Buzzard by D.E. Kern


Foulness—beyond central air or fan—floats above her balsa-wood frame.
Sweats suggest she’d sprint the block if she could, wind
. . . .unwinding tinsel mane.
My name escapes her serrated tongue; glasses of another Nana top her head,
as she runs down a list of second-cousins bound to never dawn this narrow door

where I hulk, my eyes ammonia stung, tears blurring the edges of her too-angular face.
Her hand, sumac splotched, bids me to join her on the bed, recite the customary lines,
. . . .describe how I’m taking on water.
“You put me in the red pony’s stall,” she says, recalls mucking dung on the farm.

How can the bed-ridden mourn over space?
Or is it work she craves to accompany her labored breath?

Projects ambitious as the WPA’s were her air those summers, spent hemming
in her flowers, with tractor tires turned to beds. Mumbling “don’t tread on me,”
she painted them, barber-pole-style, filled them with geraniums,
peonies so vibrant you would’ve swore the petals were pottery, confections.

Her trowel left a vapor trail … She turned macadam into topsoil, brought life
from a Karst hard as immigrant strife, grew squash the size of watermelon
down the hill from the little, red, two-seater outhouse

next door to my grandfather’s shop. He retreated there to make their tidy house in miniature,
cedar and pine versions for chickadees and wrens. She raised her thumb, and he erected
baths for these scaled-down Caesars, Cardinals and Canvasbacks with laurel sprigs
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .hanging
jauntily, from the corners of their blue-grass-stained mouths.

Then, with her as pleased as she was bound to be, he bivouacked by tractor while she ground
. . . .in lessons on the well-weeded life, the importance of being earnest.
I picked berries ’till my hands were stained, my knees red,
trimmed down the grass where it worked its way up the side of the barn.

He returned at the gray end of dusk, having cut in two directions. I had bathed in stainless
. . . .steel, braved basement chill as I jumped in my clothes.
Our respite was measured in nine innings, 27 instances where failure laid somewhere else.
She sat in the corner, worked the crossword, reminded us of how soon morning came.

Broadcasts faded to echoes the last of his winter nights; he’d run short on grass and wood.
They tell me she held his hand and dabbed his brow, but I imagine she spied
. . . .dried mustard on his chin.
But the time my plane touched down there was no use in accusing her of killing spirits—
neither for what she did to him nor what she said to me.

by D.E. Kern

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s complex imagery requires several readings to fully appreciate the layered emotional impact of the narrator’s story. Death and dying are often difficult subjects to tackle, and this poem impressively interweaves the many responses we can have towards this inevitable closure.


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