still life with january

Shuffle Theme of the Week: Work For this week’s theme, I’m sharing a poem from my forthcoming book, Still (Persea, January 2020)—the work, that of a night pharmacist . . . .

Still Life with January

Measure the heart by obsession, and the tablets click in their plastic sheath like a shaker

of salt, crystals fused to small stones absent the rice grains that would have held

back the weeping as attendant to southern air as water falling through rock we traced

to a mint-green pool’s back-story grotto sculpted to snowy scallops, pale husks tossed

entirely of spray. Ice, you’d say, is a giving up of energy; to crystal is to displace

a mineral dissolve best crossed by trusting the rawest, unslicked rocks topping that afternoon’s

half-frozen falls before your shift pieced with the passing of prescription papers fingerprinted and spored

with viruses’ spiny stars, night a soup of swamp-lunged children and a man drunk to the bone who, having stitched

his own ripped tongue with fishing line, leans your counter to ask, this will be awright,

right?; night-rollers who troll your store’s fluorescent aisles for Sudafed and watch batteries, matches and fingernail

polish remover, passing the wandering afflicted shaking off voices amplified by hollow, the silvered foil hat

of wakefulness; the simpático adding the zeroes of their own hand to tens on scrips for Oxy you refuse

to fill, thus troubling their ascent to that extended blessing—O pills to parachute, O to dive that high

my own once-husband sought in a free-based implosion to a sinkhole of blacked foil and glass pipes and stolen

checks, my mother’s signature steadied in his adrenaline- laced hand, shattered car-window glass glistening our alley’s

graveled snow, crook of a missing tire iron ghosting me still. Glitter beyond the body’s breadth, cliffs

whiskered with icicles, automatic glass doors folding the drone of 3 a.m. for the man in black-face and hoodie

who’d jump your counter, knife in hand, for what he would first have you live for—to open the narc safe, portal

to that sustained sustenance, O perpetual plunge. What persists is less

the print he’d left in his own shoe polish-smeared face than his fingertips’ stain, the drop of soiled sweat tracing

his cheek’s descent like the bead of melt already grooving that day’s translucent heart, a hollowed pin-prick sunlit to a mercury globe

tonguing its way down the shelved stone wall bracketed with daggered racks of moony glass, gravity-pooling to the path

deeply sheeted to shadowboxes of pine needle and fern and sweetgum leaf, glazed skin delicately grained and insect-whorled

as the human palm, as yours I worried that afternoon into mine. In review, the cameras

stagger events: the knife ratcheting toward your chest skips to the man’s spectacular crashing the thickly paned

door, but when, not where, is the heart of dissolve; each body of glass tunes to its own

one-note shatter, your face held there in fracture, in stone a spring day’s warming can vanish—stalactites

that for now narrow, swell, narrow, clocking the hours’ shift freeze to melt to freeze along the banded fault lines

of history where a sweetgum rises from the thinnest outcrop rooted with icicles like weighted ropes pulled taut

from a bridge, time progressing in freefall as one camera skips to the next, to the man stumbling into the night, the dropped knife

skittering the iced pavement and in that blackened air, what I’ve held on for—gauze of your glittering breath, O

collateral grace.