My Edmonds News is pleased to present the latest installment of Poet’s Corner, presented by the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group.
The Cult of Domesticity
for my mom
Flour double-sifted, hush after hush
all part of the secret
recipe of my Mensa mother
who baked us pies, and kept her mind busy
with anagrams and number games
after the war, back when women quit
working when they married,
to make a home and raise little monkeys like me.
She, who vowed to avoid her mother’s scullery fate,
trapped in the kitchen, called me down from the highest branches
of a great red cedar across the street,
to try a slice with ice cream, a salve for her worried certainty
that I would find some Icarious fate
or drown in Pine Lake sinking with my home-made raft.
I always gave into pie: apple in autumn,
blackberry in August,
pumpkin chiffon for Thanksgiving,
and so differential equations, Bridge, Scrabble
and the hermeneutics of her philosophy,
chirped and rattle away in the steam
of the pressure cooker that always seemed
to be on the stove with spareribs and sauerkraut.
We became her life’s work.
She fed and clothed us,
nursed our scrapes and falls,
taught us to read and to love to learn,
while our father worked from dark to dark
in Downtown Seattle.
Our nurture was assured.
Nature is Mendel rolling the dice.
How did she feel with one daughter
in saddle shoes, begging for a Barbie for Christmas,
or her oldest boy in leather, organizing
the keggers at the gravel pit,
or her younger daughter
beating up boys at the bus stop,
and me, lost in the middle,
swaying in the crown of the tallest tree
trying to see beyond our neighborhood?
~ ~ ~ ~
Working from Home
Looking out my window into the greenbelt
I am taking an inventory of the various
shades of leaves as they open,
yawning into a wet spring.
The willow first, then the red alder and bigleaf maple
after a showy display of pendulous golden flowers.
Not to be outdone a bitter cherry preens
like a bride in white bouquets,
while the red elderberry’s creamy cones of inflorescence
wilt above waves of Himalayan blackberry
whose invasion is stalled only
by an old wooden fence.
A misguided hazelnut grows
maybe 200 feet to the south.
Its twisted branches chart
rising uncertainty in the markets
I take my coffee outside
and catch up on office gossip
with the incessant chickadees,
and a song sparrow who almost majored
in music but settled on business.
Deeper in the woods, where the ground stays
marshy into August, a spiny spruce and a shaggy red cedar
coat the windows of the undriven cars
along our street with their dusty politics.
Toward the retention pond black cottonwoods
await a little heat to let go of clouds of seedy hope.
The recovery this time is just a little beyond us.
Our morning meeting again concerns rabbits,
Acres reserved for native growth,
and still they nibble on our lawn and sneak
into the vegetable garden in the early mornings
and evenings when the light is soft and kind.
Their anxiety is their safety,
says my beautiful boss,
They’re twitchy and wary
scampering from shadows.
I’m sleeping with her,
and everyone in the office knows it.
On Saturday, I think, (the days blur together)
I heard two young eagles whistle before I saw them
playing in the sky above, wings in soaring arcs.
The rabbits no doubt burrowed away
in nuzzling safety.
Even the handsome coyote
I sometimes see slip by in the morning
with a tail nearly as bushy as a fox,
looks more hungry than cunning.
Someone’s called in a specialist.
A feral calico, lovely and murderous
arrives to cull the redundant,
to make the necessary optimization.
She suns on a three-man rock in the afternoon.
What’s her per diem? I wonder to myself.
I’ve watched her go a mousing
in the groundcover, or take a songbird
mid chorus, leaping like sudden tragedy
into the purple lilac I planted some years ago
for the boss’ birthday.
Now the calico’s taken the initiative on the rabbit situation.
I watch incredulously as she trots towards
a hole in the fence, jawing a bunny half her size,
carrying it away like a naughty kitten.
Lori, across the street, feeds the feral one
on her patio, but still the calico stalks
caching what she cannot eat
domesticated to a degree like we are
but always on the hunt.
~ ~ ~ ~
Here are the things that weigh us down:
One heavy, brown farm coat with a broken zipper,
too big now for your uncle in the hospice.
Six buckets of paint mixed in the wrong shades of taupe,
stacked against a wall in the garage
where funnel-making spiders flock little canyons
among the curves of the cans that turn away
from each other with a touch of deadliness.
In our closet: the ashes of every dog we’ve owned since 1993,
a few of my father’s loud ties my mother insisted that I keep
believing fashion to be cyclical though paisley sparked off the wheel.
No one wears ties anymore, not even the yellow power tie scented in Old Spice.
Maybe I can make a quilt out of grief to slumber under its heaviness.
Boxes of old photographs of distant relatives in black & white–
We keep believing on some rainy day we will sort through them all
and scan them into ghosts to hide in the Cloud.
Instead, we binge on Netflix & popcorn.
I’d dump it all, but I am afraid I might lose my parents again.
I remember pictures of my folks as newlyweds,
and one of my mother, posing in a new smock, circa 1960,
embryonic me in a secret spacewalk inside of her.
Three doors down Schwartz is not so nearly nostalgic.
His house burned down while he was away
when a shorted wire in the wall ignited a can of lighter fluid.
He rebuilt and bought a new car
and a new wife with the insurance money.
He’s lost hundreds of pounds, he says
The weight of the past, the bad marriage, and any evidence
of crimes he may have committed.
He cartwheels on his newly laid sod.
“Learning to let go requires the dexterity of a gymnast,” he tells me.
And the soul of a sociopath, I think to myself.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
James Backstrom grew up exploring the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest. His poems have appeared in Soundings on the Salish Sea, Spindrift, The English Journal, Poetry Seattle,and other publications. He is also a proud charter member of EPIC Poetry Group that meets monthly in the Edmonds library. A long-time teacher in the Northshore School District, he and his wife raised their three children just north of Snohomish. Whenever he can get away, you’ll find him hiking the trails of the Cascades and Olympics.
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