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Other notable works by Bill Hengst and Elizabeth Rivers.
to the tallest windstorm 100 miles
to the leaden trees 100 miles to
the rocks’ highwater 100 miles where
the ice still breathes
He’s twenty one now
–for Curtis & Jenny
Just old enough to drink beer legally,
and he’s been a marine almost four years,
wounded three times in Fallujah, shrapnel
from an explosive-rigged truck; house cave-in;
the worst from a grenade in his back and
shoulders. He’s learned to tighten the muscle
of his young face, won’t remember his fears,
they’re sharp, buried subcutaneously.
If he gets home this summer my daughter
will run her hands over those corded scars
cover him as his body covered his
brain-injured friend’s, a shield of tender flesh.
He doesn’t ask for much. He wants a beer,
a pizza, a TV. America.
100 Pounds Later
I haven’t had a drink since 1990: last time
I woke up and couldn’t remember
the ride home, just that a man was flattering
me and filling and refilling my glass
of wine. Your father’s friends made me
nervous, of course, he, he never drank—didn’t
have the stomach for it, and I didn’t drink
when I was on call, or taking care of you
children, but those dinners, those plastic
surgery department dinners (I was still pretty
then, it was before this bloating. Maybe that’s
why.) I believed if I slept with one foot
on the floor I wouldn’t have a hangover. Didn’t
work. I drove out that morning to buy you
little princess head bands, silk flowers
and ribbons, for Easter morning and my head
was pounding all the way to Suburban Square
(I look like I’m pretending to be a Main Line mother
with an Volvo station wagon) and I’m puking
all over the nubbly little upholstery, seats, walls,
floor. Never got the stain, the smell, completely
cleaned up. I’ve still got the little bands
of flowers. I don’t have you. I don’t have your
father. I lost my home. But I wasn’t an alcoholic.
I gave that up, just like a snap of my fingers.
Alone. What destroyed me was food.
When Adam was fifty
and Eve was forty-nine
they walked together
just past the top
of the mountain
and lay down
in the bed the deer made
against the snow.
It was fragrant.
The broken branches
stung their hands
with pitch. He took her face
in his calloused fingers,
wove the hair
behind her ears
and she let her gaze
stay with his eyes
while she shrugged away
the heavy skins.
They tasted sweat
on each others faces
flesh. The serpent’s
cast-off skin, empty,
coiled around them,
and poor snake, he blinked
a moment blinded,
forgetting the knowledge
together, returned to
Guan Yin and Mary Magdalene
walk together in the dessert.
Each holds out her hands
–the hundred thousand–
and takes a tear from my face.
Kali calls Maya, but it is
the voice of a frightened daughter;
their hair sweeps the dust
from the madman’s feet.
The mother sat
in the witness chair
You threw them
in the river–the
No, she said,
ten words spoken,)
they were my babies,
I laid them in
Language From the Heart
Forget your wife’s last breakfast.
The toaster waving its little brown
flags, its spring crying Chien-chia-shih,
Chien-chia-shih,–but the heart–who can catch it?
That ticking apple, we will visit
its island when the trees bloom, babycat, sweetie,
I’ll eat peas and mashed potatoes, kitten:
I’d never hug the moon! (that crusty
mystery) “Feed your head.” I’m thirsty
and you’re talking about water. The Dog
of Hilarity met the Cat of Quiet. You know
them both. Crooks? Ya big lug, How can you call
when you know I don’t answer? Chih?
Shih? Li Pai in the Emperor’s wagon. He’s singing
rice wine, he’s rolling sparks, he’s hiccuping
moonlight on her chilling skin. How did these
treasure teachings come about? (She gave
you food.) I give you food. Eat up.
A New Hampshire native, Kelley White studied at Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School and has been a pediatrician in inner-city Philadelphia for more than twenty-five years. Her poems have been widely published over the past five years, including several book collections and chapbooks, and have appeared in numerous journals including Exquisite Corpse, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Rattle and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Nandina bush
holds prisoner in its umbel of red berries
a brown solitary oak leaf,
the journey interrupted
so the leaf can reflect on summer
when its lungs worked.
HAD THERE BEEN TIME
the old man slumbers like the great bear,
survives on berries and fruit,
relishes his accomplishments–
the gardens that he has planted,
pruned, weeded, amended, mulched,
trimmed and dead-headed, watered,
He is proudest of his daffodils
the ten-thousand stubby bulbs
that lie beneath the ground
awaiting warmed earth
to release stem and trumpet
Had there been time,
he would have planted roadsides–
yellow brick roads.
Had there been time, he
would have replanted America.
Something cherub-like about the daffodils
outside my kitchen window
the ones I tucked in four months ago
and covered with a quilt of soil.
Now they frolic everywhere,
their yellow trumpets wide-eyed
little stubby guys
like the Seven Dwarfs
surveying the moon’s crust.
Only more, lots more
a thousand head of cattle
out on the range.
Got any jewelry, art work, antique furniture?
The dealers dive bomb me like blue jays,
yammering for anything old,
before I can finish setting up,
before the coffee kicks in.
I run inside, grab dormant tie clips,
cuff links that haven’t sealed sleeves in years,
fountain pens long since sucked dry,
wrist watches that have lost their pulse,
sell a few to these frenzied buyers.
The last of my lead soldiers go,
some with arms missing,
weapons bent, paint chipped,
the ones I used to bang together,
casualties from when tiny armies clashed.
The second shift brings Saturday strollers
in sneakers and sweat clothes.
They stare at things,
sometimes touch them:
a Zenith radio that still hums;
a tennis racket, so worn it could bust a gut;
neckties, wide enough to diaper a baby’s butt;
my first MacIntosh computer.
The air stills
as these anthropologists of second-hand stuff
browse my books
for additions to their bedside nightstands.
They need time to fall in love.
ON THE SET OF WARNER BROTHERS
He’s off at dawn
on the set of Looney Tunes,
zipping across deserts,
doing hairpins through gulches,
He moves like a wind-up toy gone berserk,
black tail afluff,
feet beating like hummingbird wings,
in search of the coyote.
At the precipice he surprises him
He’s back before Mr. Warner has time to smell his coffee.
You’ll have to do it again,
the boys didn’t get it.
He hasn’t broken a sweat.
He’s off with the second take,
crazed to make road kill of the coyote,
while longing for Watkins Glen
*Slow Death and Had There Been Time originally appeared in The Aurorean*
Bill Hengst writes poetry and short stories when he’s not conducting a gardening business in Philadelphia. His garden/nature poems are included in an unpublished chapbook. Poems have been published in Red Wheelbarrow, Hiram Poetry Review,
Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Aurorean, and several anthologies. He also has poems forthcoming in GreenPrints,Pearl, and Poetalk.
I walked out toward the sun and heard
seep trickle from unfreezing earth
as it worked into spring once more.
Rivulets dashed the asphalt road
with violent flashes,
melting my winter eyes until I saw
a patch of crocus, tiny plants with years
of Februarys on a wide south lawn,
extended family, a reunion
purple as bruises, heart-shaped medals.
Then in my mind I saw
swatches of royal blue, ivory and gold
from all the scattered places
I’ve seen crocus bloom:
yards, cemeteries, parks
planted by young or middle-aged
or old who may lie down to dig
(the way my neighbor
must protect her knees)
or – in their vital years – the ageless dead.
Why I Plant Lettuce
My fingers work arpeggios of soil:
sieve stones, crush clods, slip seed exactly laid
to let the little “i” get up, uncoil,
open itself (from many shades) one shade
of green and red, one shape, leaf wriggled deep
as oak or parsley-skinny, spare or fleshy,
global, smooth. I love the rules they keep:
the lift to light, to bird beaks and me,
heads in compliant rows while in vast
sunless caves the captured surge of roots
vibrates with beetle scratches, Delphic gas.
Not me, I change . These politics? Those shoes?
The streets switch names – stop- turn, a T or Y.
“Hello,” I say; in the same breath, “Goodbye.”
The Local Parade
At 96 he jaywalks Main Street,
raises his cane higher
than a traffic cop braces the air,
drags me like the short legged kid
he steered 60 years ago.
We laugh; we’ve provoked
startled faces, gestures,
horns for a holiday parade.
We angle through the universe of wheels.
He lowers the baton,
sets foot lightly on the curb.
He’s come in first –
another scoundrel grin –
It’s his old music
and I’m jumpin’in.
A native of New York City and educated at Wellesley College, Elizabeth Rivers is a teacher and progressing gardener. She has been published in various magazines. She is grateful for the community of poets she knows in the Philadelphia region and for her opportunities to learn more about reading and writing poetry.