Janet Buck

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Liver Cancer: Stage IV

Skip the feckless taps of texts,
go hold her hand that drapes in weakened ivory
from edges of her wrinkled bed.
We’ve been like twins for forty years.
Someone else's tragedy is Hitchcock's birds
screaming in a crowded room.
Pick up feathers one by one,
let them touch your hollowed cheek.
Do not mail a Hallmark card
that sours with its facile rhyme.
Get her dressed for Sunday church
even when it's Saturday.

Crawl under the sheets with the truth of it all.

Her life is hanging solely on a bending branch.
You have to prop her with your knees,
where you can feel the weight that pulls
in apples no one wants to pick.
The cache of time is getting low.
Do dirty dishes in her sink,
dry and buff each water spot
from glasses standing upside down.

Praying for the Hummingbird

There's no damned Kleenex in this house;
I grab a roll of paper towels, a bag or two
of frozen peas and push ahead
through worried moments hanging in the fallow air.
Don't tell me that it's terminal.
Turn the corner on a penny, even if it's tarnished now.
They place a portal in your chest.
All I see from miles away
is too much of a bullet's cavern gutting you.
I want to mitigate the wounds.

A prayer chain stretches fifty states.
Every hand you've touched with yours
holds fast to hope that doctors
pour a miracle in cups of broth too hot to drink.
Life brings what it brings,
but sometimes we hate the shape of the box
and everything under the lid.
I send you forty kinds of tea,
soft, loose sweaters, lots of stuff
like mellow music from a spa,
scarves in every color rainbows make.
We need one in the sky right now.
When chemo starts, you'll shave your head.

The woman helping clean my house
snoops through all the paid receipts,
critiques me hard for "tossing dollars to the wind."
I fire her ass so fast my anger
prickles the hair on my arms.
The dust can stay but she must leave.
They're only gifts I've tried to use
to lift low ceilings of the clouds.

How could this happen to you, my friend─
who serves the homeless needed food on holidays,
teaches children struck by drunken, lousy dads
how to pitch a whiskey bottle in the trash.
You’re faultless as a hummingbird
scouting nectar in a flower,
even from a wilted rose
growing wild beside the road.

A Bottle of This, a Vial of That

They called this place “Serenity Lane”−
but puking in cracked toilet bowls
around the turns of sluggish clocks,
sobs that fill a water glass,
shaking like some windblown leaf−
aren’t synonyms for inner peace.
They changed the name
to “Genesis” by suffering;
I'm adding this because I know.
Your chart is on a counselor’s desk−
his Midas shoulders eager
to clear the sand from your eyes,
stop incessant rattling,
leave the needles on the pines.

A bottle of this, a vial of that
will speak your name out loud for years−
but I can’t stop the whispering
with patches of my love alone.
One clear morning will arrive:
you’ll waken, stretch, and realize
you’d rather be sober than drunk or high.

He’ll steer you straight−there’ll come a time
when sighs exhume good memories
that smell of peeled oranges, of cotton candy at a fair.
He'll teach you to pronounce the dark,
finger it, then let it go,
to touch the hornets on your arms,
flick their wings, and walk away.
I know that dawn, its mystery−
you wait so long and suddenly
the lamp is just a steady flame.
Please don't leave because you can;
it's hard to pot a plant that's dead.


Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee and the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Calamity's Quilt,Tickets to a Closing Play (winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award), and Beckoned by the Reckoning. She has published roughly 4,000 poems and non-fiction essays in print and on the internet over the last 18 years. Her work on the subject of disability was honored at the United Nation’s Exhibit Hall in NYC. The poem “Acrylic Thighs” was translated into five languages, paired with original artwork, and the exhibit traveled to six different countries. Janet’s work has appeared in 2River View, Antiphon, The Pedestal Magazine, Offcourse, Poetry Magazine.com, Zombie Logic, and Boston Literary Magazine. More of her poems will appear this year in The Milo Review, Misfit Magazine, The Ann Arbor Review, PoetryBay, Vine Leaves, River Babble, and other journals.