Poems & Essays

21 Oct

Playground One

Toddlers to Teens No Response

My daughter waltzes with water

            gently cups the stream

with trembling hands.

            Not missing a beat

(one two three one two three)

            Spinning

Soaring

            in the sprinkler.

All that’s missing

            Is a silk emerald skirt

Twinkled silver shoes

            Ginger Rogers to her

liquid Fred Astaire.

            Such are the acts of astonishment

at the playground.

            A child lifts a leaf to the sky

proclaiming

            “I see the veins but

the blood is green.”

            A crumpled gum wrapper

Is flattened

            smoothed like dough

Then wedded across  a tiny finger

            in a sacred band.

The soap bubbles

            swirling like so many

tie-dyed colors.

            My daughter waltzes with the water,

giggles

            at a drain clogged with leaves

then

            runs her fingers

through the sunlight

            as if each ray was another 

strand of hair.

Penny Jackson’s stories and poems have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, StoryQuarterly, Real Fiction, The Croton Review, The Edinburgh Review, The Ontario Review and other magazines. Her stories have been published in the collection L.A. Child by Untreed Reads and her novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS, was published by Bantam Books. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow in Fiction and also a Mireliies Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University. 

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21 Oct

Playground Three

Toddlers to Teens No Response

How this mother

            wishes

she was anywhere else but

            in this sandbox,

her son wrapped around her knees

            with sand-crusted fists

his mouth open

            in a perfect 

                        O

of despair

            Shrieking

MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!

            without pausing for breath.

She

            examines her crimson nail polish

            (a chip on the right thumb)

readjusts her sunglasses

            (even though the sky is gun-metal grey)

then tugs at her wrists

                            fingers

                            throat

as if searching for lost gems.

            How did she get here?

Why isn’t she dining on the terrace

            At The Hotel Negresco?

sipping Bellinis

            with men with lemon ties and azure eyes.

What happened

            To those sunlit Smith College classrooms

                        Inhaling books

and later

            clutching the hair

                        of an Amherst boy.

Why isn’t she young anymore?

            Her sigh

could be a crack in the earth,

            a din of thunder.

She stares down

            to see her little boy asleep

                        by her ankles,

            crumpled in his faded red jacket

                        like a pile of last autumn’s leaves. 

Penny Jackson’s stories and poems have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, StoryQuarterly, Real Fiction, The Croton Review, The Edinburgh Review, The Ontario Review and other magazines. Her stories have been published in the collection L.A. Child by Untreed Reads and her novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS, was published by Bantam Books. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow in Fiction and also a Mireliies Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University. 

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21 Oct

Playground Two

Toddlers to Teens No Response

You can see these children

            at the playground

That little boy

            dressed in a white sailor suit

his mother huddled in black

            never more than six inches away

like an omnipresent storm cloud.

            Or this mother alternating between

sips of something alcoholic in a brown bag

            then smacking her daughter

hard

            with fingers brutal

with thick rings.

            Then there is the little girl

with five teeth

            like the jagged edge of a broken beer bottle.

She only likes to play with the garbage cans

            poking a dirty straw

Into her arm.

These children carry a darkness visible.

            Even the younger ones can 

sense it,

            moving away from the sandbox the same way

my daughter shrinks from bugs.

            Some mothers wish these children

to disappear,

            or at least move to another playground.

But they return,

            day after day,

which is not necessarily

            a bad thing

to see again and again.

Penny Jackson’s stories and poems have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, StoryQuarterly, Real Fiction, The Croton Review, The Edinburgh Review, The Ontario Review and other magazines. Her stories have been published in the collection L.A. Child by Untreed Reads and her novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS, was published by Bantam Books. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow in Fiction and also a Mireliies Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University. 

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21 Oct

Mother and Child in a Hammock

Toddlers to Teens No Response

We had a hammock in the backyard in the small old house where we used to live on Fern Street when you were ten years old. I bought it at a tag sale for ten dollars. The guy at the tag sale helped me put all the green metal pieces in the back seat of the car. When I got home, I carried them one by one to the backyard and built the hammock stand out of them. The hammock swing was orange canvas. I needed to ask you to help me pull it tight to place it on the chain that hung down from the metal bar to hold it in place. It worked. It was a real hammock. I used it a few times. You and your friends did too.  Our cat, Lassie, found a shady spot lying underneath it on hot days. Eventually, it fell apart and the metal pieces rusted. For a while, it was my accomplishment.

I remember that hammock best from the night we watched the meteor shower in it. At your insistence, we woke up at four in the morning and dressed ourselves in warm clothes, sweat pants, socks and sweaters and took a big thick quilt out to the backyard and lay down together in that hammock. The air was cold but as we stared up at the night sky we were warm beneath that quilt.

The sky revealed a miracle of falling stars. There were shooting stars flying through space leaving a trail of sparkly dust in their wake. I had never seen such a sight before. I had, in the past, laid out on a blanket on the ground when such things had been predicted and had seen one or two moving stars in the span of an hour. This was not the same. It was one after another after another. It was more like something you would see in a planetarium, at a fireworks show, or in a cartoon. It wasn’t something I ever imagined seeing in real life. 

You weren’t surprised. You had expected it to be like this when you clamored for me to wake you up and watch it with you. You thought it would be like this, an amazing and endless stream of stars racing across the sky. You believed that the wishes we made on all of them would come true. We snuggled under that quilt for a good long time, mother and child in a hammock, warm and delighted under the night sky.

I will leave that moment just where it is, in the background, on Fern St., in the dark, when you were ten. I will resist the pull to compare it to any other time in our lives. I will take the picture of those falling stars in all their brightness with me. I will bask in the warmth under that quilt where I can smell your clean hair and hear your soft laugh. I will take pride in the hammock that I built and remember how it held us securely on the night we witnessed a miracle in the sky.

Madlynn Haber is a writer living in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her work has been published in the anthologies Letters to Fathers from Daughters and Word of Mouth Volume Two, in Anchor Magazine, Exit 13 Magazine and on websites including: A Gathering of the Tribes, The Voices Project, The Jewish Writing Project, BoomSpeak, Quail Bell Magazine and Mused Literary Review.

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