Five-Paragraph Essay on Time
More than once, but only a few times,
I set an alarm for 5 a.m.
and blew off my high school essays
to watch TV. It rang
and I left my warm bed to shiver
at the desk in the living room window.
Nervous about finishing, no chance to revise,
I double-spaced sentences in blue pen
that started their arguments
like bodies jumping out of buildings on fire.
The scene outside when I lifted my head
shifted from my dark reflection
to a pencil sketch of a street and front yard,
framed in my mother’s proud bay window
in our otherwise plain-faced house.
The loops of my words leaned like they meant
what they said. I’d look up to catch a light blink on,
beams of a passing car, sycamore tree,
childhood swing snapped in two
like dangling duck feet,
then plunge again into my evidence—
essay and morning emerging
like bean sprouts in a milk carton.
And then, out of nowhere:
a car smashed through the bay window
where I wrote and watched the dawn.
The crash came 50 years later,
no one was home,
but I sit at the center of destruction,
writing and running out of time.
From a line by Stephen Dobyns
As a stone has a sense of its hardness,
you sense the hardness of the mountain
blocking your light. Strike
the mountain with your mind
and hear a clang
like boxcars bumping in the rail yard at night.
You guard against feelings
but can’t stop curtains
from fluttering in the breeze,
brush the fat cheek of an apple
with your thumb and blame your thumb.
The mountain is hard even
in a coat of quieting snow.
Your boot prints
to the orchard, woods, field, shed,
and back to the house
harden to ice before they melt.
Cocktail Party—New York City
photograph from The Americans by Robert Frank
Madam, your ears are set high, well-placed
like box seats at the Met,
making room for your smile
and your smile making room for more lipstick.
Your jaw, attached by a sprung hinge,
would make a fine nutcracker.
Lines in your forehead insinuate
a bill of sale notarized and filed
by a team of lawyers. Your eyes ride
your straight flared nose like Caesar
his golden chariot. Somewhere
a bunch of grapes awaits your arrival.
If You’re Planting English Peas
you’ll need a silvered picnic table
built from windfall lumber,
an oak tree, dappled shade,
and the gentle pop and cascade of peas
released into crockery bowls
while mother, aunts, and grandmother
ask and answer about this and that
ruined neighbor or two-timing organist
who ran off with the minister—all essential
to the sweetness of heirloom English peas.
My Brain Says to my Heart
I’m the traveler in the family
while you cram the house
like one of those hoarders on TV
stumbling between stacks of pancake mix
and Christmas shit still in tags.
There’s no place left to sleep but the car.
and the doors thunk closed
on a clean so quiet our ears begin to ring.
Dials light up when I turn the key.
I say Time to toss a match and gun the engine.
You cry and crane your neck, Go back.
Kathleen Flenniken has published three poetry collections, most recently Post Romantic (University of Washington Press, 2020). Her work appears in I Sing the Salmon Home (Empty Bowl), Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open your World (Norton), and Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry (Mountaineers). She served as the 2012–2014 Washington State Poet Laureate.