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Sample Poems by Joseph A. Chelius

Boy with Vegetables

Long after everyone had left the table
he'd still be at it,
picking through them like someone burdened
night after night with the same homework,
each subject dry, indigestible.

He'd watch the tines of his fork
set off on their circuitous stroll
around the cul-de-sac of his plate,
cutting through broccoli's broken shrubbery,
circumventing a pile of mashed potatoes
plowed to the side like stiffening snow,
his butter a faded sun.

Humid summer evenings he'd pass by
sour turnips; the sprawling families
of lima beans, peas;
shriveled cauliflower or Brussels sprouts
sitting out near twilight
like the elderly on their porches,
enveloped in their homey odors,
wanting to draw him close.

Milkman and Assistant
For John, Chester Avenue Milkman

You could have your black doctors' kit
with its yellow otoscope and red reflex hammer.
Give me the chance those sweltering mornings
to follow the milkman on his rounds--
to carry crates that leave welts
on my palms, set glass on steps
with the faintest clink.

To have permission to stand there whistling
after ringing doorbells; squint
over a long ash as I plink coins
from a silver change dispenser
speckled with rust;
wear my name in a company insignia.

And just once to give some pestering kid
on my route the thrill of riding
in an open truck--
to have him watch in awe
as I stand at the wheel
and work the clutch;
to feel wind in his face,
up under his arms
as he jounces over cobblestone
past the sycamores like sleepy sentries--
giddy on down the block.

Making Lunches

My father, at the end of another long day
at the high school, would sit alone
to make the lunches, his last task
before a bath and bed. From the head
of the empty table he would lay out
thin slices of Stroehmann white, even-handed
card dealer cutting everyone in--
peanut butter one day, tuna the next,
sometimes a crimpet thrown in
and always an apple--everything
in a bland bag I'd stuff
down the gullet of my locker
and let pile up. Only these days
it all comes back, and as I lean
over the counter to begin making lunches--
knife blade jammed and the limp
mouth of a plastic sandwich bag
levying no comment or opinion,
just grazing my knuckles with the delicacy
of prayer, I think of my father,
who communed, too, in a quiet kitchen,
haloed in a harsh fluorescence,
his unhurrying hands offering bread.


Late in her life she gave up shoes
and took to wearing slippers.
Even in these her ankles ached,
rising throughout the day in slow degrees,
filling the sides like leavening bread.
Afternoons I'd watch her bake biscuits,
stretch dough into flat maps
that sought each place at the table,
then press down hands gnarled as roots
to chop celery into wedges, drop chunks
of carrot into steam for stew.
Soon the kitchen would grow querulous.
She'd calm the flame a little, soothe
its babbling breath the way she'd ease
the edges off our appetites--
all through meals pouring milk in glasses
or scooping seconds out of dented pots.
Evenings, too, she'd press things on us--
honey for the throat, a butterscotch
in the palm, and all the while
a serene whistling that brushed the panes
as we'd turn to our homework, day
boiling down to suds for dishes,
low simmering for tea, the stiff
swelling in her ankles subsiding
as she'd settle herself once more among us
before our open pages.