Hit from Behind
I do not know the torque required
to break a human bone
or the geometry of angles a body
absorbs before it bends
if force that snaps a back or severs
a spine is an equation or probability.
When I whined about my clutter,
laundry overflowing its baskets
the spillage of my wasteful self
spoiling in crispers and cabinets,
I was not thinking of collision, its
come from nowhere suddenness,
how metal on metal end stops a day.
Before the impact, I tackled my past
one more time, dumped rusted cans
of Drano, bottles gummed yellow
with faded labels past best use dates,
uncloseted clothes so long on hangers
new pleats dusted their shoulders,
pulled loose the folds of things
sheltered on shelves for Goodwill,
and I knew the force required to break
a spirit, the weight of emptiness,
the poverty of never enough galloping
like anapests over unsettled thoughts.
Looking now at piles curbed for pickup,
I ask myself how I once thought substance
kettled in things instead of a bruised
breath, surprised at walking away from
brokenness scattered along a highway.
The world breaks everyone, and afterward
some are strong at the broken places. — Hemingway
Before a scar
is a sudden split of skin
a too-ripe melon
popped open, jagged
its body unable to contain it,
seeds and rind splattering
walls and floor,
its meat juicing and clotting
salt that burns flesh
until the scab sloughs
showing the weave of a basket
in the brokenness
the close of the raw,
the holder of grief —
latticework that promises
nothing will ever
hurt so bad
in that place again.
Hands of Weeds
Every year, she says, you say you won’t
so I don’t know why you always do.
She’s traveled sixty miles and three towns
with me for the right mix of vermiculite
to peat, watched me build a new bed
for this summer’s sure thing: juicy reds
before the fourth of July. She’s not wrong.
Last August when hornworms made yarn
of stems and fungus rotted the fruit, I
pulled up stakes and quit. For good. Again.
This spring, new soil caked in my nails,
a dozen plants set, I wonder if this is all
I can do with my hands, if tilling, seeding,
and weeding is the work I must master
before I’m trusted with more important
things, a crop big enough to feed others.
Even after thirty years of practice, I don’t
call myself a gardener. I’ve failed
too many times, my lack of will to weed
and water as prescient as pests and weather.
These hands want so much but tire of tedium,
of pinching sucklings, staking and tying,
the mud messy, and like the work of the world
unending. How do I resist — call out
the unfairness of brown-skinned babies
lying alone in rented tents, speak love
into this Vesuvian void of hate oppressing us
if I can’t be faithful to weeds for a season?
Emerson said character is cumulative,
and I cannot stop trying, cannot stop caring.
Janet Reed is guest editor of I-70 Review, author of Blue Exhaust (FLP, 2019), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sow’s Ear Review, The Nassau Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and others. She began writing knock-off Nancy Drew stories on wide-lined notebook paper at age 11 and now teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.