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Jan Freeman

Jan Freeman

Simon Says,

I was hated as a child.
Simon says, Blow your nose.
My father worked, my mother froze
and I was one day meant to be
an entity of their desires
and hidden when their love expired.

Simon says, Dance fast dance slow
to any simple melody.
Simon says, The past is there–
behind your shadow, like a tree.

Simon says, If you love fire
light a match and burn like wood,
but know that fire will not replace
the heat that is elusive still,
which mother might have wrapped and stitched
through and through your growing soul,
and father might have left you with
before his world uncurled like yarn.

Simon says, Day begins
with nighttime folded in its veins.
Simon says, Sing a while
that Russian love song, Grandpa's smile.

Simon says, when hatred grows
around your neck through childhood,
kind words and then a gentle face
become two mirrors of disgrace,
and even one soft voice may dwell
against your will to save yourself;
because a child who knows best hate
has only solitude for fate.

Simon says, Scratch an itch.
Simon says, Butter the bread.
Simon says, Live while you can–
It's so much harder when you're dead.



Rhyme for Ruth

Wacky as Fifth Avenue
wishy washy clothes to do
wood in the stove now
jelly in the jelly jars
Applesauce simmering
love clear as pectin
Shirts and jeans a week or two
ice-cream sleep to blackened toe
tenderly as telephones we laugh or shout
the daylight rhyme
Heavy as a merchant's hand
trickery as business game
poetry our love insane and thick
with evening creamery
A jug for you and one for me
such happiness
The pure delight all revelry
and levitation you or me
poetry commodity as long as breath between
Generation possible
speech between the years not slow
yet orange for persimmon red for mango
Red for you blue for me
green for you brown for me
laughter possibility
and rhyme
a balm
a tap toe balm

Her Long Spine

Once the sky was white, the narrow necks of the trees white too
leaves shook, silver and blue, summer was an old dream
only winter clasped love around the windows, tricking birds to angels
every hope for rescue stopped by the treetops.
Smoke, just the dead girl
sitting straight at the gymnastic show
all the mothers with sprayed hair saw her long spine
but the tunic was perishable fabric
blue as an eye, blue as her face
once the world savage and sweet whispered her name
whispered dead again, the flies dying too, winter only the ladybugs
survived and outside chickadees and jays, the proud pines
when the chair was green as a dollar and the Hawaiian skirt hung in the light
as if she might return as if trees were more than heat and decoration
I knew a woman– cruel and injured
she shot judgments from her mouth like pellets against the deer
I saw the injury, built a brown wooden room around her
filled it with light and pillows, colors and books
She lifted a pen and wrote a life or two, stretched and left the room
suspicious of happiness she lived as a cruel hand
Perhaps her breasts were sacks of flour or dough or bags of rabbits–
perhaps she knew the ugliness of touch as a child, perhaps not–
something kept happiness away even with a pen in hand
though distracted by other mouths and eyes she wandered, set in her ways
I lived beside her for a while, took on the projects she began
hating the thought of abandoning even some thread–
perhaps the treetops understood more than the sky even though the sky
got the credit for the shifting color and breadth
I dug a deep hole on a warm November day
I threw the heads of dead sunflowers in
then wrapped myself in a down quilt
and climbed on top of the seeds
My cousin died with a bag over her head
She was fifty, ahead of me
I think the cruel sad woman loves sadness,spins it like a top
I love wood, cool, warm, on fire, or high–
just where the snow begins, the trees end
Just where the cruelty starts my sorrow lifts me up to the chimney
and lets me see the view: there are the dogs there is the white house and the two cows
and the goats, there are red squirrels in the leaves, and the jays, there is the snow
Remember the brown hill, the ugly building, the telephone booth, the cafeterias
there are the dirty floors, the dirty bathrooms
I can lie in my comforter with a view from lower than the front door
see everyone pass by as if I'm dead– an entire life filled with strangers
Perhaps wood might save me if I had a box or if I had a branch to rest on
if I understood the finch and the chickadee and the crow and the entire view became
what I loved and wished for, though the sight of a mouth, the memory of a scent
my friend once or the dogs lying side by side at night
sometimes everything hates me– the geraniums
the bloody mouthed hibiscus, the lamp, even my favorite pen
sometimes it means dead to the world leave the world be
you are dead dead dead, sometimes that's who I am
sometimes I watch from the chimney and count all the lives I knew
the houses I left, the books I loved and the children
remember the friends down the hill when the body around the straight spine was fat
and afraid and the front door kept desires simple as magazine stories or novels
or a red flannel shirt soft as an extra skin but warmer locked away
No one asked for anything except the two youngest children
with cards sewn in their pockets– but still that was fabric
not an evening melody or some pressure called greed
the house stood, made of tin, with a mother cut out of paper
and a father who chewed his dinner as if it were entirely different from the one cooling
on the kitchen table two hours earlier
Remember the richness of childhood
when the cut and scrape of the bark burned in a wonderful way –
to feel texture and heat even upside down, the branch and bark cutting
into the place behind the knees – and the tin house crooked
the sad faces smiling,the mica shining from the rocks
leading up to the front door in snow or feathers falling always red
summer when the leaves covered my eyes, leaves to hide behind and hold
that's when words fell against the birch trees and the pines
They promised steadfast love thicker than paper
each one pushed me through childhood up past the snow
Here I am on the chimney looking down again
there is a family each face turned from the one beside it
here I am in the feathered quilt, I can see every foot that passes
the silver snow falls and turns to feathers, covers up each print and the green grass
everywhere the snow falls I measure the seeds beneath me
here where I am alive.