Five Poems by Amy Small-McKinney

Again

I can’t stop thinking that/

I will never swim again
I have unlearned the strokes
that keep my head above water
   you held me above the wave
while you sunk below     knew
I was afraid that I am afraid
of everything      out there

I can’t stop thinking that/

the sycamore you loved
by our window will
smack into the glass that protects
me now that you are gone      that I am
a gold-yellow leaf      a leaf       falling
into the dumpster below      sinking into
guilt and confusion

I can’t stop thinking that/

I will wake tomorrow       not a leaf
but a bear      a bear
wandering into
the wrong world      searching
for a stream
   I crouch over my cub
hold her     she will not drown

NOTE: I can’t stop thinking that/ by Sarah Vap, from “Winter” (Noemi Press, 2019) PRESS

*

Tending to Living Things

There must be a way
but all I know to do is throw
my white dishes rimmed with blue
orchids across a room
until all that I have is broken.

Except for one self-sufficient succulent,
I don’t know how to make anything live.
There must be a way
but I don’t know how.

I want to bury myself inside the dark. Stand inside
invented light. While the world falls apart,
my husband’s brain swells with lakes.

Pink roses that sprawl across the apartment
building’s metal fence don’t need me. I’m not
their caregiver of blossoming.

Grief does not ask me
to be pretty, does not ask me
to be a corsage pinned to a gown.
It wants me to push up from roots
that scarcely survived, enter
its plain door.

I want to push my husband in his wheelchair along our rutted
road as though Travelers Joy— Clematis vitalba
scrambling a lattice fence to flower next year.

*

Breath

Music on the vintage radio
as falling leaves stopped in mid-air.
Air reveals itself for the first time
as a body or a car leaving a driveway.
If this doesn’t make sense look
out the window as air waits for snow.
Air knows what is worth waiting for
and what is not.
I want to be air
wait with brilliant patience unafraid.
I know it as air knows snow.
As a body knows air when it cannot catch its breath.
If able, every day we breathe in at least sixteen kilograms
of it. This is not wisdom.
This is eating boiled eggs buttered toast
food reassuring as snow.
Animals need to eat, true?
Need to breathe the oxygen in air.
Don’t conflate air with oxygen. That’s a mistake.
We also breathe in its poisons—too much kills.
That is the problem with air
and love. I don’t want to live
without either. I mean
it is impossible.
What is beautiful about air
is how it helps to move water from vapor to ice
to sublime again. Holds my love as he tries
to transfer from couch to table and back to couch. Knows
he will be ice and vapor. This is what we all become.

*

Alone

I see him on the red couch
waiting for me.

Unruly papers keep falling
to the floor.

No floral aroma here; only
the odor of goodbye.

*

During The Pandemic You Are Dying At Home

Sparrows nibble at your blanket
dive in and out of the eaves of your mouth.

Wings rimmed with tatting.
Tattooed beaks add color to an otherwise

bland room. The hard-working birds
will not speak to me yet.

This is not the life I planned.
Now the sky closes its doors and trees shrink

into fetal positions. Your body shrinks.
You forget where you are where

you are going. Your hospital bed tries to explain:
You don’t belong anymore.

This is not the life we planned.
We are breezeless our window won’t open.

I wait with the sparrows for a sign
to kiss your confused mouth goodbye.

You say:
   “I’m moving three across three down.”
   “What if my pee is poison?”
   “Get me my shoes.”

*

Amy Small-McKinney’s poetry has been published in numerous journals, for example, Connotation Press, Construction, American Poetry Review, The Indianapolis Review, Tiferet, Anomaly, Ilanot Review, Pedestal Magazine, and is forthcoming in Baltimore Review. Her poem “Birthplace” received Special Merits recognition by The Comstock Review for their 2019 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest. Her second full-length book of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, won the Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press). Small-McKinney’s reviews of poetry books have appeared in several journals, for example, Prairie Schooner. Her poems have also been translated into Romanian and Korean. She resides in Philadelphia where she teaches community poetry workshops and private students.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s