A few weeks ago I took part in a state poetry contest. The topic was to create a poem from the words rust, muslin, peony, coal, and forest.
I forgot to submit my work. Oops. So you get to see it:
In the ragged shack on the edge of the blue-oak forest
she stands barefoot in the kitchen lit by one bare bulb.
Threadbare blue jeans cling to the stems of her legs
the sleeves of the man’s shirt rolled up to bare thin arms
as she washes dirty old dishes in the rust-stained sink.
It is 5 o’clock on a spring morning and he is gone
to the oil fields. The chill in the kitchen is bone deep
but her bare feet are tough with years of poverty
and the floor is smooth worn red linoleum, gleaming
underfoot from the damp mop standing by the fridge.
Anyway the coal box by the stove is empty of all
but black soot. The water on the stove is just lukewarm
but her hands sing with pleasure as she pours it out
to rinse clean dishes in the dish pan in the sink.
Even this small warmth is lovely on a chilly morning
The blackened glass over the sink reflects her face
unlovely and inscrutable, with one small scar adjacent
to that wide full upper lip where his fist came to rest
one night long ago before he gave his life to the oil field
and demanded nothing but her food and narrow hips.
She dries the dishes with a muslin cloth hand-stitched
by her mother in the lamplight of her cabin, a flour sack
converted to an endless use for dishes, a dowry
for a marriage tired before it even started. With a rag
she wipes the sink, untroubled by the rust today.
She wipes the old stove down and a song slips out
as she scours old grease spots, at first a humming
melody, but as she turns with the rag to the tabletop
and wipes its red-checked oil cloth, the words pour
forth: amazing grace and one white peony in a vase.
For him who flew the nest
22 hours ago