lessons :: jacqueline woodson

My mother says:

When Mama tried to teach me

to make collards and potato salad
I didn’t want to learn.

She opens the box of pancake mix, adds milk
and eggs, stirs. I watch
grateful for the food we have now—syrup waiting
in the cabinet, bananas to slice on top.
It’s Saturday morning.
Five days a week, she leaves us
to work at an office back in Brownsville.
Saturday we have her to ourselves, all day long.

Me and Kay didn’t want to be inside cooking.

She stirs the lumps from the batter, pours it
into the buttered, hissing pan.

Wanted to be with our friends
running wild through Greenville.
There was a man with a peach tree down the road.
One day Robert climbed over that fence, filled a bucket
with peaches. Wouldn’t share them with any of us but
told us where the peach three was. And that’s where we
wanted to be
sneaking peaches from that man’s tree, throwing
the rotten ones
at your uncles!

Mama wanted us to learn to cook.

Ask the boys, we said. And Mama knew that wasn’t fair
girls inside and the boys going off to steal peaches!
So she let all of us
stay outside until suppertime.

And by then, she says, putting our breakfast on the table,

it was too late.

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midflight :: james k. zimmerman

that old man
because he can’t
get his bag down
from the overhead bin

because he can’t
unzip it with bulging
knuckles and neuropathic
fingers

because he can’t
find the whatever
he was looking for
in it with eyes
that don’t see as well
as they should
and thoughts that don’t
come so easy anymore

who has too many
chins and bags
under his eyes
and knees and elbows
that don’t cooperate
like good children
or well-trained cockapoos

who is chewing chips
with an open mouth
and salted tongue

who is blocking
the aisle so I can’t
get by to get
my bag down
from the overhead bin

that old man
may be several years
younger than I am
and not even realize it
until he gets off the plane

and we go home

why is it :: john foy

Why is it I keep these things,
this calendar, a pocket kind,
the pages filled with random jottings
that might have mattered at the time,
scribbled in and barely legible
but clear enough to understand
on the fly back then, now valuable
only to show again the plans
that used to have significance,
or the name of a girl in Carson City
who never called me back, or a list
from five years ago today,
a week before my mother died,
of some vegetables I had to buy.

gumball machines :: susanna lang

They have not changed since I was a child, simple machines
near the doors of groceries and check-cashing stores,
wherever children wait without attempting to understand
their parents’ transactions, only coveting a few quarters
to fit into the slot, release the lever, rattle the gumball
into the chute. Was it a nickel when I was the child?
Sometimes the machine offered a bouncy ball that never went
where it should but made me chase from corner to corner, or the eternal
surprise of a plastic bubble that I pried open in the privacy
of the back seat, to find who-knows-what, a dog, a doll,
a spindly-legged monster. Today the gumball machines wait
in line with us at the check-cashing store where we will witness
our friend’s will, this sunny afternoon before his surgery—
just in case, he assures us, his prognosis good but he is a careful man.
He walks us back to our car, none of us asking, Do you remember…?
or speculating about what might be coming down the chute.

fund drive :: terri kirby erickson

She could be a Norman Rockwell painting,
the small girl on my front porch with her eager
face, her wind-burned cheeks red as cherries.
Her father waits by the curb, ready to rescue
his child should danger threaten, his shadow
reaching halfway across the yard. I take the
booklet from the girl’s outstretched hand,
peruse the color photos of candy bars and
caramel-coated popcorn, pretend to read it.
I have no use for what she’s selling, but I
can count the freckles on her nose, the scars
like fat worms on knobby knees that ought
to be covered on a cold day like this, when
the wind is blowing and the trees are losing
their grip on the last of their leaves. I’ll take
two of these and one of those
, I say, pointing,
thinking I won’t eat them, but I probably will.
It’s worth the coming calories to see her joy,
how hard she works to spell my name right,
taking down my information. Then she turns
and gives a thumbs-up sign to her father, who
grins like an outfielder to whom the ball has
finally come—his heart like a glove, opening.

the small vases from hebron :: naomi shihab nye

Tip their mouths open to the sky.
Turquoise, amber,
the deep green with fluted handle,
pitcher the size of two thumbs,
tiny lip and graceful waist.

Here we place the smallest flower
which could have lived invisibly
in loose soil beside the road,
sprig of succulent rosemary,
bowing mint.

They grow deeper in the center of the table.

Here we entrust the small life,
thread, fragment, breath.
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children
open their gray copybooks
to shape the letter that looks like
a chimney rising out of a house.

And what do the headlines say?

Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,
“Ya’Allah!” when astonished,
or “ya’ani” for “I mean”—
a crushed glass under the feet
still shines.
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling
and the long sorrow of the color red.

december 1 :: czeslaw milosz

The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It’s warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leaved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.