ON THE WAY HOME FROM THE CANCER SUPPORT GROUP
by Elizabeth Crowell
She tries to forget the discussion of human suffering,
the side effect to tongue or to the heart, which can burn too.
She listens to NPR to remember her stance (liberal) and the world (screwed).
A sudden orchard comes and goes, its steely branches, barb-wired in winter sun. Months back,
the doctors gaped in their white coats
as if they’ve heard the wrong joke. The diagnosis is preposterous.
She tries to think of better times, but what are those?
The children’s tiny coats and boots, a crazy night in Troy, NY?
What do you go back to when you are afraid of dying?
She thinks of all her misplaced conviction,
like how she bothers to correct people who use who instead of whom.
And now, for God’s sake, a flock of wild turkeys make her lurch.
A dozen or so of them, their red and brown paisley, stocky bodies
awkward as suitcases, their branch-thin legs strut
their reaching, stiff-necked gait across the road.
Two dozen eyes glare at her with a so what?
No pity there, just their tweaking bodies,
moving like old comedians in silent movies.
PEONIES AND WINGS
I did not know these were peonies,
these heavy-headed, tight, thick blossoms
layers dozens of pink petals,
blooming right now on the side of the house.
I have seen them painted in a still-life
by Manet, a postcard I thumbtacked to a wall,
two white peonies, lying on a wooden table,
picked, doomed, extraordinarily open.
More than once, I have asked myself,
how can you not recognize the world?
When I was a child, an aunt and I
walked in those same New Hampshire woods.
She bent at nearly every plant and said aloud,
skunk cabbage, cinnamon fern, trillium,
virgin bowercreeper, boneset, bunchberry. She called them
rough-fruited or common, tall, wild, almost extinct.
It was like a dream language, those words
like the shadows of clouds on a moonlit lake.
I dreaded the flash of a fish at the end of a line,
silver-belly glint, fanned fins, a parent’s question
What kind of fish is it? Did I make a deal,
a decision not to know, or did I think
in time I would come to simply know
the way we do with love and loss?
I am leaving sooner than I thought,
Though whoever thinks of leaving
once they have arrived, wet and bodied?
Today I see a dusty-feather bird, a bit of blue color.
It flies, tight-winged, from my black fence to the sky,
then stays on the pitch of the barn.
Its distinct call must be recognizable,
but I don’t recognize it, even in the shadows,
where our senses deepen like small tribes,
waiting to ambush the unknown.
Elizabeth Crowell grew up in northern New Jersey and has a B.A. from Smith College in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry from Columbia University. She taught college and high school English for many years. Her work has been published in such journals as Bellevue Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Paterson Literary Review, and others. One of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize and originally published in the Tipton Review. She lives outside of Boston with her wife and teenage children.