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2 poems by
Janet Buck
> bio

Riches to Rags

1942 remains the earwig year,
season of the aphid hate.
You're ninety now, but
always thirty in your head --
reciting a passage of La Crève-Coeur --
its haunting chant your threnody.
Rough and bearded,
angry at the German tanks,
at bullets in a blooming rose.

"Choose between a home of clay,
rhyming lines of certain death,
and question marks of destiny,"
your wife had whispered in your ear,
then bolded with her open eyes.
Her misty breath decided
with its fever and its moral lust.
Villas sat like Roman dregs
you couldn't pack and couldn't leave.
" Choose between a heart and stone."

Riches to a better rag,
servants scattered in the silence,
grabbing trinkets, selling paintings,
poker chips to buy them slivers of the clock.
America, the clean, clean slate of hope
with rhododendrons on the drive.
Swim the river in the night --
penniless and dodging
search lights in the brush.
Either this or stay the fish bait
for the sharks in gleaming onyx swastikas.

***For Vlatko Kurelic

Rasp & Rattle

You rarely asked for sacrifice.
I should have seen the curtain call.
Rasp and rattle played
its lute against your ribs.
Lungs and nostrils ran their scales
in thinning buckets of the air.
" Don't shut the drapes
and don't go home ..."
your voice trailed off
like waning trills in symphonies.
Bones poked through your woolen shawl,
fence lines rising to a cloud.
" Bring me cheesecake and a fork."
There wasn't time to quibble
over calories or doses of cholesterol.
You could see the trail's end.
I was fixed on steering
down a different road.

Teepees of my feckless hands
lay pitched against the ornery storm.
I ironed stacks of Irish linen,
seeing black beneath the white.
Brushed your silky Persian cats,
didn't care where tufts and lice
might land and sleep.
I read to you as if a sonnet's sorcery
would drive away the hospice nurse.
Even arias of prayer,
those final jigs of helplessness,
were crazy, ragged desperadoes
shoeing horses with a pin.
I wished and groped,
clawed and shrieked, rearranged
whatever seemed, well, liftable.
Blood to borscht and I was left
with mirrors of the empty bowl.


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