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Five Poems by Joan Colby

The Lazy Eye

The lazy eye slides inward

Learning to see aslant.

A nuanced vision where no surprise

Is unwelcome.

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.

Eating Habits

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

Than men.

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.

Grand Baroque

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: Facebook: Joan Colby. Twitter: poetjm.

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