Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Barbara Duffey




Anniversary Weekend

You wouldn't sleep with me, but the next room's bedsprings
crimped and she groaned into the bed & breakfast hall.
We had toured the historical farm: You asked,
were men who chose mates based on their cross-stitched
samplers
turned on when they saw the thread
pulled taut across the skin of cloth, embroidery's bulked
hardening of color against taupe cotton, lush
flowerings in soft control. The hands that did it-
oh, the hands. Would it lead to other tests? "Make me
bread; I want to watch you knead. Show me husbandry,
the calf you've taught to nurse. I want to watch you slip
seeds into ready ground, your fingers nimble, quick."
And if you owned those hands, how clear if you were
good. How verifiable: One could show off with
brioche, its several risings; calmed goats on mothers'
teats; cottonseeds plucked from pods and planted with soft
thrusts into earth. But what am I to do to prove?
The groove and catch of the neighbor's breath defeats me.
Others use their bodies better than I do,
and I'm sure you've noticed. Yet, each morning after
my brief panic, you still wake beside me. For now,
the yaw of habit's hollow vow, enough.

On the Occasion of My Sister's Fall from Her Horse

Someone should tell the dirt
to clutch the carrot tighter
so that no one can slip it
from the loam and snap
it like a neck.


Elegy in 3D

Tired phantom, ever 16 even
as I'm now twice that, though we buried your
teenage ashes, I still have your blonde hair

long as carrier pigeons' flights; the way
you used to tie it in a sloppy knot,
a rollercoaster over pale lagoon;

your round cheeks plumping over your jaw like
wax; how tall you stood against the picket
of your back as if you had a lion

in your lap. I've made my plans; they include
an urn like yours, spaceship down a mineshaft,
underneath a matching bronze square plaque, in

an adjacent plot of the Sunset
Memorial Park. As if I needed
anything like memory with your bark-

and- grumble haunting at my desk-I know
I'm not the only one you stalk, for you're
insatiable in gossamer copy,

a screen of wanting more-me. There's no one here
who'd hear if suddenly I turned 2D.
Suddenly, as you were, flattened to ghost.

On Earning My Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge

I started well. I asked, "Are you OK?" I listened
at its mouth for breath-there was none. I tilted

back its head to clear its airways. I took its pulse;
again, nothing. I held closed its nose and breathed twice

in its mouth. I crouched above its chest and marked my place
on its spring-loaded sternum with three fingers, two of which

I took away so I could cradle the heel of my hand where
my last finger had been. I pressed down. I counted,

"and one and two and three and four," but I didn't
finish in time. The volunteer fireman said to me, "He'd be dead

by now. So what do you think? Should I certify you?"
I knew if I did what I'd done as slowly as I'd done it,

to someone who really was in trouble, I wouldn't save her.
I knew that if she seemed to be in trouble, I wouldn't even

get up and offer that I knew CPR. I knew that, were there others
in the room, especially grown-ups, I would act like I didn't know

what CPR was. But he gave me my card, as if to say, to know emergency,
you must know tardiness, you must know shame.