Because of the Clinic I am Alive to Tell You This

I’m lucky — not wise, or circumspect, or chaste — just lucky that I have not had an abortion. Thank you, Ann Kestner, for this poem.

Poetry Breakfast

Because of the Clinic, I Am Alive to Tell You This

I have come here almost alone, with only my self
and my dying baby. It is too early to be this sick.
No woman could survive a pregnancy like this.
There is no crowded waiting room here,
and yet the room is so full of energy and emotion
that the air seems compressed and hard to breathe.

A woman is crying, sitting at the edge of her chair,
her head bowed. In front of her a man speaks
in a language I once tried to learn but never did.
He towers over her like a fierce giant
waving his arms, his legs spread like a boxer.
One does not need to understand the words.
If she keeps the baby, he will kill her.

They call me back, gently, to a calm and quiet room.
I sit beside a woman…

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Drought Town

Ryan Stone paints a bleak picture of drought in this outstanding poem. Ryan blogs at https://daysofstone.wordpress.com. Photo source.

Eunoia Review

This is the summer of red dust. Everything
sucked dry—hollow as cicada husks, wedged
under eaves and porch stairs—waiting
for a wind change. On the road out of town,
empty grain silos loom, perched like headstones
over wheat-field graves. Harvesters sag, tyres
cracked like the asphalt. Rotting carcasses
litter riverless beds—tongues swollen,
flyblown, unslaked. First, a wheeze,
then my pickup spews steam. It dies in a ditch
under a burnt-orange sun. Tiger snake chunks
graffiti the hood’s underside, one blind eye bulging
from the torn head. It must have sought shade
or wiper water—sliding up from the parched earth
miles back. Now it’s just one more dead thing
in a land of dead things. This is the summer
of red dust. It swirls and the road ahead blurs.

Ryan Stone writes after midnight in Melbourne, Australia. He lives beside Sherbrooke Forest with his wife, two young sons, a German shepherd…

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The Lanyard

This poem by Billy Collins is my favorite tribute to mothers and the children who give them things.

The Lanyard
By Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’

The Fold

I’m so honored to have this poem published in Third Wednesday near one by Ted Kooser. Fine company indeed! This poem is also included in my poetry collection I lost summer somewhere.

The Fold

          “The corners of death fold us into ourselves”
– Loretta Diane Walker

Mother and I are sniping. This visit
has been that way. The farm is rundown
as she is now at 94, bent over her walker,
bare-knuckled in her independence.
She says I mumble. I say she never listens.
We know this game. I’m packing to go home,
and she calls, “Do you want breakfast?”
I mutter yes, knowing she won’t hear.
It starts again.

I’m her favorite and visit least. I’ll look back
on this weekend, feel guilt. She will win
another round. This time when we hug goodbye,
there are no tears. As I drive away I glance
back to make sure she’s in the doorway,
watching.

Sarah Russell
First published in Third Wednesday
Painting by Mark Tinsdale

 

After the Fact


There’s the Fact,

and After the Fact –
the silence of a new apartment,
hugging the kids too hard,
watching them manipulate.
It’s his telling friends you took him
to the cleaners, cold stares
at soccer games.

After the fact
is buying hundred dollar jeans,
then eating ramen for a week,
lying about your age,
your weight.  It’s wondering
if they’re mama’s boys
or gays still in the closet,
what to do with small talk,
stretch marks,  settling for a 6
because you’re horny.

The Fact’s a piece of cake.

Sarah Russell
First published in Rusty Truck
Painting source

Mornings after breakfast

This poem was just published in Red Eft Review. My thanks to editor Corey D. Cook for taking three of my poems for publication!

Mother hangs her tea bags on the door,
winds the strings around the knob. Drips,
like paw prints, stain the old wood floor.
I don’t know why she does it. She never
uses them again. After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell
First published in Red Eft Review
Painting by Dmitri Matkovski
For Poetry Pantry

Birdman, Colombian

In response to a challenge at Ekphrastic Review. Here are all the poems generated by this photo of a Colombian Breastplate. Thanks, Lorette, for including my poem with the others!

A golden, first century breastplate —
mythic protection in battle. Mortals
have sought aegis from the gods
since time began, it seems.

When my youngest was three,
he wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt
every day for a year, certain his kinship
with the angry green goliath
could transmogrify a toddler
to a Titan older kids would fear. 

I hope the Columbian warrior
with a flying deity on his chest
found more success than my guileless,
doomed boy, whose brother and sister
held him down and made him smell
the lint in their belly buttons.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
For Poets United Poetry Pantry
Photo source: Breastplate
Photo source: Hulk Kid

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The Dying of the Light

My friend Steve Deutsch has a fine new poem in Borfski Press Magazine.  Please visit his blog and leave comments for him there.

We found my mother
on the third floor
of a hospital
that should have been shuttered
in the 80’s.
The lights were dim
and the walls and halls
so covered in filth
it seemed they
had absorbed the misery
of the past 30 years
and the anguish would no longer
wash away.

It wasn’t hard to find mom.
She screamed “Help me”
every couple of minutes.
We heard her from the elevator
above the endless beeping
and the garbled sounds
from the PA system.
The fact that we
were now with her
did not alleviate her need to scream.
Nor did reasoning.

She had fallen again
and broken her tailbone.
She was 95 and failing
and I was the good son—
the one who answered the call
at 2 AM,
booked the 1000 mile trips
and tried to find a place
where she could end her days
in comfort.
It was rewarding in an exhausting way.
Finding, unexpectedly,
I was the one to be counted on.

But, listen,
there is just so much
we can do for one another.
There are limits to prerogatives
of blood.
We practice love,
not magic
and when,
in a moment of lucidity
she stared at my face—
a face she had known
my whole life,
and said,
“I’m dying,”
“Save me.”
I was again
as helpless
as the infant
she had held
to her breast.

– Steven Deutsch
First published in Borfski Press Magazine 
Photo source

Who hoards rain clouds in the desert?

Another wonderful poem by my friend Rajani Radhakrishnan. Instead of reblogging it from her website, I put it here so you could read it uninterrupted. Please leave comments on her site and look around while you’re there. She writes beautiful poetry.

Who hoards rain clouds in the desert?

There the universe stores vats of virgin happiness, doling
it out like a grim faced Scrooge, while we wait, bowl in

hand, wanting more. Always wanting more. We are made
of longing and hunger. And everywhere we look, is a giant

supermarket feeding that emptiness. Everything in excess,
marked down, on luscious display, the seed of the first apple

feverishly multiplying on every shelf of every aisle and our
hands reaching constantly to fill the ever growing void. Except

for happiness. For that, there is a line and a quota and a price.
We pretend not to see each other. Who will admit to such

privation? We study the signs from a distance. Perhaps, it
is another sorrow, another wound, another word that brings

you here. Does my skin turn transparent as I stand? Do you know
the scars inside? You will not turn your head. I will not call. How

much longer? Who hoards rain clouds in the desert? No one
warned me to save my smile. To save the light in your eyes.

– Rajani Radhakrishnan
Rajani’s website
Photo source

Sunset

Last night
clouds turned cantaloupe electric,
backlit in neon.
That must be where God lives, I thought,
though I don’t much believe in God.

Sunsets are reason enough to imagine
that heaven’s in the sky —
a transcendent finale,
coda of the day.

As years count down, I think
about sunsets, seasons —
leaves falling,
branches bare.

       Perhaps I should believe.

The closest I get is sunset —
enough ecstasy,
enough God.

Sarah Russell
For Poets United
Photo source