Dorothy’s Grave

“They haven’t dug the grave yet.”

Mom insisted on coming to the cemetery
after her best friend Dorothy’s viewing.
“The funeral’s not ’til 2 tomorrow,” I said.
“They’ll dig it in the morning.”

“They should have it dug,” she fussed.

Mom is a farm woman, used to death.
She turned ninety in the fall,
and Dorothy was her last good friend
in the tiny delta town where children leave
for jobs or school or just to escape the soy
and cotton. Her church has only twenty members
now — old women who show off corsages
on Mother’s Day and sometimes cajole their men
to come in overalls and slicked-back hair.

Dorothy and Mom taught Bible study, went to Eastern Star
and bingo, traded recipes and gossip.
Mom killed a rabid skunk in Dorothy’s yard
with the double barrel she keeps under the bed,
and Dorothy came to quilt on Wednesdays –
just the two of them since the other three passed on.

“Why’s it important to see the empty grave?” I asked.

“I need to know she’ll be comfortable,” Mom said.
“I know she’d do the same for me.”

– Sarah Russell
First published in On the Veranda
For Poetry Pantry on Poets United
Photo courtesy of Paul Marshuk

The Secret

When I told Truth to go away,
we were both girls –
blossom-cheeked,
skipping rope with life.

“I can’t be your friend,” I told her.
“You know my secret.”
Truth shrugged. “OK.
I’ll be here if you need me.”
She waved goodbye, and went
to live high in the hills
with hummingbirds and foxes.

I stayed behind, secure in my choice,
though joy was hard to find, I never
trusted love, and I reacted oddly
to the seemingly mundane –
lilies made me nauseous, Black Beauty
gave me nightmares, a breeze against my neck
could make me cry.

After fifty years, I looked for Truth again.
She hadn’t changed – still young,
sweet, smiling, glad to see me.
But I’d become Wilde’s portrait in the attic –
haggard, bitter, burden-stooped.
I asked what would have happened
if I’d let her have her way.
“You’d have suffered,” she said. “People
would have shamed you. They’d say
you made it up.
But you’d be free.”

– Sarah Russell
First published in the anthology Secrets and Lies 
For Real Toads quote by Dickinson
Painting:  “Two Little Girls” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

At the beauty salon

I close my eyes as a young woman
massages in shampoo, gently rubs
my temples, smooths cream rinse —
scented with jasmine — from my brow,
and you are here with me again
that summer day under the waterfall.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Shot Glass Journal
Photo courtesy of waterfall.solaridas.com
For the “suggested narrative” prompt at
Real Toads
Also for Poets United’s Poetry Pantry
.

Figure Drawing at Community College

This flash piece was just published in Rusty Truck.  Thanks, Scot!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m getting goosebumps from a draft, though the class doesn’t notice. Most are open-mouthed, charcoal scratching paper, concentrating on the weight of my breast, curve of hip, sag of buttock. I bite my lip, think of the rigidity of a villanelle, try to compose one in my head while the old guy in a beret for god’s sake, studies the cleft, the pubic mound, then meets my eyes.

I want to yell, “I just want to earn enough to get cable,” but I look away, try to show disgust without showing disgust because the woman who will pick up kids from school at 4 is drawing my face. My arm is falling asleep. The instructor said to tell her when I need a break, but the young man by the window is so intent, I hate to interrupt him. I start to tremble, try to shift but not throw off the line. The villanelle becomes a limerick.

There once was a nude on a table
Who couldn’t afford to get cable…

Trembling. Can’t feel my arm at all.

She posed for a class
Where an old man was crass,

Ah, the instructor is announcing a break. I raise my body off my arm and feel electric shocks as blood starts to flow. I reach for my kimono. The old guy sidles up to me.

“Coffee later if you are able?” he asks. Shit, he’s finished my limerick. I walk away rubbing my arm. “Maybe tomorrow?” he calls.

– Sarah Russell
Photo courtesy of Blot Magazine

A Gospel of Birds

“They mate for life, she’d say.”

 

My thanks to Dayna Patterson and the crew at Psaltery and Lyre for publishing my poem this morning.  Check out their beautiful website.

She wasn’t sure about heaven,
but she believed in birds.
On walks she’d stop to watch
a skein of geese, wondered
where they came from,
where they were heading.
They mate for life, she’d say.
Crows do too. And swans
and storks. She must have said that
a hundred times, with a kind of wonder
at the impossibility.

She kept five feeders on the deck,
had a book of backyard birds
to identify newcomers at the feast.
She cried when a neighbor’s cat
killed a mourning dove. They mate
for life too, she said. Listen,
her mate is sad. That’s just their call,
I told her. No, it’s different, she said.
You can tell when birds are sad.

She died a month ago.
I keep the feeders filled.

– Sarah Russell
Picture courtesy of The Spruce

 

Petrichor

Start with a kiln-dry summer day,
when the earth cracks with longing,
and sweat makes tracks between your breasts.

The air’s so still you hear a beetle scuttle
on the screen, the sun dims in a sullen sky,
and crickets stop chirping. Maybe they know
what’s coming, or they’re tired of asking.

Then it starts – the first lazy drops –
and when the wooden porch step’s dappled,
you go out and lift your face to the embrace
and breathe in the mix of dust and rain
like a lover’s musk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting by  Rafaelll90 Digital Art

Nesting

The finches are courting
outside our window, a warbled
discussion of real estate and love.
Like last year and the year before,
they want to lease the flower wreath
on our front door. It’s always a dilemma:
discourage their rapture or detour
through the garage?

The finches always win. So
for a month we’ll wake to overtures
at dawn – so cheerful, so loud –
show pictures of pin-feathered babies
to friends, recall demands
and pleasures of our own brood,
the bittersweet fledging.

– Sarah Russell
First published by Your Daily Poem
The photo is of their nest last year.

Thought this was apropos since Mr. and Mrs. Finch are back and are quite excited about our new wreath this year.  They were both tucked into a niche behind the blossoms, discussing the furnishings when I opened the door this morning.  The nest was almost complete this afternoon.  Can’t deny true love.

Hegira

Those dream-filled summer nights,
a wail, anguished as a banshee,
pierced the rusty screen.
Then the rhythmic clatter grew
until the bed and I would tremble.

Let me come too, I whispered,
but it never heard,
or didn’t understand,
or didn’t care about a little girl
and a gallant torn-eared bear.

The rumbling, shaking wraith
moved on, its cry waning to an echo,
my heartbeat clinging to the cadence
of away from here, away from
here, away

– Sarah Russell
First published in Black Poppy Review
Photo courtesy of Awsom Wallpapers

Montana Man

“. . .the sky’s wide and blue and bare. . .”

Another ekphrastic poem today, based on a photograph by Tom Klassy.

He squints from under a John Deere cap
even when there is no sun. It’s late fall now,
the hay — enough this year — baled
for January feeding if the pickup makes it
to the herd — huddled, wooly, steamy breath
to match his own, pitch fork separating clouds
of gold, strewing it like loaves and fishes —
that kind of pride, though pride’s a wobbly perch
when drought and blight’s the norm, when the pickup
needs a fuel pump, barn needs shingles.

But this morning, the sky’s wide and blue
and bare, and Waylon’s singing Ramblin’ Man
while he hums along. Bernice’ll have coffee
scalding hot at the cafe, and prices were up
on the farm report this morning. Folks and steers
ain’t so different, he reckons, herd gathering,
keeping with their kind.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review

At JCPenneys

“. . .a shared women’s intimacy.”

In honor of all us imperfect mothers…

IMG_1566

I back through the door of the ladies room
pulling stroller, wailing baby, all his gear
(not a graceful entrance) into the anteroom
adjacent to wash basins and toilet stalls.
I gather his indignant, thrashing form,
my impatience nearly matching his,
and perch on the cracked Naugahyde settee.

Dammit. What bad timing. This twenty minutes
means rush hour traffic going home.
I sling a receiving blanket over my shoulder,
and squalls turn to contented gurgles.

Only then do I notice the frail, ancient figure
in a chair nearby, her cane leaned carefully beside her.
I smile, apologetic for intrusion, her catching me
at not-my-best-mom self, my feeling
of nakedness under the scrap of flannel.

Her face is soft with wrinkles and surprise.
“Oh my, you’re nursing your baby,” she says.
“I didn’t think girls did that anymore.”
I tell her it’s become the norm,
that studies show it’s healthier.
“Do you mind if I sit here with you?” she asks.
I assure her it will be all right.

We are alone, the restroom quiet
on a Tuesday afternoon,
save for soothing baby sounds.
I relax, change sides, let the blanket slip
in a shared women’s intimacy.
Finally the baby breaks away, eyes closed,
still suckling in his sleep. “I nursed seven babies,”
she tells me then. “If I close my eyes,
I almost remember what it feels like,
having a baby at my breast.”

I can’t speak, overwhelmed
by the miracle of milk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting: “Baby Nursing, Mexico City,” by Tina Modotti