Remember that the automatic door
to the department store opens before
you, polite as a doorman at the Ritz.
Remember, when you descend the escalator
at the airport, to stand up straight for god’s sake!
Don’t you dare think you’re so small you might slide
through the slit between the stair and the floor.
By the way, those pockets stuffed with grievances
weigh you down. So does your shortsighted frown.
Listen to me. Laughter sets you free.
On Contemplating the Beauty of an Animal Skull Picked CleanOr Fifteen Hundred Dermestid Beetles Available on Amazon $49.11 & Free Shipping
The Great Chain of Being
starts with God, ends with dirt.
Beetles rank below the pretty insects,
the ladybugs and the dragonflies,
and beetles rank behind the useful insects,
the spiders and the honeybees.
The lowly dermestid beetle occupies
the unpleasant insect category, which puzzles me.
If cleanliness is next to godliness,
this beetle clean-up crew should get its due.
I, for one, salute these truth tellers,
who scavange the sins of the flesh,
eating all that decay. Getting down
to the beauty of bare bones, you might say.
Driving to Elko on a winter day
storm clouds stacked
from Lone Mountain to the Rubies.
Jesus rays in all directions.
Even the lonely house on Adobe Summit
softened by snow and light.
For a moment, looking down,
you would think the whole damned town
rests upon hallowed ground.
For all I know, and this is true,
a light shines right now on me and on you.
Over the loudspeaker, “Christmas party radiology conference room at noon.”
We chipped in for cold cuts, brought goodies-- cheese and crackers, jello salad,
Mexican wedding cookies. Mary Dullea brought posole to eat in paper cups.
Spiked punch lasts fifteen minutes. Mrs. Petty whispers,
“We shoulda made chicken soup for Dr. Kopperman.”
Sandra brought bunuelos, made them in her Mexican cooking class.
Consuela spits hers into the wastebasket, hisses to Teresa,
“I’ve never tasted anything like that.”
Sandra gets huffy, “They’re Mexico City style. Not New Mexico.”
Kyle, the security guard, plays Santa.
Evie gives me three pair of bikini panties,
each with a drink recipe. Mary Dullea whispers
she’s selling hot Navajo jewelry for her brother-in-law in Window Rock.
The custodians have their party upstairs.
Lucille comes down to ours and complains,
“They’re playing Spanish music. I can’t understand a word of it.”
She writes her recipe for sweet potato pie on a “While You Were Out” pad.
It’s her new husband’s favorite. He’s from the Bahamas, hates Albuquerque.
Mrs. Petty passes around a Christmas card to slip into Poopsie’s in-box.
Poopsie is secretary to Dr. B, the chief of radiology.
The card is a photo of a penis with glasses and a little Santa hat.
Underneath it says, “Season's Greetings. Guess Who?’
Poopsie won’t come to our party. The way she refers to herself
as “eg-ZEC-ative secretary,” I know she won’t show.
Evie thinks Poopsie is having a mad affair with Dr. B.
That may be true, but I think Poopsie hates all of us,
especially this time of year.
Evie is thrilled to be pregnant. We laugh
when she pops a button because her boobs are getting big.
The conference room is near the nursery and the maternity ward.
When someone opens the door, you hear an infant cry.
Mrs. Petty whispers, “Baby Hay-Soos,” every time.
You open the bedroom curtain
and it’s hallelujah outside.
The ordinary patio gold-leaved,
the cottonwood trees lit from within.
For a moment you can
withstand the splendor,
accept the hallowed ground,
believe in the glory of endings.
Each morning I mourn my reflection
by asking a metaphysical question:
Who is this woman watching me wash
a crumpled face and brush ragged teeth?
Why do I wonder whether I am seeing
a doppelganger goose or a transgander?
Here’s the Siri-us hitch: I ask my reflection
a question and I’m replied by a virtual bitch.
“Your face would turn a thousand ships the other direction,”
she observes with bemused affection.
Some days I’m glad for our mourning conversation,
when the image of a disheveled septuagenarian
gives me a special dispensation with a yawn,
“You will miss me when I’m gone.”
What if the one-legged tenant in the upstairs apartment
drops his boot with a thump and there you are staring
at the ceiling, waiting, because you never bothered to learn
who lives above, below, or about any neighbor, for that matter,
and you are waiting for something that’s not going to happen,
and you are missing out on meeting a really good person,
but no, not you, with your negative expectation
and lurid imagination, you insist on reading the worst
in the paint’s imperfections, in the shadows and cracks,
and you persist in believing doom follows gloom
as night follows day and there you are waiting...
The rat-a-tat yap has finally stopped.
What set off her terrier alarm?
A neighbor who would do me harm?
And when I head home late and get a flat
at dark on the country road, should a stranger stop,
would I take a ride to my abode? I never used to hesitate.
Fear is a sensible trait. Nothing is wrong
with caution. But age and the news confuse me
into thinking the enemy might be you.
“Now we are having beautiful warm windless weather that is very beneficial to me. The sun, a light that for lack of a better word I can only call yellow, bright sulfur yellow, pale lemon gold. How beautiful yellow is!”
Vincent Van Gogh
Bees buzzing in buttercups
Cowardice! No, not so. Color of courage in Japan
Daffodil’s diseased leaves
Egyptian female pharaohs painted in ancient tombs
Frogs with yellow bellies hop away and hide
Gold the world over
How to mark a Heretic
Jaundiced skin means yellow fever
Yellow Kid journalism
Lemons and legal pads
Moonlight and marigolds
Nazis forced Jews to sew on their sleeves yellow triangles with the star of David
Ochre horse painted on a wall at Lascaux
Political praxis of Yellow Peril, pineapples; post-it notes
Standing in a stunning field of rape singing the “Yellow Rose of Texas,”
Sun! star at the center of our solar system, staying stable for another five billion years
Taxis, Turmeric, Tonka trucks
Visible of all colors--yellow with black--STOP!
Wearing a yellow ribbon while waiting for John Wayne
Xanthopsia, an eye condition in which objects appear yellow-- why Van Gogh loved yellow so
Yellow submarines, where we all live with the Beatles
Zinnias in your backyard
Between me and the clothesline--
a bull snake whose blotches blend
with wet dirt and dead leaves.
No hiss or fake rattlesnake coil,
still-- silly me--I shield myself
with a plastic laundry basket.
Last summer, I was enthralled
by a bull snake in my apple tree.
Disguised by the mottled bark,
it stretched toward a robin’s nest,
and, yes, I couldn’t help but wonder
what the heck Eve was thinking.
The year before, a pair mated
near the garage door, and so much for
rural advice, “They eat rats. They eat mice.”
I said it twice before the urge took hold
to hack them with a rake. Instead, I yelled,
“Go get a room at the bullsnake motel!”
Even now, there’s an image I cannot erase
of the hapless snakes who tainted my space.
Nancy Harris McLelland taught creative writing, composition, and literature for over twenty years and Conducted writing workshops for the Western Folklife Center, Great Basin College , and the Great Basin Writing Project . An Elko County native with a background in ranching. McLelland has presented her "Poems from Tuscarora" Both at daytime and evening events at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Her essay, "Border Lands: Cowboy Poetry and the Literary Canon" is in the anthology Cowboy Poetry Matters .