Author's Note: I love how poetry allows me to cut to the chase, how every syllable counts, how there are no extraneous words. The following poems were published by A Quiet Courage ("The Truth About Small Towns"), Midwest Review ("Silver-Bearded Man in the Waiting Room at the Dental Clinic"), and Los Angeles Review ("Unplanned Punctuation").
The Truth About Small Towns
At sundown in July, sisters pedal bikes to the corner store for Jolly Ranchers and Sweet Tarts. Boys deal hands of Rummy 500, shoot bottle rockets in vacant lots. Women in housedresses don’t need to keep lists – there is plenty of time between whipping meringue and hanging jeans on the line to get to it all. Ten-year-old Marley orphaned last winter asks you (behind one sweaty cupped palm) to make Uncle Kevin stop lifting the sheet after she has fallen asleep – and will you when he coaches your son’s Little League, chairs the Common Council, employs half the town?
Silver-Bearded Man in the Waiting Room at the Dental Clinic
I’ve never seen him before but I’d like to look at him across a breakfast table while sunshine orangens a pitcher of juice, a light wind adds a soundtrack of patio wind chimes, the young day at our feet like a sheltie who just noticed an open gate. None of this is going to happen, of course. I will not discover what games the hayloft or fire hydrant witnessed in his boyhood summers, nor in what township he wed a former sweetheart (her name Lisa? Gretchen?) and if he hiked the Apostle Islands on his honeymoon. I will not learn his eldest daughter’s nickname for him nor the story of how he earned it, where he found his dog if he has one, what route he biked after taking the Merrimac Ferry toward Baraboo. I will not find out in what country he last drank a glass of wine. So, let me savor the next twenty-seven seconds seated side-by-side in upholstered armchairs as Scarborough Fair through ceiling speakers drifts down, and we wait – together, I pretend – to get called back for root canals.
Those five words could have implied contradiction with a sigh seeping up from the diaphragm to separate the second from the third, a signal that if the heart were only capable, it would declare its muscle. Or an ellipsis – even an ellipsis after that third word would have let me taste your hesitation. Possibly a drop in tone when you got to the fifth and final word showing a lack of conviction in what your tongue was doing. But these were the words you thought I depended on so you said them, and I couldn’t tell by your mouth, your brows or hands whether you really owned them. The absence of dashes, even the softening by a comma where the first period was placed would have propped the window sash – but there was no wishbone or duet, no shovel and matching pail, just a lone shoehorn whipped out fast – too fast – from a pocket like a relay race baton I was to take without pause, no looking back, no lingering with the flannel, just take it and run, soles of my feet sending up dust. It’s your body. You said. You decide.
©2020 Shoshauna Shy
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