a dead spider sways in silk threads
with mummied gnats and flies
food for eternity
“deer… like skeletons.”
Yes. Like skeletons this winter,
stealing silage meant for cattle
though it starves them.
They look wistful at the forest’s edge.
I want to coax them to my fire
before the wind tonight and snow,
Some will fawn in spring if they survive.
We shall shrug off matted coats,
graze among the daffodils.
Last year about this time, poets from State College, PA were invited to interview residents of Juniper Village, an assisted living and memory care center and to feature them in a poem. Here’s my poem about Mr. Fred Harris.
Fred’s blue eyes twinkle,
his lank frame curls into the chair.
He smiles, lost in reverie —
a toddler’s first big boy cut,
the mother picking up a tendril
fine as milkweed silk, to keep…
the mingled scent of Brill Cream,
lather, Bay Rum, Old Spice…
the high school football hero,
proud and sheepish at congratulations
from the men… the rhythmic sound
of straight razor against leather strop…
the businessmen in suits and ties —
just a little off the sides, they’d say,
and Fred obliged.
In the 50’s, it was crew cuts and flat tops,
in the 60’s, duck tails and pompadours.
Then the 70s, when grim-faced dads
dragged in their sons,
and shoulder-length tangles
were made presentable.
“Got another one,” he’d grin.
Fred knew the pulse of Huntingdon,
and if clients sighed a weary sigh,
Fred gave their shoulder an extra pat,
and they’d smile a little, meet his eyes
in the mirror. No music in the shop —
“It runs the batteries down,” he’d say,
but he tuned in to hear the obits read
every day in case a regular died,
so he could pay respects.
After Fred swept the floor at night,
straightened the well-thumbed Argosy’s
and Field and Stream’s, turned the sign
to “Closed” and locked the door,
he drove home to the farm, made dinner
for the kids and Cassie — Mama Cass
he called her — saw to it chores were done,
saddled up Prince for a ride at sunset.
He saw Niagara Falls once,
went to Florida for a couple days,
but that was travel enough.
He had his barber shop, his farm,
people who loved him.
He was useful. He smiles,
Loose roof shingles —
a couple on the ground
after last night’s wind
when the trees creaked
and rubbed themselves
like old men. Can’t put off
the mending. I loved once,
before I knew how love
works, how roofs leak
when it rains.
My third Christmas,
Dad pulled the armchair
in front of the tree.
I sat on Mother’s lap
with my favorite book.
Her gold crepe dressing gown
had fake leopard lapels.
I wore a nightie with flounces
and ribbons. Dad set up
the tripod and flood lights,
focused the Argus C-3.
Mother began to read.
I nestled so close
I could hear her heartbeat.
She got to the part,
“More rapid than eagles
his coursers they came,…”
Dad had his shot,
turned the flood lights off.
Mother shut the book,
nudged me off her lap.
They’re burning fields on the delta –
violent end of harvest.
Smoke billows above charred stubble,
chokes and blinds me as I drive.
Mom turns ninety on Sunday.
The whole town’s invited
at two for cake and to say
how good she looks.
In truth, she’s not good.
Fragile with diabetes, eyes failing,
fingers gnarled to claws;
no quilts for new babies.
Hard-willed as the life she’s led,
she stays alone with a cat and a walker.
Folks look in on her from time to time, say
they’ll let me know if something happens.
I’ve burned the fields too.
College-trained for work not at the whim
of subsidies and drought, I expect
no feast for this prodigal.
When he calls from the conference
and says he met her, after months
of email discussing their research,
I see the first whiff of smoke
rising out of the forest,
the one you have to be close to notice,
and think you could put out yourself
if the garden hose reached that far,
the first seconds of wondering
where the important papers are,
the photographs, the cat.
The cat invited me to fill my lap
with heavy, lithe contentment.
We curled together on the couch,
purring pressure as she arched her neck
against my hand, languid comfort,
her body nestling into mine.
I roused, my hand still stroking lightly
in my sleep, cat vanished to other ventures,
the niche indented by her form
still vibrant with her warmth,
my fingertips caressing air
in silken touch remembrance.
– Sarah Russell
First published in Purrfect Poetry Anthology
Painting by bdelpesco
For dVerse Poets Pub
We found a stream that night
away from everywhere but us –
water voices whispering,
the honey of first times,
wind feathery on urgent skin.
Perhaps a folly, our rush
into together and tomorrow –
forever’s promissory note
before the debt of everyday.
Let’s go back
and lie beside the stream again,
listen for the water voices,
feel the wind’s breath
before we disappear.
When glacial bogs blush with berries
it’ll be a hard winter, folks say.
He is cutting down the dead pine near the cabin,
beetle-killed by drought last summer.
His chainsaw knows the hearth’s width
I went to the orchard on Route 5,
bought peaches for canning.
The kitchen smells of sweetness —
furry skins sloughed off with blanching,
He comes in for lunch,
fills the room with flannel and sawdust.
“A lot of work,” he says.
“Yes,” I answer.
We eat warmed over stew.
He cleans his plate with bread crust and pushes back his chair.
“Back at it,” he mutters and opens the door.
A cold wind makes gooseflesh on my arms
as I set the pint jars of preserves
in steaming water to make them sterile.