Bathsheba, Bathing

She doesn’t know King David watches,
doesn’t know his lust — blind
to her virtue, her marriage.

I serve this most beautiful of women,
make the water warm, the soap fragrant.
I pour sweet oil between her breasts,
watch it drip on thighs and belly.

She is wed to Uriah, away at war,
but she’s lonely for men’s praise,
looks often in the basin
to measure her own beauty.

I fear the king’s desire. Their eyes meet,
and I know his will is hers as well.
God will smite them in their coupling.

What will become of me who keeps
their secrets? Are my loyalties to king
or God or to my mistress whom I love
as David loves her, as Uriah loves her.
My secrets must remain more secret still.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
Based on Bathsheba by Jean Leon Gerome, 1899
For dVerse and for Poets United

 

 

 

First Husband

“Poetry is . . . emotion recollected in tranquility.”
― William Wordsworth

I found his obit on Google,
hadn’t seen him, barely thought
of him in forty years
since the day he loaded his car
with half of everything – blankets, pillows,
dishes, albums (we fought over
who’d get “The Graduate” poster of Hoffman
and Anne Bancroft’s leg) – and drove off
to I-didn’t-care-where.

Once, 20 years later I learned where he was
from his buddy John and called.
He still taught drama and directed
summer stock in a small midwestern town.
We laughed together, comfortable,
finally, in our separate skins.

Now an obit with pictures and two columns
in the paper. A well-loved, prominent citizen,
it read, wife, three kids, grandkids. He wrote
a children’s book and “left the town
with memories of comedy and drama
that enriched our lives.”

Our marriage wasn’t mentioned. No need,
I suppose – a youthful take off
and crash landing best forgotten. But I wish
I had a chance to say goodbye.

– Sarah Russell
First published by Silver Birch
Photo Source
for dVerse Poetics

Near Jack’s Cabin

     “deer… like skeletons.”
                                    —Dorothy Wordsworth

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,
more snow.

Some will fawn in spring if they survive.
We shall shrug off matted coats,
graze among the daffodils.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Eclectica
Photo Source
For dVerse 

Fred Harris – American Small Town Barber

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,
remembering.

– Sarah Russell
For Poets United Poetry Pantry
Photo Source

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Maintenance

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.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Poetry Breakfast
Photo source
For Poets United Poetry Pantry

Christmas Card

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.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Vita Brevis
Photo Source

Return

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.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Photo source
For Poets United

Colleague

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.

– Sarah Russell
First published in One Sentence Poems
For Poets United
Photo source

 

Cat Nap

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