4 Poems–Joan Colby

The Kidneys

Kidneys. Two cheerful siblings working in tandem
Like Jack and Jill with their pails.
Commas in the complex sentence
Of the body. Beans or boomerangs.

His failed, stopping his heart
Like the Grandfather clock in that old song.
Tick Tock Never to chime again.
His baritone. Never again to be heard.

His grandfather at forty told
He’d soon die of Bright’s Disease
Died as foretold thirty-six years later
Sitting in a rocker on his farmhouse porch.

Imagine, donator, how a part of yourself can depart
To settle in the continent of a stranger.
This cashew of your interior.
Sweet laundress of the bloodstream.


The Appendix 

She doubled over at the beach
Clutching her belly. We toweled off
And got her in my father’s Packard
Borrowed for the day. She screamed
From the backseat as I floored the pedal.

It’s a worm, that vestigial organ.
In that long-ago when men
Were starting to grow upright
With elongated skulls, it helped them
Digest the stalky plants. Now it’s useless,
Yet lethal.

A cop pulled us over, listened, then led us
Lights and sirens going.
Her appendix burst in surgery
But she got through it. The Packard, though.
Low on oil, suffered a cracked block.
Life and death, I told my father
Who scowled but didn’t say much.

1735, an eleven-year-old boy
Who swallowed a pin was the first
To be saved by the surgical removal
Of that appendage. In 1961, Leonid Rogozov, a doctor
At a remote Antarctic base,
Injected novocaine and operated
On himself, pausing occasionally
To grit his teeth and was awarded
The Order of the Red Banner of Labor.


The Pancreas

Nestled like a slug into the stomach’s
Mermaid curve. Or an infant cuddled
In the madonna’s arms.
Like miners laboring in the interior
Of salt domes or coal seams, here’s where
The significant activity occurs.

Travel to the islets of Langerhorn
A pirate’s haven, cells clustered with ransom.
Enzymes of buried treasure. Insulin of need.
Ambiguity of sugars. Born into a territory
Of robbed stagecoaches or rich
With the treacherous fats of the land.

Measure blood the way an assayer
Weighs ore. Toes blackening to basalt,
The Precambrian shield
Where men with scalpels gather.

Birdman, newly retired, to explore
The avian wealth of the Amazon, now this.
Whites of his eyes yellowed, skin the coppery
Hue of parchment. Hunched with the worst
Diagnosis, he accepts the tube for nutrition:
How it resembles the hummingbird feeder
Hanging just outside his window.


Equinox at Cantigny

The elegant gardens of Cantigny
Are flagrant with the flowers
Of summer: petunias, roses, alyssum,
Sweet William, phlox, ox-eye daisies.
We snap photos of the wooded arbor,
The Japanese pagoda. Ascend the stairs
To the Koi pond pleated with sunlight.
Except for one or two lances of sumac
Nothing has changed.

Children clamber the World War I tanks,
Rove the museum’s simulacrum
Of trench warfare. The poison
Gas of this monument to
Killing infiltrates the air as if
A calendar thumbed back through Vietnam,
Omaha Beach, the Somme, all the way
To a Union soldier armed with a flintlock.

A film of a landing craft opening its maw
To gunfire. The bodies floating
While others storm the beach.
The announcer says “If you have to
Die, this is a good place.” On the wall,
A banner proclaims the end of the war
To end all wars.

Outside, clouds are massing
Like angels at their devotions. The day is warm.
We walk in the dilute light, the wheel
Of seasons grinds on its axle.

JOAN COLBY‘s Selected Poems was published by FutureCycle Press in 2013 and received the 2013 FutureCycle Press Poetry Prize. She has been the editor of Illinois Racing News (a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation) for over 26 years. In addition to eight previous poetry collections, her work has appeared in Poetry, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Western Humanities Review, among others.

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