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SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

[Two Poems]

by Mary Makofske

Bequeathing the Roses

They stand by the bed
of roses he will leave
like abandoned children.
Mr. Lincoln’s blood red
blossoms, the fragrance
of Peace. On Summer Nights,
he was the Beautiful Dreamer
watching from his porch
as they slept. He tells her
their names, stroking each tag
as he speaks, and lingers
over the blue rose, rarest
of all. Then a litany of advice 
for their care and feeding,
how and when to mulch,
the ills and enemies
that can weaken, or kill.
Black spot, downy mildew,
rust, mosaic virus, canker.
The voracious Japanese beetle,
aphids, scale, thrips and chafers
that burrow into the heart
of blossoms, leaving them
scattershot. Timing is all—
when to spray, when to provide
the chemical formulas they love.
Tomorrow he hands over
the deed and keys, the house
stripped from basement to attic.
But in the shed he leaves her
rose food and poisons,
long, leather gloves for pruning,
razor-sharp clippers, trowels,
the shovel and pitchfork he used
to set the roses in. She nods
and listens, knowing how much
he needs to tell her this, and bends
to cup a Brandy. Closes her eyes
to breathe it in. She thinks of her
child, his tender hands and lungs,
his passion for taste and touch.
When she opens her eyes
she sees nothing but thorns.


Into the Teeth of It

for my grandson
Two teeth slice through tender gums
and it hurts like hell, a place not yet
mapped in his fuzzy head’s geography.
He drools, soaking bib after bib,
chews his hands till they’re raw,
can’t sleep like the baby he is.
But he grabs his feet, begins to think
they might be his, but isn’t everything
his? Those balloon faces that poke
into view, the breasts filled with milk?
He turns his head to music, classical guitar
his father plays for him each morning,
Tony Bennett, an acappella group singing
“Chili con Carne,” and especially his mother’s
voice belting out “It Don’t Mean a Thing”
from the shiny box. He trades smile
for smile, belly laughs when tickled,
drums on a tom-tom, the table, my chest.
He’s mesmerized by strips of sunlight,
rain, shadows, trembling leaves. And birds—
what does he see when he stares
at their jittery flight, watches the empty
sky for their return? He smacks his lips,
shakes his head no to pain, concentrates
instead on a jack-in-the-box that pops up
again, again, no matter how often
it’s beaten down.


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Mary Makofske

is the author of World Enough, and Time (Kelsay Books, 2017); Traction (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011), winner of the Richard Snyder Prize judged by David Wojahn; The Disappearance of Gargoyles (Thorntree Press, 1988); and Eating Nasturtiums (1998), winner of a Flume Press Chapbook competition. Her work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The American Journal of Poetry, Mississippi Review, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, and Calyx, as well as in eighteen anthologies. Individual poems received the Robert Penn Warren Prize, the Iowa Woman Prize, the Lullwater Review Prize, the Spoon River Poetry Review Prize, The Ledge Prize, third place in the William Matthews Prize from Asheville Poetry Review, Honorable Mention in the Oberon Prize, second place in the Allen Ginsberg Awards, the International Poetry Prize from Atlanta Review, and the New Millennium Poetry Prize.

Makofske was born and grew up in Washington, DC, and worked as a travel agent, reporter, and health educator before becoming a professor of English at SUNY Orange, from which she retired in 2006.

Poet’s website:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury