“Thank God for hollyhocks,” the ranch wife said
as she stood by the side of her truck.
“They go untended, not like everything else
around here.” She glanced at the house,
the barn, the cows in the field beyond.
“Some say a hollyhock is a large, coarse plant,
like the plainest girl at the dance.
But their colors are pure,
the sturdy stalks stand up to the wind,
the seeds easy to give to a friend.
What’s best is they are familiar,” she sighed.
“When I see hollyhocks, I know I’m home.”
I close my eyes
you in a skiff facing seaward
me at water’s edge
holding the bow line
I let go
you bobbing in the slip
a seagull squawking overhead
Painting your face on a kite
I’m holding a taut string
conjuring a whirlwind
I let go
you twirling skyward
in crazy circles
smashing into the branches of a tree.
serves you right for leaving
You are standing alone in the doorway
as they back out of the driveway,
everyone waving except the driver
who needs to think about where they’re going.
Now the house feels like you hosted a wake.
They promised to teach you to Skype, but it’s
hard to embrace their wavering faces,
which seem as unreliable as the Hereafter.
You did not share the pain their absence makes
or your dubious faith in the law
of object permanence--your fear
that when you can’t see them they don’t exist.
Before you play the wounded bird
think of the charadrius vociferus
commonly known as the killdeer.
Because she builds her nest in shortgrass fields
and sometimes parking lots, nature compensates
with a behavior called injury feigning.
She attempts to protect her fledglings
by making a strident and piping sound
as she hops on the ground,
and flaps a fake broken wing
hoping to fool the cunning coyote
with a plaintive over here, over here.
As I walk down a country road
and harken to her cry,
I reply, “I am not your enemy.”
Driven by fear and destined by nature
ever to be the wounded bird,
she’s incapable of grasping that distinction.
Over the loudspeaker, “Christmas party radiology conference room at noon.” We chipped in for cold cuts, brought goodies-- deviled eggs, swiss cheese and crackers, pink jello salad, Mexican wedding cookies. Mary Dullea brought posole, we eat in paper cups. Spiked punch lasts fifteen minutes.
Mrs. Petty stage whispers, “We shoulda made chicken soup for Dr. Kopperman.” Sandra brought bunuelos, learned to make 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. On the q.t., Mary Dullea whispers she’s selling hot Navajo jewelry for her brother-in-law in Arizona. 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 pink “While You Were Out” pad. It’s her new husband’s favorite. He’s from the Bahamas, hates Albuquerque.
Mrs. Petty passes around a 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 “executive secretary” emphasizing the “zec,” 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 us all, especially this time of year.
Evie is pregnant, thrilled about it. We laugh when she pops a button on her blouse because her boobs are big. The conference room is near the nursery and the maternity ward. When someone opens the door, you hear an infant cry. Mrs. Petty stage whispers “Baby Hay-Soos” every time.
December 22, 2018
From my perspective, forty-five years later this memory amused me because it took place well before “political correctness” was a buzzword in the workplace; well before Rodney King bemoaned, “Can’t we all just get along?” I think unconditional love is reserved for parenthood, God, and labrador retrievers. In the meantime, Joy to Our Imperfect World and Merry Christmas!
They say we come into this world afraid
of snakes no matter whether venomous
or not. Avoidance is the way we’re made,
although this truth may have eluded us.
In ignorance we may have thought our fear
a lack of fortitude or a moral flaw.
But now we know about the hiss we hear.
Our shuddering conforms to natural law.
Today I walked along a country road
encountering a lifeless coil. I said,
“I’m not afraid,” as feet unbidden showed
a path that led around a snake so dead.
It’s strange the way instinctive dread persists
long after natural foes no more exist.
If I were deaf I would watch the motion of branches
and think the trees nod “yes” to some delightful question.
If I were deaf I would be amused by the caprice
of an autumn leaf dashing across the gravel driveway.
I am not deaf and when the unrelenting wind
conjoins with everything within my hearing,
I remember my enemies and lose all peace of mind.
A life in wind-driven country
taught you to lean forward, head down,
trained you to narrow your eyes.
You got used to a wind blowing cold.
Now you lament being bent and old.
You chose where to live, truth be told.
even though no sani-seat covers
in the regular stall in the ladies room
at the Standard Station in Lovelock,
a town where lovers lock their love.
In the handicapped stall the lock doesn’t work.
You prop your purse against the door.
The Sikh at the register scowls.
I wonder why he’s here.
I miss the woman with bubblegum hair.
I wonder what happened to her.
Fernley on ramp
Enter Interstate 80 and head east
These are the exits you didn’t take:
Rye Patch Dam
Exit the interstate at Golconda
Mostly dirt road home
Painting by Marti Bein
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 .