Work

Shadow

 

    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.  –Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

 

So much she does not know, now that she’s reached

the cusp of Age.  Past the apex of that Renaissance

bell curve – the seven ages Shakespeare preached, 

 

the ones she once rejected, so certain that

she had to stay the same. This spring she fights 

just to stay erect.  Her father’s losing weight,  

 

like a Jenny Craig success.  A sly grin lights 

his face when the doctor’s scale edges

down and down – one seventeen – he fights

 

to reach a hundred pounds. He’s eighty-eight. 

She thinks he wants to disappear, sick

of his crabbed reflection in the glass, the weight

 

of living. She’s relieved to leave him. The peace 

of her own place, a balm broken 

by a cardinal pecking at the window glass.

 

“That bird ought to put her strength

into making eggs,” a guest opines 

on the second day. The woman thinks

 

of her unborn grandson, safe, reclining

in her daughter’s womb.  When she calls

her father, he’s forgot to eat again. 

 

This man who named her world cannot recall

the name of the white flowers that star 

his April lawn.  All day the bird flies, full

 

force, at her double.  Undeterred, far

from her abandoned nest.  She’s young. She still 

believes her image, its power

 

to define, devour her.  Enraged, she’d kill

it to defend her space, though it is herself

she duels in truth.  The shade she cannot still.

                        –Leatha Kendrick

           First published in The Heartland Review,  Spring 2010.

 

Collected in Almanac of the Invisible, Larkspur Press, 2014


 

Detail: Garden Path

 

 

A weavery of stones, sand

between, and two curled leaves—

we stoop and aim.  

 

My daughter sets

the lens toward her toes and snaps.

“Great idea,” I say. “Let me

take one of your foot.”  

 

She laughs,

“Oh, Mom, I’m glad you 

like silly things like me.” She angles 

her foot, sandaled on the brick

and I zoom in.  

 

On the path,

plump white toes, a canvas 

strap, fat lines of moss, 

echo of her laugh.

 

        –Leatha Kendrick

First published in Still, an Online Journal, Autumn, 2012

Collected in Almanac of the Invisible, Larkspur Press, 2014.


 

What Falls Away

 

What falls away is always.  And is near.

            –Theodore Roethke

 

 

Nothing speaks from the next room.

It is past – the high pitch of it,

the words still soft around the edges,

lopsided, taking shape.  The lean fingers of it,

the pudgy palms and bare feet

on stairs – they are away.  And always

falls down skins a knee, leaves for college.

Go home, I think – but where?  I think it

in my car while in the city or in the house

we built on a hillside twenty years gone now.

Everywhere’s a motel, I think – even trees

grow fast as always falls.  It’s going somewhere

I can’t see—this tree next to my window—

and my window moves out of then

to no place past now.  Still it moves.

You can’t get ahead of yourself,

though the mind’s eye will strain

to make out landscapes way out there.  Nothing

speaks or giggles or cries out from these

places we are leaving.

 

            –Leatha Kendrick

First published in Science in Your Own Back Yard, Larkspur Press, 2003.

Collected in Second Opinion, David Robert Books, 2008.


 

Second Opinion

 

We’re four women waiting among a shifting set of others

in radiology’s store-front lobby–three daughters

and a mother linked by blood and laughter

over  Cosmo Girl’s “most embarrassing

moments” (trail of toilet paper from the back of slacks,

the inevitable period started when you’re wearing white,

a student asking her teacher, “If your quizzies are hard,

what about your testes?”)  Lyda loves that last one–

my funny last one–she’s the performer, the mime.

Thank god, she’s mine, feeding me one-liners.

The middle one, Eliza, brought my x-rays here,

and parked the car. She works the crossword,

all attention like her father but she’s part of me,

my watching self.  And Leslie, eldest, watches over us all,

rails against this three hour wait, tries to breach

the impersonal walls of disinterest in our fate.  She was first

to nurse from this right breast, that pressed and prodded,

and later slicked with gel will echo sound onto a screen

to show the probable malignancy.  I’m going to lose it–

the breast–and along with it the cancer, too, I hope.

The receptionist gives us a hard look when we laugh.

We’re linked, silvery with a happiness

glinting out even in this waiting place.

I finger the necklace I’ve just bought, touch

the curative moonstone, murmuring “hope”–

I want to believe in sudden remission,

in some way to avert  what we are certainly

headed for.  What I can believe in

is the healing of their fingers laced through mine.

 

                –Leatha Kendrick

First published in The Voice of Breast Cancer in Medicine and Bioethics, 2006.

Winner, Jim Wayne Miller Poetry Prize, 2001.

Collected in Second Opinion, David Roberts Books, 2008.

Reprinted in What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets,  2009.


 

 

Costume.  Fakery.  The Sell.

 

    On Watching TV two weeks post-mastectomy

Excuse me while I grow bald and fat.

Sorry to offend the eye with my

one breast.  I’m female.  I apologize.

I fake two breasts, but know this half-flat

chest.  I’ll take chemo and a wig,

touch my losses secretly.  No big

deal!  I never have and never will

fit anyone’s ideal.  And I’m no star-

fish:  won’t regenerate.  Fiberfill

and silicone help to hide the scar.

This new shape won’t fill t-shirts, sell a car.

I’m served up on the half-shell.  Turn off

the TV.  Its cleavage shouts, “Are you buying?”

Avert your eyes.  I’ve one soft side.  I’m off

the market. Alive!  Tender, I’m not hiding.

 

                — Leatha Kendrick

First published in Science in Your Own Back Yard, Larkspur Press, 2003.

Reprinted in The Voice of Breast Cancer in Medicine and Bioethics, 2006.

Collected in Second Opinion, David Robert Books, 2008.

Reprinted in What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets,  2009.


 

Zen Laundry

 

    Mornings, pulled earthward, I approach

    these Buddhas, white and squat, female

    openings accepting what is placed in them—

    the weight of denim, heft of wet towels.

    All passes through them, brought by water

    and the heat toward an original state.

 

    A friend of mine once claimed she survived

    the dying of her child by doing laundry.

    And though I’ve never had to face that kind

    of death, there have been days of crying babies,

    everlasting viruses, and loss

    when life seemed somewhere else, and the wash

    was all I could get done.  Over and over

    I wonder aloud, “What has this labor

    added to the world?”  Like purple dresses

    or a dark blue shirt, the question fades.

 

    Nighties rumpled full of sleep smells,

    t-shirts stained and jeans survive,

    demanding to be laundered yet again.

    Love has put me here, I muse.

    The fairy tale’s real end.  A cinderella inside out,

    I sing, “My love!  My endless – laundry.”

    Among the piles of clothes, I am

a blankness opening

to admit the insufficiency of thought.

The Way of Wisdom.

Go now and wash your socks.

 

            — Leatha Kendrick

First published in Cincinnati Poetry Review, 1996.

Collected in Heart Cake, Sow’s Ear Press, 2000