When you’re a shy teen, they call you chicken.
As if you should take risks to not be chicken.
Should I be bolder like a flying predator?
A falcon or hawk is never called a chicken.
In rural Virginia, we live closer to the land,
grow vegetables, gather eggs from chickens.
No clipped beaks, let out each day to peck in grass,
they eat bugs. These are not eating chickens.
I try to eat more healthful foods, few carbs or fat,
lean meats, veggies. Damn! No more fried chicken.
I lose pounds, imagine myself in a skimpy sundress.
My dead Mother says, “You’re no spring chicken!”
Stay calm, eat lots of lettuce, don’t think about food.
Study, read, and write. Learn to like grilled chicken.
When one man asks another about legs or breasts,
(wink, wink), they’re not talking about chicken.
In school, my name was still Cacciatore. Kids
thought it funny to yell to me, to call out, Chicken!
Harvest of What I’ve Sown
House in the woods, paths between deadfall
and passion in leaf litter, sweet scent of decay
and blooms on dogwood, wild azalea and cherry.
New leaves harmonize their greens, blue jays
scratch me with their calls. Here in Virginia,
clouds hang low, promise to water lettuces and beets,
spinach and bok choy. Swallowtails down nectar shots
from pink phlox, make the cardinals sing and invite
wood ducks for another swim. My neighbor calls
her daughters her wifies.
From the compost, the stench shouts L’chaim.
Scents strong enough to make dogs levitate
and birds slither. Joanie, you’re no spring chicken.
Get some help! (Will my mother never shut up?)
That’s no way to talk about me!
Life will always be like this, someone living
on this land, moving leaves from here to there.
With scattered intentions, chaos of determination
and delays, we order our lives, plan to continue forever
while others return to dust. Peace. If you listen,
you can hear this house crying. For attention!
my mother interrupts. Your cleaning is a lick
and a promise. You sleep like your grandmother.
It’s raining. Tapping on the mat of old leaves.
Everything comes to this drinking party.
My first visit to her house built on a hill
comes with a promise of a simple lunch.
But first a tour of rooms and rooms—
grand piano in the living room. Who plays?
I do, she says. Library with built-in white
bookcases on two walls, Dewey Decimally
arranged and a fireplace with plush chairs.
Her needlework on pillows. Antique armoires
with fabrics in labeled bins. Huge bathrooms,
once children’s bedrooms before renovations.
Old, deep bathtubs. Two stairways, one new
of blonde pine floors to face a cabinet
with tiny drawers her husband made.
Up another flight to the master bedroom
with a porch that overlooks the hill, hydrangea
blooms in shocking blue to match her bedding.
No curtains needed. Alcoves with windows,
reading chairs and lamps, a small table for a mug
of English tea. She opens two trunks filled
with quilts she’s made— tiny hexagons in rings
and diamonds, paper pieced, assembled
and quilted by hand. I blurt, “Are you crazy?”
In her husband’s workshop in the garage,
I stagger at the scent of walnut and maple,
hand-carved and sanded smooth.
They’re married forty-six years, three kids
far away. No pets, they’re free to travel
to grandchildren or take them to China and Bali.
In the garden, she picks basil to garnish
lunch: risotto con fiori du zucca, salad, broiled shrimp
with garlic, toasted homemade bread. We talk
about books that won the Pulitzer and Booker.
Is this the life she wanted, planned?
What does she long for? How does she squeeze in
hours to write her famous books?
Heed This Alert
Snared by a friend’s TV, I learn of the latest
threat: brain-eating amoebas in warm lakes;
two dead in my city. My pond has snakes, fish,
a snapping turtle. Murky, doesn’t look inviting.
We’re warned to be careful, can never be
cautious enough. Mad cow disease, hanta virus,
monkey pox, Ebola virus make for gruesome
ends. Health insurance, if you have it, can’t help.
TB’s on the rise; plague could make a comeback.
Beware of killer bees and brown recluse
spiders, bites that make flesh eating bacteria
seem no more than dandelions in your lawn.
You just never know where danger lies—
flash mobs singing are a robbery’s distraction.
Anthrax spores everywhere. Your phone
could be tapped. An idle comment
could get you jailed under the Patriot Act.
Terrorists and sexual predators are using
FaceBook and Twitter. It’s clear, contrails
spray chemicals to make you stupid
when you vote. Prozac’s in the water.
Soon the unemployed will be marauding
in cities just like yours. While you worry
about cholesterol and your waistline
all those flu viruses are mutating. You could
turn off the TV or have it disconnected.
You’ll feel safer if you put your feet up.
Now have a cookie and relax. It’s the law.