Two Poems


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Workers dig a well beside our isolated cottage.
They call explosione! before each dynamite blast.
Smoke and particles erupt as we
            flee to a safe and watchful distance.
My children scramble and laugh,
       our daily, our only, excitement.

We must live here underground
    to escape dangers still simmering at home.
My mind smolders in fear.
Doses of retsina cool some worries
        but still there are sparks that threaten
    to erupt into blazes of anxiety.

My brain sizzles in the heat,
    threatening immolation of itself,
        afraid that someone will need
to call explosione! over me.
With no watchful distance for my children.
        No safe place for them to be.


Scavenger Hunt

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The boy was devising a game for his father
who might soon wake from a nap, his third that day.

He called his son the boy since the surgeon’s
knife had sliced most names from his memory. The boy
called his father Mr. Gus when they were playing pirates.

In his best first-grade printing, he wrote instructions on
small squares of paper for Mr. Gus to find the treasure chest:
“Number 1: Go to the Bathroom.”  He smiled at his joke
and placed a second note on the toilet tank: “Go to the Bedroom.” 
a third: “Living Room.” Yes.  “Go to the Living Room.”

He knew his mother would help Mr. Gus read the clues.   
Number 4: “Kitchen.” 
Number 5: “Tree House Ladder.” 
Number 6: “Ship,” -- the derelict porch at the back of the house,
loaded with all that a seagoing scalawag could hope for. 

In time, Mr. Gus found the boy’s cherished booty: bits of sea glass,
polished stones, foreign coins, and his great-aunt Jane’s
discarded pearls and brooches. 

They’re yours, Mr. Gus.  All for you!

Mr. Gus loved the boy with all his heart and soul.  He knew
where his heart was and could even find his pulse points,
but wondered obsessively about his soul:  Was it there

behind his eyes, floating in the reservoir of tears? 
Perhaps in his throat that clutched when the boy piped
sea chanteys they’d sung together.  Maybe in his gut,
where he would shit it out as a last angry act.  Or his lungs
where it could leave in the death rattle he knew was approaching. 
He tried to picture it hovering somewhere in a never-never-land
until it was joined by the boy’s, decades hence. 

He heard the boy calling and found him standing on the toilet lid,
rummaging through the medicine cabinet above, pulling out
bottles and tubes and vials. 

This is what the doctor will do, the boy shouted. 
She’ll go through all the pills in her closet and way at the back,
she’ll find the ones that will fix your sickness, his voice
bounded from the walls.

Their blue eyes met in a gaze of longing and possibility.  The boy
touched his father’s grizzled face, then he jumped to the floor.

Wanna play swordfight, Mr. Gus? he asked.  I’ll find the cutlass,
and he ran from the room. 

—Donna Barkman, Ossining, NY