May 11, 2018

Four Poems by Jenny Kalahar: "Tightly Knotted," "Slim," "My Mother Smiles," and "Framed and Severed"

Jenny Kalahar lives in Central Indiana with her husband, Patrick, and their pets in an old schoolhouse full of used books. She is the author of seven books and has been published in several anthologies, in literary journals, and in her humor column in Tails Magazine. Jenny is on the executive board of the Poetry Society of Indiana, she is the founder and leader of Last Stanza Poetry Association, and has begun work as the president of the Youth Poetry Society of Indiana.

Tightly Knotted

I feel you stand behind me, Mother
as I push open the door
knowing you are seeing the wild flowers, too.
They are blossoming, entwined
growing over themselves
in the place that was once your well-tended garden
here back at home

Pinks and purples flutter in the breeze
yellow tender petals face the sun
that shines upon my upturned face, as well.
And the rays form a shadow
that looks a bit like you
and it is all that I can see of you today

Stepping closer to the flowers
where they wrestle under dew
a few vines have joined the straighter stems along the ground.
Bending to pick a solitary nasturtium—the orange you loved best
I see the vines are tightly knotted all around

The apple tree’s gone wilder
and its shade’s a darker gray
the birdhouse is abandoned
but the robins may come back again.
I feel you stand above me
as I sit at your garden’s edge
and I feel the vines creep forward like a friend.
They tightly knot like an arm around my waist
holding me here for just a little while.
I let them travel higher, passing over my heart
drinking from tears as they roll down my face


I keep seeing him
the man I’ve named Todd, but call Slim.
He’s draped across a restaurant chair
apparently summoned from another era
where men in suits decide the future
in mysterious, page-soaked bookshops
or in dank back alleys
the outskirts of Paris in the downhill distance
amberglow streetlights in straight lines
plotted out like eerie electrified maps
leading to the bottom of a champagne glass

And I keep seeing Slim
wherever I sit for lunch or dinner alone
draped across a chair
deciding for an invisible table-mate
what she will have to eat and drink
based solely upon what he thinks she really wouldn’t enjoy at all

And in a shabby bar I watch him again
draped from stool to bar top
his cigarette, unlit
barely holding on at the mouth end.
I see the single ladies hoping he won’t approach
but he has no energy except in the hand that lifts his bourbon
after he’s removed from his lips the whitest thing in the place

I take to my bed at last
turn on my blue Bakelite radio
that speaks too softly in a foreign language
and I remember for a moment that I’m alone
guarded from the man I keep seeing
by solid, thick bedroom and apartment walls
that are not crumbling at all.
Flicking off my table lamp
I imagine amber lights in straight lines.
Imagine floating in champagne or bourbon
myself a hollowed-out ice cube
frozen, draped across this nothing
while listening intently
as no one speaks to me at all

My Mother Smiles

My mother warmly smiles up at me from this family album
in far more photos than my father does.
Mom was not the photographer.
Machines were not natural extensions of her hands
and the use of those she had mastered
were the first lessons she unlearned in old age

My mother loved to read novels written before the nineteen sixties.
Hardcovers with soft, fading cloth.
They comforted with their soft, fading words
as her veined hands turned the pages under her reading lamp
in the very late hours
after she’d set her hair in pincurls
after she’d gotten us kids
and my early-rising father to bed
after she’d ironed mounds of shirts and slacks
handkerchiefs and pillowcases while listening to talk radio
after feeding the remains of the day’s stale pot of coffee
into her crimson geraniums in the darkness

My mother liked to peel potatoes.
She had firm potato-mashing arm muscles
gravy-stirring ambidextrousness
salt-and-pepper-sprinkling dexterity
seasoning well the evening roast or meatloaf.
Her piecrust-rolling techniques were perfection
and everything magically timed
under her spoon-shaped wands
to be done for the table at once.
There was a nostalgic style to her baking
those rich, brown cinnamon buns and sweet nisu bread
prune tarts, mince pies,
and jammy thumbprint cookies at Christmas

Looking down, I sometimes think I see my mother's hands
the way they looked in my childhood:
starting to be veiny, starting to age
bits of old nail polish left over from a month ago
and I wonder—even though I didn’t inherit her beautiful cheekbones—
will I soon see something of her face in my mirror?
Will I ever find her kind of love and generosity in my own heart?

The fragile layers of a person can strip away
Cruel nature at her cruelest
steals memories
paring them away and peeling them back by decades.
Those of us who still hold our full allotment of recollections
are surprised then that the soul,
bared and rinsed by life’s warm waters,
remains intact within the person we love.
They still have hands that will reach for yours
to hold while sitting in the shade under the apple trees.
They still smile into your eyes
as if they know you.
And maybe
just maybe
their ageless soul sure does.

Framed and Severed

In a twirl of paint from Salvador Dali’s mustache
I am born in oils
my head disconnectedly floating near an ankle
an ear in flight – wingless, searching for a quiet face to land

A bluegreen haze saturates this desert sky to the cluttered horizon
where I see my left arm draped
as bloodless as a mannequin’s
upon a golden, melted, one-handed clock
that no longer ticks the world away

Hot, red steam rises from a cracked boulder
where my right arm reaches up like a pale, bare tree.
That hand holds loaded paintbrushes loosely
offering them to some unseen artist
as if I could never comprehend that they might be
my tools as well
a means to draw myself back together
into a brighter, yellow ochre landscape, a viridian woodland
or a burnt-umber autumn afternoon

Those brushes could have been a way
to connect arm to shoulder
head to torso for breathing clear, unclouded inhalations.
I could have painted my legs on sturdy hips to walk
through cool, cobalt waters.
But, no
that unseen artist, forever out of my picture
plays God and keeps me torn apart
and I, poor fool
never using what I was given
stay framed and severed—
a woman incomplete
for yet one more bluegreen day

~Jenny Kalahar

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