American Chestnut Blight
by Carry McHugh
Warm in the flash-dyed furs of an older client, I am resigned
to counting the removal of things already and unknowingly
diseased. With regards to the smoke and its furied plume,
it seems the handle of the hand-ax steered too near the flames,
the barn, the mare, overtaken and restrained. If ending there,
we will say nothing of winds, and even less of hay, and fences.
You are invited to this new burg of vacancy. Consider yourself,
for the meantime, quite courted. I will leave the front wicket
open at an angle pioneered for your return. And of return,
the slow mules have been gifted to the soapworks. Winter
is a shinbone on the ridge, seen through the blight in splits
of ripple-gray and solid, ruined white. There is nothing
to provoke the creek in its camel bed and I have worried
my seasonal sumac to a steady weep. March will franchise
trees disordered with worms worked in the roots. We are calling
it ruin. I will try four strings tuned in fifths to note the falling.
Comfort, Cape Henlopen
by JoAnn Balingit
As the moon set, I saw a big toad smashed in the road, entrails popped from its side.
Then a smaller toad, then an even smaller toad, all flat in a line, on a road-longitude
which made me fear that someone I knew--or a stranger I’d said Hello to, who’d said back
warmly Hello--had meant to kill them. That is, let a little evil scoot out. I came on two men
in silhouette at sunrise standing on top of a picnic table in morning conversation, gesturing
with coffee cups, one flicking a fly from his trunks, the other passing binoculars, both
gazing in their pauses out to sea. Friendly--they said Good morning--and I understood
they were studying the waves, as they understood I was studying the waves from the top
of my picnic table, for when to get our boards. They asked me if I knew what time’s low tide.
Then I saw a horsefly fat as a toad, wings like guitar picks, the Horsefly-Huge-as-Knowledge
dead in the road, and I said to me, I am glad about that. Like last night I clapped for my
Buddhist friend when she smashed a nasty, pesky fly. With her fine, fast hand. Her deft
heavy hand. Like those fishermen down there casting flies that tap the sun-glassed water.
Their lines float out flimsy as spider silk, they sail, what a wayward way back. I’m told it’s
the heaviness of those lines--their dumb weight forges flight. And the men’s hard wrists
are supple, their delicate movements precise. They sweet-wrangle ropes into whispers.
Same way a stranger’s smile, conjured up or cast off, buoys me toward comfort. Goodness
or illusion of goodness? It’s not for study. I say Hello. Because I cannot know, if I want
to know. And I am moving toward glad about that. Last time a spider got in my car, I chose
quick-with-a-shoe. There are reasons one man brings his rockfish in, the other man lets his go.
Bad Boy in Post Office
by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow
The bad boy is a contortionist, sits face cheek
to wood, bottom in the air. It must be nice-feeling
because he stays that way a long while.
Post office bench for the elderly or infirm
or seasonal people with giant holiday boxes.
He yells, to his mother standing first in line, see him!
Porter his name is, with instructions
to get down immediately. But like an astronaut
in slo-mo and black space, he's all mystic antennae,
as if in wonder about his own body, what it
answers to, how it acknowledges.
From that angle anyway, the peculiarity of the
post office's whole world.
I suffer in line with my own stack of critical mail.
Ahead of me a patient tidily-dressed woman shakes
her head. She chuckles like bubbles. Porter says,
"That lady's hat is big," meaning me, and my 8-inch-brim
gambler-style straw. His mother, preoccupied
with the bottom of her handbag, searches for
that darned Up escalator. Doesn't everyone have
a full-size moving escalator in their pocketbook?
Porter slides alongside the postal clerk counter,
jiggles the doorknob of a locked door. Grunts
to pull it open, both hands clawed around the knob. Leans
his foot up at the base for more leverage, kid version
of conflict of interest. At sea at the foot of a silver
escalator in Nordstrom's is Mom. And then he grabs
hold of, throws down a cardboard stand-up
advertisement for post office paraphernalia,
maybe five feet high. Stamps
on top of it in sparkly blue fish sandals.
I hate him. The tidy woman glances my way.
"Well, we were like that once, too" she says. I say
"I don't think so" and she says "Yes we were all that child" and I say
"No ma'am, we were not" and she says "Well yes, but that was
us, back in the day." Yes, back in the discontinued day, when
a kid preferred a full set of teeth for life. If you only thought
a thing, from out the very corner of her eye
your mother could yank you by the hair
without laying on a finger. No talking back
or about it and no mumbling
or trouble would brew worse
than the thing you simply thought about.
The woman says confidentially, her grandmother
always told her she could hear so well a mouse
pissing on cotton boomed like a foghorn.
And we laugh together, loudly, for our done
childhoods, for their candid memory-lit roads, roads
gone under water or overgrown with crabgrass
or paved slick and shiny in asphalt or concrete
but we laugh anyway and for all the bladder-filled
mice of the world
and for the flood that wrecks disdain.