Janet Reed

The Bookmobile

I read borrowed stories by flashlight,
made blankets of print
that let me fall asleep on quiet streets
far from our house of lunar eclipse
where the Good Book fueled fires
made danger, where Father,
broken son of a town drunk,
cudgeled compliance,
where Mother haloed stiff
by hairsprayed Beehive
whined never enough.

My secret saved me — three books
borrowed on Thursdays after school
the bookmobile, its sweet-sour exhaust
of warmed machine oil
and chocolate soft serve
called me to the wild things
in the belly of the bus,
thin shelves stacked tight
with hobbit holes, wardrobe portals,
blue-backed bios,
Nathan Hale, Boy Patriot,
Amelia waving good-bye from her cockpit.

Contraband stowed in my bag,
I squeezed past Father pacing
to the whine of steel guitars,
his high-end hi-fi in our living room
the Devil’s backbone dropping vinyls
of drink and redneck failure ‘til dinner,

rocked by Mother in the kitchen,
spinning her blue suede Elvis,
shouting her love me tender tracks
with a pale mouth of aching need
that swallowed us all

to hide my books beneath the sheets
where after devotionals, I would
spin webs with spiders,
find clues in old clocks,
fly with heroes, then dream
of railway stations, first-class tickets
to places I would go,
and blank pages of books I would write.

          For Erika

I learned a word in Venice beside the Grand Canal:

Maggese:  Wild and unkempt, it’s a vine growing
to water, content, unmarked by need or time.

Before Venice, I lived in the fold of a day planner
bound between to-do and month-at-a-glance,
my nights blurred a blank black

I forgot how to two-step with twilight,
find fairy rings
pin wild violets in my hair.

I missed the stars
never saw the moonflowers
spread their silk skins.

Too long since my mind wandered
under a full moon,
seduced by a cat’s purr and a glass of Prosecco.

 Maggese.   I need this word for fallow;
secure the food in my pantry will feed me,
sure in the difference between excess and enough,

I can applaud the untilled garden in June,
unbind my stiff work boots and run barefoot with the dog
wet clover at dusk, the green shag between my toes.

I need a mindset for the primordial:
a balance between sea-salted caramels
and the sweat of hoeing weeds.

Maggese is a suspended summer night,
a firefly, the star on the tip of my nose,
my deepening breath blowing
pages of planners into the stardust of possibilities.

Iron Mountain Ladies

Ball busters, floozies, bitches, philosophers, saints:
sister stones of the Iron Mountains tell different stories.

Mouths agape, angled, the glare of afternoon sun
show teeth locked in petrified jaws.
I am their captive.  I cannot unhear
their voices in the canyon’s thinned air.

Some piss and moan, all mouth.
Others flex biceps at the clouds,
middle fingers fully extended.
Nature bewitched and broke them.
Mad hatters, they’re mad as hell.

Crones sag, their skin wrinkled and drooped —
crepe paper streamers the morning after, subdued.

Shy ones hide behind red and white striped skirts
and sweater sets of Aspen and Spruce
while bold ones bare breasts coursing with milk and honey.
All have bones washed away by tides,
noses chipped by wind,
jagged thighs from Jiu Jitsu matches with floods,
their shattered pieces, litter on the road’s shoulders.

I understand when I leave them.
Two million years of making;
two million years of breaking,
iron fired on a forge of fortitude.

We are sage and scrub built on the backs of our people,
scars clotted wild with color, spirits carved from clay and flint,
knitted sinews and tendons stretched across generations.

More than our amputated parts,
more than bone and muscle, more than ourselves.
We and the mountain ladies stand unbowed, iron red in the sun.


Janet 2Janet Reed teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.  She is a Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging flower child whose poems reflect conversations she has with voices in her head.  She is a recent winner in Common Ground’s poetry contest and a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in multiple journals, and she is currently at work on her first chapbook.