by Alma Christl Call
My hands smell like onions.
The chicken breasts between us.
Well, eat up! I say.
She stares at her hand
I have molded around a fork
until it shakes open.
The fork leaves dents
in her fingers.
You have to eat.
Her head jerks up.
It is the cumin sharp
in my nose that reddens
my eyes, blurs my vision.
While marinara bleeds
with broccoli juice across
the white bones of her plate.
by Q. Woodward
I can’t tell her no, so she brings the same thing
every year “Oh, Grandma,” I say, “you shouldn’t
have.” It is the only truth I speak all week. She settles
into my rocking chair, and I set the heavy block
beside the microwave to sit in its plastic shroud
for seven days—seven slow days until she leaves.
Every night at dinner she mentions it. I feign deafness.
She persists. “We’ve just had so many sweets lately,”
I conjure. “Besides, we want to save it all for ourselves”-
as if our greed for her gift were boundless.
Her car rolls out of the driveway, and I crouch
beside my back porch, digging the eighth identical,
tiny grave alongside the last seven years’ unmarked
martyrs. I wonder if their rubber-fruit skeletons are still
resting beneath the hard winter earth,
and if when Grandma goes the way of all
fruitcake, she’ll meet the ghosts of her
offerings and learn the secret of my annual wake.
One day, when my mother begins bringing
my children the same Christmas curse, Grandma
will soar through the sky to my home, float above
the row of stockings hanging from my mantle,
and cast an angel’s spell of hardened dates and
bitter nuts upon my calloused heart.
by Melody McGrath
Following a brief rain,
your car will unintentionally deposit
in an asphalt nest
a perfectly shelled and shimmering
egg of oil.
It arcs a rainbow under
a slight pocket of crude
within a rim of color.
You will marvel at its loveliness,
remarking on its wild, murky abandon,
feeling the grandeur of life in a
handful of swirling blue.
The sky dampens and repeats the downpour,
and your lovely rainbow creature
driven to frustration by an incessant drumming of rain
breaks its shell
and rolls away.
by Krista Halverson
This eighth month I have been painting women. Gesture
Juncture, profiles next to apples, in poses that embarrass
Me. This one cracks her knuckles on the back of her neck, stares
Like the plump sister in another wash–arm raised overhead
Like a crescent roll. Same skin
Slipping over her jaw, same monochrome and glaze,
Poised, like she could never think of breathing,
My doctor tells me to explore, play music, buy yellow–for a boy
Or a girl. Explains why I hold mouths full
Of soil, bite my tongue until my eyes run,
And take small swallows of warm grit. She calls this Pica,
Which condition bothers women, mainly, She knows
A woman whose husband found her digging clay
From under a cold rock; she ate the roots of her Geraniums.
The hair on this girl looks like roots. She smells like me, like paint
And that hole in the wood floor where the oil drains.
by Shannon Castleton
With the lump in his back there’s more
to think about. My father, still
in a wicker lawn chair, scans his aspens
and thinks of morning—of the smooth blade
opening his new scar for the second time in May.
When I visit like this, he corners me
with endings, says he's ten years
past the age his father reached
when a '62 Chevy split him wide
against a blunt curb. Two days later
the town mortician, tonic-haired
and grey-suited, shook my sixteen-
year-old father's hand. He said,
"We almost couldn't view your dad
he was torn so bad, But I wrapped
his side with the same stuff
the ladies save Sunday dinner in.
Some days all you can do is keep
these bodies together."
Of course my father has become
the mortician, Each time he performs him
the last words change. Tonight
it was blood, the thin wrap seeping,
and, "The inside always wants out."
Later, viewing my father
from the sliding glass door,
I know the mortician is who he believes.
Even with my mother, brown-legged
and deep in her tomatoes, fuchsia nodding
from their pots on the deck, promising
love in each round flower, he dreams
his way out. Lips straight, a long finger
circling the chilled rim of a juice glass,
he eyes this yard till dar., When he creeps
to the house I can't tell his arms
from the warm, rich black.
by Jim Richards
Well, what would you do, Father,
if sinking your shovel into a potato field
you struck metal, and bending down
you uncovered a sword, crumbling with rust?
And you've got sweat burning your eyes
when you see this man, and somehow
you know he's left-handed
and he's got a scar under his eye
real shiny pink, like a pig's snout.
I'm thinking "does he want this sword or what?"
so I drop it and go back to digging—
I've got kids, you know, two sons
and a daughter, Kate. Anyway,
I turn a few more piles of earth
and the heat is coming down real hard
when I find another sword, so heavy
I can't lift it. And "what time is it?"
I'm thinking as I squint at the sun
and see some giant-sized man
with hair like fur and real small ears.
So small, I know he can't hear the screams,
Thousands of them , buried so long
they're black from reflecting the earth.
What would you do, press a blade
to your ear and listen for the roar?
Would you look up to see who
was watching? No Sir. When everything
has gone to dust except lingering blades
that can't resurrect, like spirits stuck
somewhere between hell-fire and the sun,
you bury them, Father, beneath the mounds
of the quiet earth and walk away.
by Melody McGrath
The fire on the mountain spreads faster each day.
Each day sharpened fingers of flame
catch hold in the wrinkles of
the mountain face
and grow like hair,
sprouting thick above the eyes now.
Within minutes, a vagabond blaze
blackens the tall, thin spires
of a pine tree,
and the pine humbles,
bows its head low.
By Sunday, everything
will be seared and crumpled;
we will walk amid
rubbing our hands and
preparing to work a miracle.
by Bryce E. Knudsen
Grandpa's wrinkled hand
grips the cracking
the mouse's ribs
with quiet accuracy—
Grandpa turns soil
in the garden.
by Shannon Castleton
Most days I go out and something new
is dead. Yesterday my father's
last Morgan stud, his cancered privates
already black and maggoty.
Monday I buried a lamb
flung on the trail, four bullets
through her nipple-pink stomach.
Some deaths we plan: the Irish Setter
who bit through a boy's thin neck
when she missed a stick we threw at her.
An accident—but they took her anyway.
I held her oily eyes shut.
The vet's fat thumb pushed hard on the needle.
Some nights I call her, then remember
how still, how silk her ears looked in the dry pit.
My father’s ears glared white
as crescent moons in his glossed box.
I squeezed a thick lobe between my thumb
and all four fingers. My brothers pretended
not to see, stared at his painted lips and eyelids.
I always remember he's dead.
Evenings, I lie flat in the yard,
beneath the wide cherry tree
dropping its smooth blossoms.
You eat ice cream when the leaves turn red.
My lips hurt. It can’t work for me
unless the season’s right, but you savour
the sweetness anyway.
I use my quarter for the jukebox,
but you walk out without your jacket.
I want to make the most of my money,
then I run out to see what has changed.
You tell me how it is to see an almond moon
while I think about the heat.
I tell you about the song I just heard
So you’ll tell me why you don’t like ice cream.