|Apr/May 2017 Poetry Special Feature|
Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer
Stems rise red from crumbled earth,
wide leaves with thick veins on the underside,
growing in ordinary rows, ready
for the slaughter. Each worker crouches
with lethally sharp machete, grabs a thick handful
in the middle, then strikes through
at the bottom, turns the hand,
and lops off the deadly leaves. An obscure
way to make a living at a penny
a pound. Rise early, stay late and you make
enough to pay the cheapest rent. Afternoon
sun glares down on bare necks. Sweat
forms circles under arms, on bent backs.
Fingers move in a gripping rhythm, always careful
of the sharp blade, the way it can cut
fingers as easily as plants, spoil a day
of picking, while blood flows over palm, wrist.
In the end, it's the way we take
the food we eat—reaped from far-flung fields
by faceless workers, trucked to local stores,
displayed in rows: lettuce, rhubarb, kohlrabi.
The Weight of Sunlight
What does a photon weigh? When you feel the sun
emerge after a rainy day, there is a pressure to it,
a need. I want brightness so much that sometimes
I'm inclined to steal it, to take it away from others
like the woman who one afternoon left her dun-
colored purse wide open on the bench, like a gift
though I know she didn't intend it that way. Crimes
have to do with longing. You may wonder
what I'm after, but it's not money. Just one
ordinary thing that her hands have touched—makeup kit,
used tissue, pencil stub. Something to surprise myself.
Something ordinary that holds the burden
of who this person is. Her tenderness, the hope she's hung
onto for so long, looking in the mirror as her lips shift
beneath the rolling color. She won't know, while
I tie my shoes beside her and she lifts the bag to her shoulder,
that something's missing, something that in the long run
has so little mass, is so obscure, but that I have ripped
from her, the spoils of life, a bright spot that I finger
like a burst of color on the sun, the force of splendor.
An Adoration of Cold
You can love it, just as you can love anything if
you slip close enough, feel its obscure nature
like the edge of a well-sharpened knife. All
afternoon wind skids across the drive, hits you
in the back as you go up for the mail. Pushes you
really. You could love that, couldn't you?
The ordinary blast in the face gives you
something to remember, as you finger
the envelopes, the ad flyers. Isn't it true
that you would like to fling your arms wide?
Let the junk mail sail over the landscape,
land in already spoiled ditches, as
your fingers turn a rare and brilliant blue.