09.22.17
Weekly poem on Trump Presidency

 

JENNIFER K. SWEENEY

Making Use

My grandmother could do it, yours,
in a threadbare kitchen, pull from the compost
onionskins, zucchini stumps, damp ribbons
of peeled carrot, into the stockpot
she could bathe the babies in,
add the gristle, the discarded bone;
if she waited long enough, hymn by hymn,
the water might draw out one last savory breath.
Sieving up the fibrous, the wrack of husks
with midwifery hands, the family sustained.
And if there was one pillow and three children
she would open the seam and divide,
shear into the hand-me-down quilt,
patterns for teddy bears.
Sour milk softened bathwater, a bowl of coffee grounds
on the counter after a fish fry, old bread folded
into a pudding or bagged for a day at the pond.
The lineage of making use an informal art
quietly gathered, mended by example—
salt dough, wood ash lye water,
my mother sewing dresses out of pillowcases—
women make use of almost anything
worthy of a little left life. 
My friend returning from the NICU
takes out the flour and sugar at midnight
and blends in the rotten bananas without thinking,
suddenly in the blue kitchen waiting for the bread to rise.
The artist who works in lint, sculpts an entire exhibit
of bunnies from dust bunnies, 
and Georgia O’Keeffe once said
I got half-a-dozen paintings out of that broken plate.
Old boot, reckless childhood, chronic fatigue,
empty house, blight, this clock set to winter,
I can fire this train wreck in the kiln
and eat from the bowl of it.
So unsung this work of sensing life cycles,
knowing how to resuscitate, and by way
of transformation, coax forward, and yet so expected
that less than a day after a person who will become
our president is caught bragging of sexual assault
as if he has not already bragged it many times over,
the cue to glean out the usefulness is everywhere:           
opportunity for women to speak up,            
best thing that could have happened,
he opened the door
.
Door to a room that we were born into
nothing opening but his terrible mouth.
If we choose to talk,
if we write a letter about how it happened,
if together we make a list:
at a party, on a city street in broad daylight,
a Greyhound bus, a family reunion,
a wedding, a state forest, in a business meeting…
if we close the accordion screens and buckle in the grief,
know these are our own actions and not
a form of tending the call, know
we have long-ago made what is to be made
and we know when to hum the prayer of discernment
for the broken, when to cull out the good
and when to rot the corpse back to its bones.

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Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three books: Little Spells (New Issues Press), How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press), and Salt Memory. The recipient of the James Laughlin Award, and a Pushcart Prize, she lives in California’s Inland Empire where she teaches privately and at the University of Redlands.

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illustration: anna_croc01

illustration: anna_croc01