Joan Baranow is the author of In the Next Life, Living Apart, and two poetry chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Poetry East, JAMA, and elsewhere. She founded and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Dominican University of CA. With her husband David Watts she produced the PBS documentary Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine. Her feature-length documentary, The Time We Have, presents an intimate portrait of a teenager facing terminal illness.
It’s due dates and tin snips
left in the rain,
an air to the chill, sour
grass slumped over,
trees sending mycorrhizal
like teenagers vibrating
under their clothes,
thirty-nine trillion microbes
at last count crawling through
a commuter jammed in,
Starbucks cup miraculously upright.
It’s pig brain cells
brought back from the dead
despite the no confidence vote.
You might as well get up,
velcro your shoes, the moon
is gibbous, which means
big ass falling backwards
or at least that’s what it said
on the test. The cats are glad
to lay their soft slab
across your chest, even though
you feed them only dry food.
Love can be close up
like sirens in the middle of the day,
sandwich at your mouth,
or can jump in a spooky way
across time zones, 3am here, 5 there,
which means he’s still asleep, the coffee
not brewed, the dog’s leash slack,
the woman he loves a warm wedge
in his bed. We make our own beds
is something they say, though
most of life comes at you
while scrambling eggs in the pan,
trying to remember the last thing
your mother said on the phone
alone in the swollen room
before she lay down for good.
First a sideways look
from female hieroglyphs
because researchers on their
dusty knees said so. Years
reproducing her voice and still
they can’t get the chords right,
insisting on safety & peace, as if.
Then the women rose up
with their nailed shut concepts
about Nature, et. al.
They carried crushed icons
into the streets. Consequently,
the economy was pleased.
Economy smiled upon them,
said, Come into my mansion.
Down the cinder block halls
hung with clogged clocks,
I mean, blocked cubes
and not in an Egyptian kind of way.
Not like a cave where at least
you can lick the walls. Instead,
it’s Facetime, creased collars,
CrossFit & content marketing.
Women are glad
to have their time punched
under the orchid banner
that’s tattered & torn.
Yet the wet laundry gets hung.
Some babies get born.
Is the soul sad to see the body die,
unwilling to let go, like a sea creature
slow to unwrap its clasp?
Does the soul look back, gathering
its spirit as a girl gathers her skirt?
Does it watch with grief the skin
blanch, then blue, then stiffen?
Must the soul call to far parts of the body,
a mother bringing her children in?
Does she wait at the door as each one
runs home? Does the soul then
rise, remembering the flesh
as a bridal dress, laid in tissue and boxed,
never to be worn again?
Does the soul keen at this, or keep a stoic front?
Or does it disperse like breath
into the universe? Does it forget?