Imagine a goldfinch in your fist. Open it
and watch as olive wings soar over dark
steeples. If you’re grieving for what never was or will be,
bring your fingers to your palm, always
empty, the finch already free.
Swallow a tablet that tastes
like chalk. Chase it
with an aspirin. Already
shorter than at 60, bones
thinner, body that much
closer to the grave, I almost
trip in the clearing where a bruised
moon looms above black branches. Can I
slip through these pines without
falling? Can my husband—no spring
chicken himself—catch me? Snow
melts under my skin
as the moon blooms only
Becky plants a red silk rose
in the fold of the angel’s robe
and shoots a rain
scarred cheek and archaic smile
against Grandfather Mountain,
cedars and a cyclone
fence with strand of barbwire
like greenbrier thorns.
I snap headstones splotched
with lichen and stark
granite markers in the grass—Mother,
Father, and a molar-white
stone with Ba chiseled on a broken
half. Whose baby
sleeps beneath that severed
word? Whose loved ones
rest in this small mountain
graveyard where bones
crumble to nothing? Who
will grieve for us?
Beth Copeland is the author of two full-length poetry books, Transcendental Telemarketer and Traveling through Glass. Her poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The North American Review, Rattle, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Tar River Poetry, and other literary journals. She was featured as poet of the week on PBS. She lives in a log cabin in North Carolina.
A Broken Commandment
Having grown up in church and Sunday school, I knew not to break any of the Big Ten, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. It wasn’t my fault, of course. My parents should have known better than to say no to me. I desperately wanted to go to Chloe’s party. She was one of the popular girls and I wasn’t, so I just had to go! I asked. I begged. I pleaded. I whined. I yelled at my parents at supper that night, “You’re the meanest people in the whole world.” That’s when Daddy sent me to my room.
I knew it was serious because Daddy never disciplined me. That was Mama’s job and she did it well, but Daddy got tired of me that night. That turned out to be good for me. Alone in my room I was able to hatch a plan. I knew this was the best plan ever. They’d never let me go through with my threat: to break a ‘thou shalt not’. I had a little Bible in my room, a New Testament with a picture of Jesus on the front. I couldn’t find the Ten Commandments in there, though, but knew some of them from memory. I could wing this.
I walked back to the kitchen, head held high. Going past the table I opened the basement door. I put one foot firmly on the top step and looked straight at my mean parents. Mentally thumbing through the Ten Commandments, choosing one at random, I announced, “I’m going to the basement to
I was about halfway down when I thought I heard Mama crying. Her sobs didn’t deter me. I was going to the basement and I was going to commit adultery. Then Daddy made the same sounds, so maybe it wasn’t crying at all. It didn’t matter what it was as far as I was concerned. I just wanted to go to the party.
I’d never done it before so I didn’t know how long it takes to commit adultery. I waited even after they stopped crying, or whatever they are doing. They were really upset about my breaking one of the thou shalt nots. I waited a few minutes more, figuring adultery couldn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes. Then I went upstairs.
They’d left the kitchen and were in the den watching TV. When she saw me, Mama started crying again, and buried her face in Daddy’s shoulder. Daddy was sweet, though, and asked, “Are you all right, Judy-Bug”? “Yes!” I said hopefully. “Now can I go to the party?” “No, Baby,” he said, pulling Mama even closer, shushing her sobs.
I gave up, and went back to my room wondering why committing adultery was a thou shalt not. It didn’t seem like that big a deal. Maybe I’d ask my Sunday school teacher. Mama and Daddy didn’t seem to want to discuss it anymore, but at least she wasn’t still crying.
Judith Dancy is a retired Quaker pastor. She likes to think and write about the ways we humans engage each other and our world.