Monday, August 3, 2020

From the Pandemic Journal (Bancroft)


A cardinal flares in the crab apple tree
an orphaned duck paces the block
hawks circle
pandas mate
lions lie down in the street


The dead friend appears
not knowing he’s dead
offers his beloved a honey bee
his full hair
his flushed skin
break my heart again


Dad wanders Walmart
gloved and masked
picks out a Father’s Day card
on my mother’s behalf
while I wait
if this is how
the world will end

Kelly Bancroft writes poems, plays and essays in Youngstown, Ohio, where she teaches for the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center and Hiram College. Her first book, Two Dreams of the Afterlife, will be published this year by BlazeVox.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Nature's Children (O'Keeffe)

So Mother Nature, in her willy-nilly way, chooses to do some more winnowing of the human population. Is it any wonder that sometimes we forget we are her children? Or, maybe it’s precisely because we have forgotten that she occasionally comes up with harsh reminders, like the one we now endure.

But her usual manner is to tell us more gently. And when that happens, when she takes the puffed-up designs to impose our will on her and turns them back in our faces, we are left feeling a bit foolish.

My mother seldom spoke of the illness that devastated her neighborhood. I don’t know if she lacked detailed recollection of that episode from her childhood, or if it had simply lost its importance to her. Probably some of both, but if I had to choose, I’d pick the latter. Raising us nine kids in a drafty Pennsylvania farmhouse, as well as taking in our three orphaned cousins, she was a person who pretty much lived in the present—like Mother Nature herself. My most immediate memory of her is of those small, soft hands sprinkling flour—forget the measuring cup—out onto a hardwood table. And of the way she smelled—like bread dough, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a little rosemary or sliced carrots or beets, maybe a hint of onion—like the kitchen.

My father’s hands were hard. They were rough and callused and had lots of cracks. Tiny little creases were penciled with grease and dirt from whatever piece of equipment he’d last applied a hammer or screwdriver or box wrench to around the place. At the dinner table, he smelled like soap, although those tiny creases didn’t always completely give up their dirt. Sometimes it was just vestiges of regular earth, what he called “clean dirt.”

My father talked about the Spanish Flu—a lot.

“In the fourth grade,” he’d say, “the kid in front of me was absent, and the next day Sister informed us he wasn’t coming back—ever. A few days later, it was the kid in the next row over and one seat up.”

It went on like that all through the school term, a kid here, a kid there, the killer influenza sweeping up children without deference to the orderliness of the rows of desks Sister had arranged them in.

One Friday in spring, while we were all in school, Jack and Eleanor rounded the curve where the dirt road that led from town up to our farm came out of the woods. They spotted our neighbor’s heifer, Patches, helping herself to new-growth clover down in our hay field. My father brought the jeep, the back loaded clear to its ragtop roof with a week’s worth of groceries, to a halt.

“Oh, Jack—let her be,” my mother said. “Let’s get the groceries into the house.”

“El, it will only take a minute,” he said, jaw set.

He turned off the road and pointed the vehicle down a steep slope in the direction of the hay field. Jeeps, at least the ones built in the late '40s, which were simply modified versions of their military cousins, were not known for offering a smooth ride on the road, much less when traveling down a rock-strewn hill. My mother did her best to hold on against a bouncing, jarring ride—and to hold down the groceries. Mud flying, gears whining, engine growling, my father chased Patches on a zig-zag course that ended with the wayward heifer jumping a ditch at the end of the property.

Mission accomplished—the churning wheels having done far more damage to the field than a grazing heifer could ever do—he headed the mud-spattered vehicle back up the hill to the farmyard. My mother climbed out, furious.

“Look at this mess,” she fumed. “Everything turned every-which way—eggs, two dozen of them, broken and splattered…” When she was angry, she spoke with a furrowed brow and crimson cheeks, lower jaw jutting.

“Well,” my father shrugged, “it’ll be a long while before the neighbor’s heifer dares to come over here again.”

When we came home from school, low clouds of dark quiet were hanging in the air throughout the house. It was only after my father went outside to work on something that we heard from my mother what had roiled up that something-must-have-happened atmosphere.

Around 5 o’clock, when my sister and I went down to the pasture to bring up the cows for milking, off in the distance, a shifting shape appeared through evening mist rising out of the ground. Approaching the end of the pasture, we peered over the fence into the hay field.

Eyes round, flared nostrils gently puffing into the dew, Patches was back in the clover.

So it is with Nature’s children.

Patrick Lawrence O’Keeffe, raised on a Pennsylvania farm, studied for the priesthood, and later worked in industry. He and Karen raised five children, and reside in Port Clinton, Ohio. A published historian and novelist, he is writing his second novel following Cold Air Return, published by Bottom Dog Press.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Hibiscus (Giorgio)

I go to the grocery store to buy essentials
and meet up with a hibiscus instead.
She stands in produce in a forest of trees
braided trunks
bright flowers
buds swelled to burst.
And one with the brightest pink flower
beckons to me near the bananas.
I forget about ground beef, toilet paper,
Clorox wipes, even kitty litter for the cat.
I step up to the hibiscus, not caring about
six feet social distancing
hold a limb and say, “You’re coming home.”
She is essential.

As the numbers on the news climb
so do the number of buds.
The temperature roves as wildly as the virus
and I carry the tree in at night to escape frost.
I can protect her. I know I can protect her
as much as I wish I could protect my daughter
my husband
my adult kids, all essential workers.
My granddaughter, who I can no longer see.
The hibiscus and I stay home.
Neither of us wear masks.
I breathe her in.

As the weather warms, her buds bloom
one, two, three, four, five.
Four Supreme Court judges decide to throw
Wisconsin’s door wide open, even as the
governor stands spread-eagled and wide-armed
in the jamb.
The hibiscus and I stay home
(as the governor suggested)
and I praise her for her beauty and intelligence.
While some run to bars, I drink in her blooms
and we sit together under the sun.
Under the stars.

During the day now, I sit on the deck,
press her leaves together in my palms,
and we pray for what is essential as
my family heads out to work among those
who refuse to wear masks
stand too close
laugh too loud
declare their civic right
to hurt others.
I look at the bright pink flowers, the buds swollen
with the promise of more color to come.
And she reminds me that I am safe
that the world is a beautiful place
that I am doing my absolute best to protect
those I love and those I don’t know
And that compassion and kindness
are essential.

Kathie Giorgio is the author of five novels, two story collections, a collection of essays, and two poetry chapbooks. A full-length poetry collection, No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See, will be released on 9/4/20. She is the director/founder of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, a creative writing studio.