Janet Buck – two poems

Staring at “No Smoking” Signs

I can feel the winding tubes
that link me to machines that burp
but ferry crucial oxygen.
They pour some gunk in a feeding tube,
forced down my throat by dry, gloved hands,
clean up brown volcano spray
that exits out the other end.
I try to say this graciously,
but hell is hell; it’s spelled one way.

My husband goes outside
to suck on menthol cigarettes
until his lips are ocean blue.
His face is pale as wads of Kleenex
plugging up a toilet bowl.
He parks himself under a tree with tiny buds,
since this is Spring,
or maybe that is just a wish.
Weeps and puffs incessantly,
even though the action is illegal here.
Falls asleep for three short seconds
at a time—waking up to feel
a dozen cobra snakes around his neck,
his body tense with helplessness.

He stares at the “NO SMOKING” sign,
without a care for getting caught.
The thought of concrete jail cells
is better news than going home
to visions of our empty house
that’s missing the sound of my voice.


Multiple Choice

“Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” keeps haunting me
beyond so many sober years. I hated the smell of hops,
but drank my share of bitter grapes. Drank my share and so much more.
You call and tell me, “I’m really slugging bourbon down, don’t seem to stop.”
Your head must feel like chicken eggs that shatter on a kitchen floor.
The ones with red that might have scored a decent life.

Lately booze is dinner fodder leading to a fitful sleep.
Don’t take the bait most families serve like sushi on dry cracker rounds.
That stuff is in your liver now; tipsy turns to passing out.
Drunken antics, slobbering was funny in our college days;
you’re over 65 right now and I don’t have the arms and legs
to put a jug of water and two aspirin pills beside your morning coffee cup.

I know how “lonely” lonely feels. It’s all a game of multiple choice.
Pick another dot in squares, find yourself amidst the birch leaves on the ground.
You could fall and not get up; it’s coping by cinching a rope on your neck.
Take a walk because you can, clean out closets, hose the dirty patio,
anything for some escape but putting bottles to your lips.
My fingers, somewhat crippled now, are still inclined to touch what darkness harbors you.
Call me when you’re on the edge.


Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee. Her work has appeared in hundreds of journals worldwide. Janet’s second print collection of poetry, Tickets to a Closing Play, was the winner of the 2002 Gival Press Poetry Award and her third collection, Beckoned By The Reckoning, was released by PoetWorks Press in the spring of 2004. Her most recent work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine and Offcourse. In 2011, Buck was honored as a Featured Poet of the Editor’s Circle in PoetryMagazine.com. In the spring of 2015, Janet was a featured Poet of the Week for PoetrySuperHighway.com. More of her work is scheduled for publication in various journals this coming year.

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