and gone; just weeks ago, I Googled his name,
steeped myself in heated pride; he wrapped the cold impoverished kids
with blankets from their modest farm.
Aunt Florence had to be upstairs, basking in the evidence.

Words and books were everything. The fact of 1st edition runs impressed me more
than presidents who uttered speeches on TV. She bound them
with her own bare hands in a room no bigger than closets for towels.
I’d sneak in there, late at night, just to smell the leather hides upon a bench,
run my fingers down the inside cover art she painted with a tiny brush,
the pale skies, the gilded dots that came from beaks of hummingbirds.

At 90 years, when she began the great collapse, the kind no hands can ever stop,
I propped up pillows, lay in bed beside her bony, shrinking frame, beneath the sheets
that smelled of days without perfume, read her “Dover Beach” aloud to ears now deaf
but there in place, the circles of a crescent moon. I read this poem a dozen times—
a needle on a phonograph stuck with glue that I could taste: the wind, the rain,
the darkness rolling in on us.

Mr. Bubble & Two Wands

by Janet I. Buck


Bath time drew us both to water cheerfully;
we were just a pair of ducks
rollicking a summer pond.
My sister leapt the slippery edge,
but Mother had to carry me,
set me in like china plates.
Two long years of itching skin,
rashes bright tomato red,
my body cast had just come off.

She added bubbles to the bath,
drew more water, not too hot, not too cold.
Snapped a picture here and there—
to give us paper memories when she was gone.
She knew she had leukemia;
life was shorter than she’d planned.
Time to double-up on joy—
we got two cookies with our milk.

She brought a jar of Mr. Bubble in the room,
gave us each a plastic wand.
When bubbles on our skin went flat,
we had the other kind to blow in wishes for eternity.
She never told us not to splash, not to waste a bar of soap
scrubbing the legs of a rubber giraffe.
It really seems so simple now.
Nasty words are twice the size of pleasant ones.

We took a breath, puffed it through the circled ring,
watched the moons of cellophane grow big and round,
fly the air, then disappear, so unaware of destiny
that rolls in tractors over flowers.
To little girls, the barbs of life don’t register.
Our chests were flat as tablecloths without a stain,
curly hair like poodles dipped in riverbeds.

All we knew was tuna came inside a can;
we’d never boned a fish before.
She trimmed the crusts
from all four corners of our bread,
worried that another woman in her shoes
would make us choke on arid textures of the food
she dumped upon a dinner dish.

She sat upon the toilet seat,
watched us share our floating toys,
make up stories for their lives.
One squeaky dog would someday be our president.
My light green frog would hop until it learned to skate.
This was all I’d ever know of soft warm towels
straight from bellies of a dryer.

88 Candles & a Vacant Chair

by Janet I. Buck


Six days before his birthday feast,
my father died. The pain was worse
than barefoot walks on broken glass
pressing slivers into flesh.
I saw him just the day before
and should have listened to my eyes
that saw his rib bones sticking out
like pencils ‘cross his curving back.
Legs as thin as Ostrich sticks,
hanging from the rest of him,
not strong enough to even
help him shift in bed.

When the awful phone call came,
I dissolved like Airborne
dropped inside a dirty coffee cup.
Raced to grab a single moment at his side,
touch his hand, talk to him,
unaware he wouldn’t speak.
Death put me in the zero zone,
where nothing is real, but everything’s wrong.
I loved him so, I was always a kite
in living color, circling an open sky
whenever I saw his face in a room.

I’d planned his party months ahead,
somehow knew that time
was speeding up the clock.
I knew he’d have a catheter bag,
an oxygen tank on rolling wheels
he’d drag into the dining room.
My selfishness pressed on and on,
like bullies in a schoolyard.
I bought fresh crab, froze it its plastic tub,
set the table so damn early
plates and glasses gathered dust.

We all agreed to have his birthday anyway,
to play the cards of memories, the funny stuff
that never came into our heads.
I made four angel food cakes from scratch,
served the one that puffed up almost perfectly
and didn’t have a bunch of cracks,
since I was shells of broken eggs.
All the food we ate that night
tasted like a cardboard box.
88 candles on his cake, a raspberry sauce
that smelled of blood—I got so drunk
I could have burned the house to the ground,
but our home was already gone.

Rapunzel stewing in the tower,
there were no ropes to rescue me.
I cut my braids, then cropped my hair
since he was bald—took homes sweaters
he had worn, full of threads that moths
had eaten in the dark—to wear
when nights were long and cold.
Tears are still the only milk
I pour on morning cereal.