Five Poems by Joan Colby
The Lazy Eye
The lazy eye slides inward
Learning to see aslant.
A nuanced vision where no surprise
The solution is correction,
The black patch of piracy to foster
The greed of binocular conviction.
The cross-eyed attitude
Of a seeker disturbs the scenery.
If that’s a resolution, show me
Where the borders of good luck
Are fenced-in barb wire
Where the children on the roofs
Of cattle cars cling to a
Blistered landscape unfolding
Before their eyes.
The Faroese love rot.
They hang the lamb until
It is marbled green
As a countertop. A block
Of ruined veins. Fermenting
Everything is their cuisine
Along with kelp and puffin eggs.
These islands claim more sheep
In the Congo, bushmeat is ordained
To tease the appetite. The Bander-Log
Hullabaloo of monkeys. Skulls sliced
For cups to hold palm wine. A dish of brains
On banana leaves. It’s said this is how
Ebola spreads or HIV.
The Japanese prefer fish raw.
So impolite in a people who bow
With clasped palms that can also shove
Until the train-cars jam, body to body.
Contradictions, said Whitman, bloom everywhere
Like weeds to choke the grass he loved.
A man with no other means
Of protest will not eat.
His body a weapon of sharp bones.
Thus women earned the vote,
Their jaws wrenched wide
As they thinned to arrows,
Into checkmarks on a ballot.
Anorexic girls die for an image
In a magazine. The famous jockey
Snacks on a single peanut.
The anchorite fasts in the desert hut
Like the Lakota boy who learns his true name
After days of starvation.
Dogs of the Filipinos,
Cheval of the French,
Seals of the Eskimo,
Songbirds of the Vietnamese.
Nothing is taboo
From the exploring palate.
The Donner party ate their families.
The faithful eat the body of the Lord.
The Last Peaches
The last peaches have rotted,
Stippled with grey-blue bruises,
A too-sweet odor, not yet deathly.
They’d bought too many,
Tree-ripened from the south,
Not the hard baseballs from California
Shipped in refrigerated semis.
He says he hasn’t had such peaches
In years, sucking the peachy-yellow flesh,
Cleft like a woman. She slices hers
Into bite sizes, small as kisses.
She puts the sack in the trash,
It is late September now.
In the paper, she reads about a couple
Returning home to find the peach tree
They had tended all summer stripped
Of its wealth—a hundred peaches,
Not one left. A neighbor joked
About holding peaches for ransom.
It seems mean: the theft,
The heartlessness. She thinks a hundred peaches,
How many could two people eat?
How many would have rotted?
Her mother used to preserve peaches in glass jars
Where they delicately browned
Like people with a liver disease.
Some cultures believe the liver is the seat
Of emotion, not the heart, a simple pump.
The liver—indispensable waste-hauler.
Trapped juices of ascites.
She longs for stasis.
Branches swinging with their glory
At its height. The succulence of a
Fresh plucked peach.
Every taste-bud watering.
The time it takes to savor
A small bowl of grapes
Or even less to boil the water
For tea, enough time to starve
The brain of oxygen, those few
Minutes of blessing denied. Father,
One eye open, one eye shut.
The respirator breathing like an
Extinct animal with useless enormous
Fangs. The weight it carries
Of my father’s destiny which has already
Been decided. In that short time
Before the paddles were applied
He hung in space like a planet.
Already, the neurons froze, the memories
Erased from the book of his existence.
Consider the moment, the girl
Intent on a selfie, stepped back
For a more perfect angle and fell
A thousand feet into the canyon.
The moment between singing
And the explosion, the café reduced
To ash. The trigger and the trajectory,
Red circle on the child’s forehead.
A twelve-piece set plus all the extras:
Soup ladles, butter knives, tiny olive forks.
Heavy sterling embellished with acanthus leaf.
Three-dimensional extravagance. A five-petal flower
On spoons, narcissus on forks, rose on knives
To recollect the 17th century with its
Devotion to grandeur, drama, exhuberance.
Watchwords poised against the unsparing Reformation
Opening the ornate doors to chiaroscuro,
The art of Rembrandt and Valezquez,
Music of Bach and Vivaldi.
Excess illuminates the souls of the possessive
So she aimed to acquire this chest of silver,
An affirmation to a woman who grew up
Behind the coal docks. Her silver gravy boat
Carried her far from Lake Calumet,
From the small frame house where her mother
Crocheted altar cloths and sang of the old country
Where men and women were hanged for the
Wearin’ o’ the green.
Her table in West Palm was laid with these
Baroque statements. Polished lovingly
And admired. A design created by Wallace
Silversmihs, a company founded
More than two hundred years ago.
When her granddaughter visited, she showed each implement,
Its particular flower. The irony of the narcissus
On forks meant for stabbing escaped her.
She spooned her soup with a vessel of five petals.
When she died, she left the Grand Baroque silver
To that granddaughter who, grown, disdained
Its Rubenesque qualities, an embarrassment
In an era that valued simplicity.
Consigned to her basement in the suburban
Two-story, exempt of Caravaggio Lute Players
Or the sonatas of Scarlatti, its décor
From Pottery Barn, a simple painting of Tuscany
Poplars, a farmhouse equivalence of plain
White plates and unadorned stainless flatware.
Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 22 books including "Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and “Ribcage” from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Additionally, a new chapbook “Elements” has just come out from Presa Press and a new book “Bony Old Folks” is forthcoming from Cyberwit Press. Colby is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review. Website: www.joancolby.com. Facebook: Joan Colby. Twitter: poetjm.