means keeping the house
together with whatever clapboard
or glue or rough twine you’ve got
or can fashion—today, for instance,
what holds everything together
is a scrupulous cleaning and inventory
of all the dried spices, each of whose names
you must pronounce aloud
as you wipe its tiny jar clean and set it
with the rest spread across the counter
for roll call and inspection.
The ghosts of failed recipes and others
you just now remember you’d planned to try
haunt the corners of this cabinet above the range—
the herbes de provence meant
for some stew you were convinced of,
the smoked sea salt, the cardamom pods.
The label maker will churn out tidy new labels
for scrubbed and re-purposed jars.
Each container of dry leaf or powder or seed
is given one shot of fresh air,
one chance to whisper its scent
to make its case before being returned
to the cool dark cabinet or rejected,
sent out to season the compost
for the midnight diners.
The spent plastic lighter
can still be thumbed and thumbed
into its raspy cricket cough, can be
convinced to toss up a weak spark
and hair-thin wisp of smoke, but
can’t scratch up an actual flame
to save its life or yours—and you’re sure
a cigarette would save you just now
on the damp and chilly back porch
outside the throb and sweat
of the party. If only someone
would come to bum a smoke,
they’d maybe have a light—
though what mooch comes ready
with such complete helpfulness?
No one shows, though, so you
thumb and thumb the metal wheel,
like the hopeful idiot mashing
and mashing the elevator button
as if such devotion and vigor
would hurl the car faster up
through the skyscraper’s esophagus.
Once, this lighter could start fire
in a nest of tinder or at the wick
of a candle. It could start all kinds
of trouble. Now, it summons only
another round of rain, calling it down
from the gunmetal clouds beneath which
you wait for rescue, call out for it in fact
with the thumbing, the thumbing,
the fruitless chk, chk, chk.
Liz Ahl is the author of Beating the Bounds (Hobblebush Books, 2017) as well as several chapbook-length collections of poetry. Her first chapbook, A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, won the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook prize. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, Sinister Wisdom, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in New Hampshire.