Bethea Buchanan – Three Poems

Wolf & Lamb

“I’m gonna break your heart,
gonna eat you up.”
Words fall on deaf ears.
Struck numb by that icy blue stare
peering out from thick black fur.
The wolf leers at the lamb.
No one takes care of her,
lackluster wool spotted in places.
She’s been bitten before,
and he can see the limp.
He starts to walk away.
His prey follows.
“I’ll eat you up,”
he warns her again.
First sign of his weakness.
First reason she trusts him.
Wolves have been bad to her before-
but this one is… different.
He tries to run away,
but he feels a little bad,
watching her struggle to keep up,
so he slows on down.

“On a diet now,” wolf says to himself.
“Ain’t eatin’ no lambs anymore,
it’ll be safe enough.”
Wolf helps her along.
he glares at the other wolves
who want to eat her up.
He protects his lamb.
Her wooly coat grows in.
Those spots go away.
She shines. And that limp is almost gone.
Wolf has fixed her up real good.
She looks too tasty, she’s too tempting.
he wasn’t supposed to want her.
Wolves can’t be with lambs-
it’s against nature.

Time for shearing.
That coat is too thick.
That lamb too full of herself.
She’s got her wolf to protect her,
and she’s got other wolves prowling.
They’re waiting on him to let her go-
so they can move in.
Wolf sees it.
Icy blue stare through thick black fur.
He’s jealous,
and he’s angry and confused
cause he can’t see that limp at all anymore.
Lamb walks tall, walks proud,
she’s a sheep now.
He curls up in his bed, closes his eyes.
Wolf plots his revenge.
Kink in the plan.
“I think I’m gonna be a ewe,” she says.
Eyes downcast, that wooly coat a little ashen again.
Wolf runs away.
“Not my fault, not my fault.”
Sheep lets him run. She cuts ties with her wolf.
Unhappy accident at an unhappy time.

Months. The wolf comes back.
Blood on his hands. Wolf thinks it’s his fault.
“Should’ve stayed, should’ve helped!”
And her limp is back.
He bit at her, a little too hard.
“Gonna make it better, gonna fix it!”
Her trust is gone.
She’s the prey, and she knows it now.
Too much power for that wolf.
That sheep is too weak,
wobbly like a lamb again.
He can’t resist.
Time goes on.

“You broke my heart, sheep.
You tore it out of my furry chest!
You ate it whole.
Herbivore? Lies. All lies!
It’s all your fault
I gotta treat you like this.
All your fault that I hurt you like I do.
All your fault that your coat is gone.
Had to shear it, had to show you
that you weren’t gonna be beautiful
to anybody but me.
Who wants a naked sheep?
Who wants a naked, limping, lamb-like sheep?
I’m the only one.
The only one.”
Open ears. She listens. She believes.
That lamb is held tight
by the icy blue stare though thick black fur.
Only wolf for her.
Only one.

Sheep wakes up one day,
wolf is gone.
Her wool is still gone,
her limp still evident.
Heart impaled by treacherous canines.
She is alone.
And what can she do?
No one wants a sheep with no wool.
A lamb-like sheep that limps
and can barely walk by itself.
How is she gonna get strong again
without that big bad wolf to protect her?

She lays down beneath a tree
in the middle of a grassy field,
and gives up.
No wooly coat to keep her warm,
she is exposed.
Can’t run away from danger with a limp like hers.
Might as well let life run out.
“I’m gonna break your heart,
gonna eat you up!”
Rings so loudly in newly opened ears.
The only truth in that icy blue stare
through thick black fur.

**

Omission

There is no nobility in her illness.
Hair loss, bouts with nausea
should not go commended, but then
few know what I know.

I hear her praised for bravery
when they see pale pink skin
peeking out from a scarf’s edge.
What they don’t know

is chemo doesn’t equal cancer.
What they don’t see
is the needle piercing bright
blue bruised veins of the woman

who used to be my mother.
She skipped types A and B,
and now her liver is failing,
she’s going crazy, and the doctors

have the nerve to tell her she can’t
help that her “disease” led to this.
It’s bullshit. I hope she knows it.
There is no dignity in holding

your head up high, letting
the world believe you have cancer
when what you have is justification
for shooting up while your children watch.

**

The Woman Who Used to be My Mother

The woman I knew as my mother
would tuck me into bed at night, read me a story,
sing John Denver songs until I fell asleep.
Next morning she’d stuff me in an ugly dress—
I’d pretend to like it to make her happy—
and drop me off at school, reminding me
“Stranger Danger! Our password is chocolate chip cookie!”
She came once, to read a book to my class,
brought cupcakes and strawberry milk
and everyone wished that my mother was theirs.

One night daddy shuffled me and brother
into the truck to get some pizza,
and when he told us that mommy couldn’t go,
we pretended to be a secret society.
Me and brother both got our own dessert
from the menu, and he didn’t even get mad
when I spilled my drink in the lap of my brand
new jeans. But when we got home,
my mother was gone. I cried
and begged daddy to bring her back.

Grown up now I watch the woman
who used to be my mother as she dies,
killing herself with needles, prescription drugs.
I should feel bad, sad, angry, confused.
I feel nothing. Sometimes she doesn’t remember
and tells me she was a good mom. I know she thinks
it’s true. And I realize, as I make another excuse
to avoid incoherent babble, awkward silence,
refusing to grant that one last hug,
that I am the woman who used to be her daughter.

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