Joan Colby

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Living on This Road

The new people on this road, our neighbors.
Arturo, the grandfather says proudly
He is a citizen, here since ’74. Maria, his wife,
Has no English. She scurries into the house
Smiles behind her hand when I say Amiga.
Nine children, one, a girl in the Navy.
Hector the son who runs the business
Of lawns and trees, says he came
At the age of 16. His wife, another Maria,
Also speaks only Spanish. Their daughter at 14
Looks forward to her quinceanera. She already
Has the dress, royal blue with a skirt wide
As a constellation. Hector starts his truck at
5 a.m. while I am letting out the dog.
He waves and I wave back. Arturo
And his wife spend winters in Mexico.
I rest in my hammock, he laughs. She misses
The grandchildren. They came back
This year early while there is still time,
While the ban is still reversed
And no one questions.
This is the good life they have made
In America. Hector wants to get a horse
To ride with me in the nearby preserve,
When he has time from the long labors
Of his days, when he isn’t thinking
Of going back to Morelia. The daughter,
Lindsey, gives me a pink candle. I give her
Magazines. She is hopeful of the future.
A squad of men in hard hats are trimming Arturo’s
Oak trees, driving bobcats and mowers.
We have 20 employees, he boasts. I came with nothing.
Now see.
All day Arturo roasts a pig. Maria makes
Tortillas, a feast. We drink
Mexican beer and laugh
Around the picnic table. The grandkids
Kick a soccer ball. The dogs dash about
Barking. A Mariachi trio plays all afternoon.
Arturo worries—they must quell the noise.
Someone might complain.
He has the licenses and permits, he is trying
To do everything right, to be a
Good neighbor.
Hector worries about the money
It takes just to survive. He is eager
And exhausted at the same time.
The wives stay in the house
Endlessly cooking. Wrapping the hot
Peppers in floury tortillas, those saboteurs
Of Nordic taste-buds. They laugh
When I clasp my mouth over those flames.
You like? You like? asks Arturo. And yes,
I do. I want to say I will be your
Sanctuary neighbor, but we don’t
Discuss politics, it is unsafe.
Better to do what is expected,
Offend no one. Make this place
Alive with flowers and good will
And eat and drink and chatter.

Knocking It All Down

He constructs a city of colored blocks,
Skyscrapers, warehouses, homes like his own
Until his brother knocks it over with a laugh
Just to see what happens.

The way Cain killed Abel with a club.
It made him mad to see the way his brother
Mustered the sheep. Their obedience induced
With a gentle word.

Cain shouted when the crows destroyed his crop.
Flailed about with a branch whipping them
Skyward. His father warned of recklessness.
How an instant of acceptance (that juicy apricot)
Changed his life forever.

A city might be rebuilt, but a life can’t be restored.
Cain stared like a child watching his brother
Gather up the scattered blocks. It left a mark
On the heart that could never be expunged.

The urge to destroy just for the satisfaction
Of seeing what the result might bring
As if the only way to salvation
Is to kill everything.

The Three Joans 

Three Joans struggle with the cruel
Machinery of rehabilitation. Joan G.
Has a poodle topknot and the red
Lipstick of what she’d call her salad years.

Joan M’s fat belly makes it strenuous
To lift her leg skyward, encased in the skin of
A white stocking like a sausage hanging
In a butcher’s shop window.

Joan C. grinds her teeth on a curse
Bending her wired kneecap ten degrees
Beyond what’s plausible. She’s a trouper,
Says Kristen, whose hard smile matches the crease
Of her ironed slacks.

No one is named Joan now, notes Joan G.
Joan M. says it’s a lovely name. Joan C. says our mothers’
Names: Grace and Emily, Cora and Isabel have come back
Like migratory birds long lost in baleful
Headwinds. See them chirp, dancing on lawns
In pink sweatshirts appliqued with rhinestone princesses.

Too late for us, says Joan G. Powder is caked
Crosshatched in her scowl. Joan M. sighs and hefts
Her haunch. Joan C. pulls her hamstrings taut.
The lost generation of the Joans.

Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 20 books including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Three of her poems have been featured on Verse Daily and another is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Her newest books are Carnival from  FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her next book Her Heartsongs will be published by Presa Press in 2018.  Colby is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review. Website:  Facebook: Joan Colby. Twitter: poetjm.