by Sara Backer
She grips a damp sponge while the needle
shoots under her skin, scorching the roots
that invade her chin—tenacious hair,
impervious to bleach, that only grows
stronger and thicker when plucked.
The current stings her eyes,
those crucial salty tide pools,
locked in water under bedrock skull.
Why can’t she accept these hairs
that thrive in the shadow of her jaw?
Lots of lightly-bearded older women
appear sage and content.
Like men with bald bosoms,
they have broached the gap between the sexes,
reconciled with men and their own manliness.
No—she’s not ready. She didn’t get
to make the children she wanted. She never grew
eyelashes and hair inside her womb.
Forgive her, then, the pretense
of unfinished youth in her middle age.
Her iron-flecked blood still pulses with the tide,
though vanity and death swim side by side.
He’s being tested and I’m being tested,
too, on how well I wait for his results.
I’m not good at magazines or the window
facing the hospital’s new brick wall
and a slice of granite rain. I can’t
chew gum or rummage in my purse.
I’m not even good at plastic chairs
scooped to cup human butts.
The others waiting stare at me.
An older woman speaks. “What’s wrong
with your husband? He looked real bad.
Is he dying?” She has chisel eyes, curly
shavings of white hair, a hardwood cane
hooked over her fragile balsa wrist,
and I could break each of her fingers
for trying to count her blessings off me.
I can’t talk yet. I can’t let words,
like pomegranate seeds, connect me here.
I still want to wake up, free
of the past week. He eats only a spoonful
of rice, only a few sips of water, each day
mumbling how breathing is such a burden,
such a nuisance . . .
The chisel says, “Thank God for Jesus,
that’s what I say.”
The lab nurse beckons–her puppet, I jump up.
I am not ready for Jesus; I want luck.
Sara Backer‘s poetry has recently appeared in in The Pedestal, Conclave (Featured Poet), Blueline, Ellipsis, and Hobo Camp Review. She was awarded a Norton Island Artist residency last summer. This year, she is entering first-book poetry contests which has led to a hobby of researching the nature of luck.
I say breaking her fingers lets her off a bit too lightly–you nailed her and the reasons anyone would say such a thing to a stranger. People are people, but strangers are stranger. You also nailed the fevered desperation we feel when a loved one is suddenly ill, that panicky claustrophobic disorientation is rarely addressed in poetry, but you did a nice job.
I love “strangers are stranger”! I think hospitals tend to bring out assumptions people make about each other that they usually keep quiet. Thanks for stopping by, Eric.
I can’t believe some people have the audacity to ask questions that the old woman in the poem asked about the husband, but some people are strange. Glad to see your poems in print again. Good luck with the poetry contests.
“though vanity and death swim side by side”. Nice finish. I won’t pretend outrage at some peoples behavior. I have met too many of them. And of course I have tramped around my own mind a bit. I will say “balsa wrist” is beautifully evocative. It invites the mind to break it.
Thanks, Helen–there is no publication without luck!
Dan, glad you like my end line. During one of my youthful travels in Europe, I saw an ornate mirror frame decorated with a sculpted face that was half woman and half skull. That stuck with me and surfaced when I was writing “Electrolysis.”
I love the slant of light you use — more of a downpour of insight — from such “real” experiences. What a brilliant pairing of poems. Kudos to you and to A-Minor for this display!
Yes, A-Minor did a great job of selection (vanity and death side by side) and presentation. I hadn’t put those two poems together until A-Minor did. Thank you!
Both of these poems make me shiver. I am aware, these days, that life is not a given … and that my desire/need for life runs deep underneath everything. When I reached the last line of “Electrolysis”, the whole poem refocused, and I shivered. And while I was reading “Puppet Luck” I couldn’t help wanting to break every dead wood bone in the chisel woman’s body for denying the narrator’s desire for life.
Thank you for sharing your insight, Mtorah. The struggle for survival is in both poems, whether it’s a futile quest for youth and the illusion of immortality or the need to preserve hope by rejecting the concept of an afterlife.
This pairing is mesmerizing. Sara Backer is able to make sorrow lovely like no other poet I’ve seen.
I loved both of these poems. Real talent here.
I am glad my poems spoke to you, Jenny and Judy–thanks for following my work.
What thought provoking poems! I especially loved the closing lines of the first poem, and the whole setting and imagery of the second one (granite rain, balsa wrists). It is crazy what some people will say, thinking that they’re being helpful, when–of course–they’re doing just the opposite.
I just really like the way you use language, the way you put words together, like “balsa wrist”, and the “granite rain”. The surprise of the images in relation to the themes of waiting, luck, vanity and death, it just really works for me. Good for you for your perseverance!
Becca and Stephanie–you must think alike to highlight the same images! Thanks for commenting.
Puppet Luck is one of the wisest poems I’ve ever read! And both are so eloquent and elegant.
Wow, Sara. These two sat in my box waiting to be read, chocolates waiting to be savored at the end of a long day. Today I needed just that honesty that your poetry brings, searing, yet human and gentle, tying us all together as the sensitive and insensitive parts of being clash. Thank you, thank you. And really woman, may your poetry reach places far and wide.
OH. I have to go read them again. ANy chance of a book of poetry forthcoming?
Thank you for your appreciation, Savvy and Ruth. I am currently shopping a full-length book of my poems, but it’s a real long shot to get published. Should lucky lightning strike, I’ll be sure to blog about it.
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