Poetry: Chani Zwibel

Chani Zwibel
COAL DUST AND RAIN

No bottle contains the elixir,
except the bowl of the loamy earth.
Scent of rain carries me to Pineview Drive,
 a back road local old timers call “Mustard holler.”
Scents of wood-smoke speak the names of the dead:
ghosts of coal dust.
The abandoned mine is not far.
Cross the wooden bridge across the creek,
 Find ranch-style house my first home,
 nestled between two willows and a wooded hill.
Hear the crack of rifles from the gun range down the path.
Snow Drops prim white petals peeking
through clumps of frost, cautiously flag coming Spring.
Mourning doves’ sighs beckon me to wake.
Garden spider’s dew-wet web boasts
 an eight-legged emerald on a string of diamonds.
Minnows dart and flicker
through bars of sun falling in the creek.
Iridescent dragon flies buzz, skim water’s surface.
Trees whisper in the breeze,
green tresses of willow falling
 around me like a veil as I braid them.
A spring flows from the rock
and spills down the hill,
little waterfall in my personal paradise.
An outcrop of rock is my throne,
fit for a queen in her sylvan kingdom.
Light rain pitter-patters.
 Droplets plunk down
in dusty brown earth.
Scent rises, beckons. 



SASSAFRAS AND THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL

In the woods behind my house on Pineview Drive
were trails leading to the gun range,
with on power lines on top the hill.
 Papa took me on walks in the woods.
 My grandfather, his bald head covered in a ball cap,
white beard trimmed close, had the soul of a perpetual country boy.
 As a young man, he fought the Nazis in Germany and France,
 but I knew him as an old man enamored of nature, in the Pennsylvania woods.
Rays of sun slanted down through trees’ leaves, spotlights of gold upon the dusty brown ground.
“Sassafras looks like a mitten. You can make tea from the roots and you can chew on the bark.”
He cut a twig with his pocket knife and gave it to me.
It tasted wild and sweet.
Then he offered me a stick of his wintergreen gum,
carefully stowing the wrapper in his pocket, and we kept walking.
Papa talked about the predators that lived in the forest,
the creatures I should avoid:
Bears, bobcats, foxes, raccoons in the day-time, and snakes.
 Most creatures would avoid you if you made enough noise when you were walking.
 “Papa, what is the most dangerous animal?”
 He paused only a moment before he said
“The one who goes on two legs:
Man.” 


HURRICANE SKY

Roof-rattling thunder and apocalyptic lightning ceased.
 We opened our door to peak.
From our front porch we saw storm-green air,
ice chips of hail lying on the flattened grass.
 Dissolving clouds rolled away,
while the plum tree shrugged a sigh
to see the vein-blue underbelly of a storm receding.
Dad said he remembered the hurricane sky
 he and his brothers saw out the second story window
of their house in the city when he was young.
He remembered the pallid color of it.
He said just like this storm we’d faced,
it too, curled up its claws, packed up its winds,
 and left behind a deeper calm, like so many bits of hail. 



SITTING WITH MY DYING GRANDMOTHER

I become detached.
The woman lying in this hospital bed
in my grandparents’ living room
 is not the sassy old lady in long black sweaters
 who never yelled back when my grandfather bellowed,
but would whip him the bird instead.
Waiting for the reaper,
watching the catheter bag fill,
I catch the scent of the fire
 that has been smoking in the burn-barrel
since I got here.
 Outside is occurring
an immolation of every dusty relic
 and heap of junk
 piled like grief in stacks of trash:
old, moldy carpets,
and plywood houses
 built for long-ago dead cats.
Earlier, attempting to push the time forward,
 I had cleaned a shelf of books
 covered so deep in grime
 it had begun to regroup
into clump formations, little hills.
All the cleaning must have riled up the old gods,
 because a spider the size of Allegheny County
 came out to brood
and show her disapproval.
This is not my grandmother dying beside me,
 fragile paper-thin skin around tiny brittle bones.
This is not the world slowly curling to an end
 like the fungus-rotted ingrown nail
on an old woman’s toe.
I am not here,
and my grandmother is not here,
and only the fractured light in this room
is slowly dying.  



DOOR MARKED “DON’T KNOW”

The world is not growing more evil
 it has always been as such, only now more eyes pay it heed and feed the beast with their sorrow.
Will we cling forever to this cursed clay ball?
Frustration creeps in while doing housework.
Sit cleanly upon my countertop, you twice-washed silverware and be content.
On the night Christ spent in Hell, do you have sympathy for Satan?
The shift comes at the edge of the abyss,
Dark channels in the ocean where underwater aliens sit and wait
Do they dream of us in fairytales and run us in their science fiction films?
Names don’t matter in the realm of the dead.
There are millions of doors to anywhere.
Those meant for you open without keys, and you drift right through.
It is Schrodinger’s paradox: it is, and it is not.
Everything you could ever believe is simultaneously real and not real.
Such realities exist, and we make them real by believing either one or the other.
 The door marked heaven, the door marked hell, or the door marked don’t know.

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