Janet Buck: Selected poems
Poetry » January 2003

Sizes of Sadness

At Zeinhom Morgue in ancient Cairo
bodies alive are puking on luck,
sifting through litter for glowing remains.
Forced by fear to lift white sheets,
stare at Hell on withered earth,
then put death back like cupboards
lined with cans of soup.
Relatives reach for golden teeth,
familiar scars, omnipotent symbols
of heartbeats once -- perhaps
they can prove a person was here
before the ravaging flame.
The goal is to garner a paltry sum,
toss coins at starving infancy
weeping on the tortured road --
so they can avoid the slots of their tombs
for only a moment of sand.
The goal is to find a respectable spot
to place the despicable ash.

At home, a half a globe away,
my neighbors gripe about the wind
blowing a pile of leaves
into a garden they recently groomed.
I race to meet the mailman's truck,
sort through stacks of trivia,
slice my finger on an ad, and
thank the world I have my hands.
I take my tongue, use its juice,
lick a spot of grenadine blood;
I watch as the river resumes.
At Zeinhom Morgue in ancient Cairo,
Osama El-Baz stands tall and short,
a leader assigned to the swirling crowd
so dense with unspeakable grief
it stitches a carpet of horror.
As mourners wail, he promises change
three months too late for absolutes --
corpses tossed like handkerchiefs
in canyons of a common grave.

Yolki Blues

I am the yolki flower, the shade of an egg.
I arrive in a burst, albumen and sack,
after first treasure of rain.
I promise you things.
Your soil is deaf to my voice,
a signal of centering force.
I am Israel's daffodil, a trumpet the poets
have bellowed through dust.
You are the frost with your habits and hands
holding a gun to temples of peace.

I shimmy with sunlight and birth.
Yet, darkness is all I'm coming to know.
Why are you plodding on trails
of a tomb in the guise and the guess
of slicing an earth meant to be shared.
Insisting on fences and walls kilometers long.
Old battles and shrapnel are eating my leaves.
In other wars, no stones, no wires
were enough to contain a rampage of terror.

A pendulum swings, cracking the clock.
This flavor of hate shrivels my flesh.
Piranhas are grabbing whatever moves.
Our quibbles are ancient sheep
gnawing the throat of an innocent lamb.
It didn't work for Berlin,
where the Dipper shoveled a grave
and Pleiades became a fixture
of glory removed in bullets exchanged --
where shadows grew sharp,
sticky with blood,
in palettes of crippling swastikas.

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