JAN BALL - POEMS
revenge of the cockatoos
At first, Keith chuckles and rubs his hands
together, his shoulders bouncing up and
down like Lleyton Hewitt preparing to serve
at the Australian Open, when he sees
the sulfur crested cockatoos dive-bombing
pedestrians who pass in front of the red
bottle brush shrubs he has planted with
as much devotion as an Episcopalian Sunday
School teacher explains Moses and the
Burning Bush, his bushes a striking border
for the gray convict cottage he has restored:
cedar planks from a demolition yard, shutters
he has adzed and stained himself, but not
satisfied with harassing passers-by, the birds
attack his weathered cedar, sharpening
their beaks as companionably as bridesmaids
getting manicures before a wedding.
At night, as he tries to sleep in the soft Sydney
air, he hears them pecking, pecking, pecking
at the wooden exterior so, in lieu of a scarecrow,
he ties a yellow kite to a shutter knob to try
to end their repetitive grooming, but he is not
successful. Finally, he crosses and crisscrosses
fishing wire across the east side of the house
like an intricate cat’s cradle and the noise stops.
He goes to work the next day as flash as a rat
with a gold tooth, happy as Larry that he has
fixed the problem. When he returns at dusk
whistling Abba’s Dancing Queen, however,
he sees white feathers floating above splintered
ruins as mystically as the background music
in the Australian movie, Picnic at Hanging
Ron helps her into the boat
after the banquet on the island
off Hong Kong mainland
the way anyone would,
holding her elbow to help her judge
the little distance from the dock
to the boat edge, her yellow espadrilles
finally shuffling to secure footing
on the boat bottom, so difficult
for her now, until she sits staring
as if lost in her own musings.
She never did say much
when we played cards with them
in Chicago years ago, except
to articulate the pinnochle words:
I open, or pass.
Her fingers, bedazzled with showy rings,
clinked against the glass when she’d get up
to mix another gin and tonic for us or fill
the cashew bowl.
Now she doesn’t comment
on the charming stationary sanpans
we pass, the Chinese women
cooking on charcoal brassiers,
their chicken or pork fragrant
with four flavor spice
in the nine p.m. hot breezes
continuing from the sunny day.
Once ashore,we say “Good-night,
Cynthia,” and hug, the way we used to,
but it’s clear she doesn’t know
who we are any more.
The ancient distant hills are bruised
this morning in the South of France.
Within the frame of a Millet painting,
I sit under a tree, bucolic as one of
my piebald bovine friends who chews cud.
I listlessly gaze at the aproned women
who glean the fields for leftovers
after the nobility have taken what they want,
then the noises of real life intrude:
-grind of the morning coffee maker
-flip-flop rhythmn of clothes in the European
-and the forever coo-cooing
of mourning doves in the pine trees.
I step out of the frame into a foggy day.
All cold winter
the snow piles up
between us like
in Robert Frost’s
due to icey roads
along Allen Creek,
so you say.
I clatter the pots
on the stove
as I reheat
and feel more
on the eaves
of our marriage.
I wake with your
fingers just grazing
my left breast,
your warm breath
on my shoulder.
Visiting My Sister
I can’t face visiting my twin sister alone,
in Cumming, Georgia, after this two-day
conference in Buckhead, trendy suburb
of Atlanta. My sister let her ortho take out
her whole hip like a roast out of the freezer.
The ortho couldn’t clear up her infection
from her hip replacement after a year
of trying so she has to wear a four inch high
“elevator shoe” (we called them as children
in Chicago) when everyone we knew had hips
and noone scooted around in wheelchairs
like she does now.
Medical friends suggested she go to an ortho
at a university hospital and even though she only
sheepishly replied, “But my ortho likes me,”
instead of changing enthusiasticly when we told her
what they advised, I understand that she probably
didn’t want to leave the convenience of her hospital
for Northwestern or Rush nearer us.
Her hospital was poorly rated on YELP and
the doctor got snarly with “interfering relatives”
who asked about her options. She wouldn’t
ask the doctor the brand of the hip replacement
so we could figure out if her doctor used a cheaper,
defective one so she could sue, he must have realized.
We do appreciate that she was malnourished
when she first saw the doctor which must have
given him a certain perspective and is partly why
her children finally suggested a senior facility
in Cumming where her oldest boy, Eric, lives.
Nevertheless, tonight, my husband and I will eat well
at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse with my sister plus Eric
and his wife, Sharon. They’ve made the reservation.
I’ll bet my sister will order fish or soft lobster
since she won’t replace her upper partial and fish
is softer than the steak which Ruth’s Chris is known for
plus it’s nutritious which she needs because she continues
to suck gummy bears and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
supplementing her senior living diet.
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