Two Poems

by Karen Downing

  • Poetry
decorative header image from Volume IX Issue 1 · Spring 2023

At the North Bend Farmers Market in Late July

The girls are what I notice
not the first haul of corn spilling from the back of a truck
not the beachball watermelons flattening the dry grass
not the farmers who toiled in the fields
but their daughters in their track shorts and Adidas slides
hair still damp from the city swimming pool
the scent of chlorine layered with Bath and BodyWorks
‘Enchanted Candy Potion’ lotion

That trance of youth
like staring into the wavy heat lines on
I-80 as I drive to work and back
work and back
arriving in my driveway
without knowing how I made it home

The girls stretch their legs out long
resigned to sit in camping chairs
and wait this out
propped next to baskets of zucchini and onions,
the girls sell home-made earrings made in 4-H
$10 a pair
gas money so they can drive out and away
from the flatness of the land
the sight of their mothers disappearing in the rear view mirror
down dusty country roads
singing as if their lives depended on it
even if no one hears

The girls are dirt under nails and glitter on skin
ripe as blushing tomatoes on the folding card table
the girls are sleeker than cucumbers and brighter than carrots
they eat monkey bread from tin foil loaf pans
that spark in the sunshine
licking the sticky goodness off their hands

The girls can not contain their magic
in screw-top jam jars jeweled in the afternoon light
their spell holds my gaze as I offer any money I can find
to buy what they have
in the afternoon sunlight, I am a shadowy form they can barely see
their eyes squinting as they look ahead
to make out what is in front of them.

Photo by Jon Andelson

Photo by Jon Andelson

The Front

We should engage with poetry as we do the weather.

-Ocean Vuong

In that case
I will skip the five day forecast
warning of high temperatures
The banter in the grocery store checkout line
about the heat
The urge to pack an umbrella
just in case
I will neglect to put on sunscreen
Forget to bring a hat
And not worry if I don’t roll up the car windows.

Instead I will sit on the porch
on a swing rocking back and forth
betwixt and between
As the sky darkens and the winds pick up
I will settle in
even as the temperature drops
and the birds hush
The leaves of the trees will turn silver in the sharp light
I will greet this force with the awe it deserves
Tasting the metallic mystery of the rain
That can’t help but touch me
no matter my cover.

You will join me
Waiting in the false cool of the air
for the weight of the clouds to lift
We hold turbulence
As a thing that can pass
Even as the pressure keeps us in place
The edge of the storm not quite gone

You will ask me if I plan
On mentioning the rainbow we saw
No, I will say
This is poetry we’re talking about, after all
Instead I will compare the curl in my hair
To the rising steam on the pavement
I will
I will Rootstalk leaf-bug icon marking the end of the article's text.

About Author Karen Downing
Portrait image of author Karen Downing.
Photo courtesy of Karen Downing
Karen Downing taught high school English for 34 years. She is the Special Projects Coordinator for CultureALL’s Open Book program. These poems were inspired by time spent at Alan and Nancy Meyer’s home outside Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska as part of the AgArts Residency program.