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Poetry

Cheryl Denise

Cheryl at hay bale

Cheryl Denise is the author of two poetry books, I Saw God Dancing, and What’s in the Blood, both published by Cascadia Publishing House, Telford PA. She also has a spoken word poetry cd, Leaving Eden, available at cdbaby.com. She lives in the intentional community of Shepherds Field, near Philippi, WV. The community raises a small flock of Jacob sheep.

Panic Attacks

You think I am an engine
or leaky faucet you can fix,
say I talk vague and need precise words.
I’m a poet, I should have them,
those words the doctors can’t pull out of me
or won’t.

You wait, eyes soft as summer,
voice soothing as soup.
Like poison, I say, a whiff
of curdled cream, a spoon held to my lips, I must eat
one spoonful, two spoonfuls, three…
then I explode
s l o w l y.

Ashes everywhere
in the kitchen,
the living room,
outside the picture window
wavering above the grass.

Ashes
but I’m alive and screaming
and someone is tossing them gently,
as if it’s a game, as if they’re in charge,
telling me to be quiet, go away.

I like to do as I’m told.
I want to pass.

But I failed grade two and liked it.
Easier the second time, with the new kids
who didn’t know about that afternoon I wet my pants
during math. No one laughed, politely pretended
not to see, but still. The second year I knew some answers
and waved my arm.

I want you to stop looking at me, stop probing.
I don’t tell how I pulled over on my trip to Elora last fall,
wrote you a letter, instructions, permission
on how and when to leave me.
How I kept it two months in the glove compartment
then tore it up, buried it in gas station trash.
What I do say is all the colors turn off
and my insides jabber and tell lies
and my dark red meat twitches
like I am full of candy bars and coffee,
like I need to sprint around my old high school track
find the mistake, but I don’t know where it is,
meanwhile all the pieces

float   farther   and   farther

dispersing in the hayfield

slow and impossible

as that puzzle in the back of my second grade class
the teacher wanted me to finish.

The pieces must fit together

I try to gather the ashes on my tongue.

These are the words.

Fixing Things

I can’t see God calling someone to be a financial planner
I said in that poem when I was young and broke.
I’d like one now to plan for our upcoming vacation
which is making me nauseous.
While researching on the computer yesterday
a sudden warning, flashing, freezing.
Then today the bank teller takes one hour, twenty-three minutes
to send an international bank wire,
she Googles the IBAN and BIC, Yahoos the conversion rate.
All five tellers know my twenty-fifth anniversary plans,
me cheering my husband skiing the Birkebeineren,
commemorating those Vikings who in birch bark leggings
cross-country skied 54 km
through treacherous mountains and forests
rescuing two-year-old Haakon, heir to the Norwegian throne.

Two windows over, the frosted brunette says all she got
was a weed whacker and dinner at Philippi Inn.

After three phone calls to her supervisor, the teller says
she can’t guarantee the amount the bank in Norway will receive.
And since it’s Friday afternoon it won’t go through today.
She’ll be told if there’s a problem, probably
but there’s no way to check.
She hopes she filled out the paperwork okay
tells me to cross my fingers and pray.

I was going to go to the mall tonight.
Generally I hate trying things on but I psyched myself up
to buy something that fits and is in style
to make my husband happy. He is gone this weekend,
unable to check me into reality.

Saturday, hiking in the woods with my dog
I stop to pray like the teller ordered.
Cross-legged on the ground I begin but then the crying.
All I can think of is how my husband will kill me
after we lose thousands of dollars. I am ridiculous.
He is a pacifist, would tell me to stop, but I won’t.
I am in detention, writing 100 times on the blackboard,
Cheryl is an idiot. The rest of the world banks with ease,
plans vacations without ulcers.
The good doctor who died of a brain tumor
said I should pray in tree stands, up in the air,
above things. There are no tree stands here.
Sunday, I do the laundry, bathe the dog,
clean the neighbor’s gutters.
But Monday is Labor Day, big, expansive,
and the teller keeps yacking.
I can’t write poetry when I can’t think
and the chores are all done
so I stay in bed until 4 pm.
I am supposed to call someone I love
when I am like this. I call my sister
act casual, complain about rural West Virginia
mourn the metropolis I left.
Minutes after saying good-bye
her husband calls from his office
overtime prepping for a meeting.
Everything is fixable he asserts telling me
there’s higher ups,
a bigger bank that handles international currency.
He won’t hang up until I’m calm and understand.
Explains that no small-town teller
would be given the ultimate responsibility of getting money
here to there, insists my plans
will fly.

I believe him. He fixed that small broken piece
in my sister, cleans my dog’s teeth when he visits,
doesn’t yell in a canoe,
and everyone is at ease when he sits at the table.

I was afraid to meet him
after he started dating my sister,
after I wrote that bad thing about his profession
in that poem I was pretty sure my sister would make him read.
But everything is fixable.

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