Poetry - Hyssop and Hermetics, The Absinthe Literary Review

by Rhoda Janzen

Home Improvement Sestina

Rooms in renovation reprove
strain like fortysomething age;
collagens and dermapeels
defy the empty nest.
From decades of coats
layers strip history. It feels a little

sad that a room laid bare is little
as a denuded hut. One can’t approve
the hectic hues with which history coats
these walls—as if pinks can forswear age—
but a corking pleasure peels
the screws into a multicolored nest.

Like a sailor whose ship is harnessed
to the wind, one discerns a little
thrilling shore. On land the sailor peels
the first sun-freckled orange to prove
that scurvy can’t conquer the Age
of Cortez, when the Armada’s royal coats

stripped natives of metaphoric coats.
Renovation was the New World’s keenest
principle: rearrange the secrets of the age,
paper over history—how the little
lords swaggered to prove
mastery by liquoring the citrus peels!

In the rooms upstairs the last layer peels,
walled Josephs in many-colored coats.
Outside workaholic sparrows prove
inept at parenting their flimsy nest.
My car is often bombed by spotted little
eggs or blue-veined chicklets at a tender age,

whose infant curiosity replicates old age
in stunned arthritic wings. My husband peels
them from the car and puts them in a little
cage, where they outgrow their fuzzy coats,
greedy for worms, loud-mouthed, honest.
History always has something to prove,

and the refurbisher, she who peels back age
to warm each tenant’s nest in its defiant coats,
notes how little improvements can the home improve.


the way a snake goes.
and the grass closes behind it.
– Donald Justice

In Red Bluff rattlers sign the patio,
their cursive like a weird familiar script
you’d have to parse by frowning as you go.
The killing is so easy you feel gypped.
You surprise yourself by liking the brief
cold chink of tooth on spade. A year ago
you liked to scud the fields in disbelief
that all of this was yours—the arroyo
from which indigenous wild turkeys called,
the river basin echoing the train
whose cry would blunder backwards and go bald.
It cleared the cliff and fell toward the plain,
a letting go of déjà vu and want,
your footnote bottomed out, in tiny font.

Thin Gray Sonnet

I am awakened in the grayish dawn,
a noise disturbingly familiar but
unplaceable, with recognition gone
like recall of a troubling dream somewhat
obscured by waking in a different bed.
It is my conference roommate still asleep,
the sound of fluttering morning doves instead
of a full-bodied snore, a sound to keep
in mind because it rises from a place
of purity, like the needle’s tinny tinkling
that whip-stitched childish dreams with adult lace,
the little knot of poignance, the inkling
that over cocktails I would later learn
that she’s divorced and fond of Diebenkorn. 


© 2004 Rhoda Janzen

Click here to leave a comment on these poems.
Please mention title/author when leaving comments.

  Back to The Absinthe Literary Review