Greener Grass

glass-enclosed vestibule
the woman behind the counter
a dozen customers seated

The author paints a portrait
of the me I did not become
there in black and white

there seemed to be a connection
you knew they all knew one another

and me
wondering:
what if I remained?

Worked my shifts.
Married the cowboy.
Had the kids.
Lived that life.

Would it have been
the better or the worse?

Would I?

My finger dogears the page,
as if to say I was here
or remember this
the alternate ending

blurred and obscured
I was drawn to it as if to a dream.

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, inspired by “A Great Good Place” from A Cape Cod Notebook by Robert Finch.

New Haven, Circa 1971

That she would consider it
“the amazing city”
is about as ironic
as the wry half smile
on her 5-year-old face.

She didn’t see the
protests, trials, riots.
(She never does.)
Only the possibilities.
The lofty towers
and filigreed intentions
of a something that
seemed larger than life.
Of a something that indeed
seemed “amazing.”

But what’s in a word?
the poet asks
with a similar smile:
amazing…..astonishing
half…..not wholly true
wry…..sardonic
ironic…..absurd

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne

338 Arch Street

My duck lived
under the back porch
of my grandparents’ house
at the top of the hill
on Arch Street,
surrounded by privet
and a bowered
maze of azaleas.
The screen door creaked
and slammed into
the kitchen where
the middle drawer
had a secret panel
your finger could
push-pull for Wonder.
The rooms smelled of
eucalyptus and river
and whiskey.
In the living room,
too thin for a couch,
three chairs angled
to face the television
and the gun cabinet,
dusted and polished daily.
The deer head
didn’t have a name,
the duck did—
perhaps that’s why
we let him go.
Set loose by a bridge,
spared or sacrificed,
no one knows.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 25. Image: Duckling, David Burliuk.

Tenacity

At autopsy,
they will not debate the
boring faded scar on my forehead
(sled hit tree, 1970)
or the slight divot on my chin
(golf club, 1974).
The discussion will be about
the hard marks of betrayal:
the stab in the back,
the heart cracked open,
the lungs held breathless,
the chafe on the thighs
from the necessary action
of getting back on the horse……again.
Damn analogy.
Stuck with me since dad
pulled a bloody rag from the
glove compartment,
pointed to the tree
and said neither of us
was worse for the wear,
then made me get on that sled,
pass that tree,
and move forward.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 13. Image: Fir Tree In Snow, Eyvind Earle.

Herstory

Do you think Cinderella looked up from her ironing and thought “this is going to be a great story someday”? Do you think she could identify the elements of her narrative arc, living in the moment? No doubt the beginning was very clear, it usually is. But what was the inciting incident – was it the first kiss or the first argument? the first time she stopped pretending or the first time he made her cry? If the tensions rose and fell like the tides, how could she ever recognize the climax? And had the ending been foretold—Chekov’s gun-on-the-wall theory come to pass? Had she missed it in the exposition? Or did she choose to ignore it? It would all be explained, of course, in the dénouement, when the fibers of the story are finally woven together. Or untied, as the French word suggests? Untethered?

©2017, Jen Payne. IMAGE: Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, Thomas Sully

Memoir

In the pieces of memory
and scraps of conversations
transcribed in situ
I will tell you about
the headless groom
and the dead dog,
about the failure of Saint Raphael
and the irony of the phrase
“you could get hit by a bus.”
I’ll tell you the 15,000 words that broke me
and the ones that almost put me back together
until I realized my heart was better
cracked wide-open like that anyhow.
Now all I need to do is type

Happy Ending.

on the last page
and hope it will suffice.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. Image: Woman writing, Edouard Manet.

Kintsugi

come, look closely
I am gold here
in between the pieces
broken

no longer broken

repaired

each crack
part of my history
this shimmering self

now

here

this is no disguise

no pretending
you don’t see the scar

it is the thick hot line
that shows you
how I traveled here

come, touch it
trace your finger
along its golden trail

there is poetry there,
can you feel it?

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, 11 years removed. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.