Fiction Fix, 2012
THE SLEEPING WALL
Open the door. Enter the house. The child defeated by sleep. Her arm falls free of the quilt. Her mother has brushed her hair and washed her feet. The gods yearn to be earthbound. The owl's head spins on its neck. The mother sleeps. Her dreamed child remembered and unremembered. Yard of shivering birch. White dress breathless in its plastic bag.
I sit at Mother's piano, my young hands imitate her path over the keys. Like this, Medina, she'd say pointing to the correct key. The memory of her red finger nails against ivory. At her grave a wind rose from nowhere carrying the scent of tomatoes. I can smell bread baking in the oven. I am slowly growing hungry again.
Jane M. Downs' sentences refuse distance. They slip under the skin. They float in the blood stream and shiver in cartilage and the marrow of small bones. Reading them is a wondrous, trembly thing.
Kattywompus Press, 2013
What is the recipe for alchemical transformation that creates from searing family wounds a work of art? In this collection, Jane Downs may have found it, alternating spare free verse poems with knife-edge prose corollaries:
Mother smokes L&Ms
her chin whiskery,
her teeth long and yellow.
She disdains dental hygiene. I think
her disregard for body speaks
of her regard for Soul.
She cocks her head,
turns her violet eyes
Blindness has disrobed them.
On the table, her hearing aids
like extracted teeth in a little box.
I got the call from my sister-in-law. She said, “What I’m
going to tell you isn’t good.” My son played with a He-Man action figure by my feet. The phone cord was short and tight. I couldn’t leave the room. My hands shook. I whispered into the receiver.
Red Berry Editions, 2013, letterpress
Red Berry Editions, digitally printed and hand-bound
THE WEIGHT OF PINK PEONIES
Cut grass smells sweeter than uncut. A nest of newborn rabbits under the lawn. I ache to touch one, know my scent would banish the mother. How careful I must be. There are abandoned nests on the porch. My mother says her hair is falling out. Says she has flies in her eyes. Open the door. Enter the house. Peonies crawl from a vase. I've outgrown the sleeveless pink dress. Mother sits on her hands. When she cuts peonies she wears rubber gloves. Open the window, lean on the ledge. Sweet grass scent, scrape of the mower blades. How careful I must be.
Red Berry Editions, 2012, letterpress
Our father's at the lake edge, glasses of gin in their hands. Drone of a motorboat at the far shore. Our mothers' tan legs. Their white shorts. Diamonds rings catch light in fits and starts. Their bare arms, freckled shoulders, wide-brimmed hats. We walk past houses with sloping shingled rooftops. Geraniums spill from pots. Little children nap in hammocks hung from enormous hooks in porch ceilings. We walk up the hill in search of blueberries, pails swinging from our hands. Blueberries that taste sweet and dark. Our mothers' long strides. One straightens her hat, one touches the arm of another. They are goddesses and we are their understudies. Tall grass tickles our legs and we laugh. Butterflies take flight. Their thin wings do not stir the air. We have yet to see in them a fragility that we will soon learn is also ours.
WE LET OUR THOUGHTS FLOAT UP OUT OF US
The rabbits were wild the summer we turned eight. And there were more than the summer before. My twin, Delly, and I slept on the upstairs porch, pushed our beds together, watched fireflies. Stars falling around us, the night falling, too. We counted stars, woke to birdsong and heat and sunlight through the screen, touched each other, casually as if we were one body suspended in the moment of our gradual awakening. A fascination. A turning inward, away from the world that pulsated beyond the fortress of our bed. The slow river, squirrels churring, the way the ground held dampness long after storms swept over us. Our bodies growing strong and tan. Rabbits scampering over the back yard. Our mother growing fat with the baby. We touched her roundness, listened with our ears flat against the place where the baby grew. We waited. We named the rabbits names we made up for the baby we hoped would be our brother: Armen, Dawson, Floy. I drew pictures of babies with crayons that went soft in the heat. Delly made up songs to the tunes she'd learned to play on our piano.
Green Hills Literary Lantern, 2012
Red Berry Editions, 2015, letterpress
Fisher King Press, ed. Leah Shelleda, 2012
THE BOOK OF NOW
Seven lyrical women poets, each accompanied by a study of their work, navigate our contemporary world. They travel to the depths of the psyche, experience exile, rhapsodize on the beauty of our planet, lament loss and celebrate renewal.
Fisher King Press
It is a time when the wind upsets the gate,
the door blows open and the candle flares.
Open your eyes, child. Open your pale eyes.
The colors of the world devour the familiar
black of sky & white of moon.
Daylight is too specific. So much glistening grass,
cerulean sky and, oh, those red red roses. The brown
of the hare who runs from the hounds, the hawk’s gold eye.
It is the night with its variegated blacks you must love.
Against the dark you can see your thoughts. Against the dark
a woman is more bone than flesh and stars more fierce.