Janet Buck

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Hollow Hugs
"You will address her as Mother, obey her words."
I shifted a little in the nest, but happily grew
to follow her around the house, puppy style,
trying to help and make her smile.
Little did I know back then--
that curve was not part of her mouth.
I watched as Mommy's empty closet
filled with clothes and rows of shoes.
I had a mom, five brothers now, my sister,
my dad, the white picket fence
with all the slats in place
like rows of perfect teeth.

When my real mother died,
Daddy married the redhead cliché,
but I was far too young
to fathom the color of hair,
follow the loss of story time,
bedtime kisses on the cheek.
I couldn't explain a hollow hug,
even though I fell in the hole.

"Because of your issues we've sacrificed
an autumn cruise, a trip to Europe, everything.
I needed a fourth mink coat.
It costs us money to fix your bones
and buy your legs; you are lazy and fat;
your hair is ugly and wild."
I stared into the bathroom mirror
at bright blonde curls and saw them all
as sagebrush on a desert floor.
I used your eyes in lieu of mine
for I was merely a child.
Loving you has always been
feeding chocolate to a dog.

 Slapping the Hide of the Horse

I'm pondering the hottest burner on the stove:
to stay alive or give it up.
Five long years of surgeries,
a shoulder locked they cannot fix,
a back that's curved in crescent moons,
glaucoma stealing telescopes of tired eyes,
I wish my body off this earth.
Yet there it stays, a limping mare,
chewing hay inside a barn.

Whatever strikes for tragedy,
family scatters in the hills as deer
that sense a forest fire before it starts.
Touching me might spread the flames,
sear their rosy fingertips.
Maybe I drove them away from the wreck.
I sometimes picture easy outs:
I'll pummel bottles of pills,
mix them with ice-cream,
shovel it down quickly enough
to leave the dinner table for good.

A private, petty Armageddon rules my day.
Self-loathing sets in custard molds.
On better days, my other side's a raging itch;
I'm scratching hard at what is left,
knowing well a drug dump's not
a postcard from a clean resort.
A wheelchair sits in our garage:
I stare it down, grab a roll of paper towels,
kick the tires, clutch a rail, climb the steps,
firmly slap the hide of the horse.

 Wet Matchsticks

I had the celebration planned,
but dinner with his favorite crepes Artwork by Gene McCormick
would sit above an empty chair.
I know he was old,
but love is not a numbers game.
A perfect dad's the tallest of all irises;
clipping the stem ruins the garden for good.
His date of birth, his date of death
hit all in the same week of the year.
The roulette wheel was stuck on black
when I was stupidly betting on red.
Near the end, his palms grew into petal silk,
dark blue veins speaking of the twilight hour
he let me touch to comfort him.
The more I write, the more I paddle 'cross a lake
in circles with a single oar.
White-out never clings to pages soaked in grief.

November comes around again.
Ahead of time, the nightmares
block all hope of sleep.
You just can't waltz when the music stops.
His suffering is over now,
but mine is still in childbirth.
Every effort to forget--
wet matchsticks striking nothing close
to sparks of merciful light.
Moving on is reading a newspaper in the dark.
I wonder why I even try.
My sister shared the fine antiques.
I kept his crystal paperweight
because his prints were on that glass.

All three poems originally published in Off Course.

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.