Three Poems by Mary Strong Jackson

She dusts the high desert from the gouged and pitted
years and layers of living drift before her eyes
bits of others sweep into her dusting cloth 
a word from another time and place comes to mind 
a place where the air was damp and dusting far between 
where an old man named Meryvn said the word “chiropody.” 
She says it aloud, chiropody, chiropody 
it seems like a dream sketched deep as the pitted wood 
yet far away in that time with the unswimmable pond
her dear ones and herself, when her eyes 
tried to see across an ocean, and an old man of eighty said, “Do you mind?”
And lifted her foot, removed her shoe, wiped it with a soft cloth,

then the other shoe, so gentle, she could have cried, and he wiped it with the cloth.
He held her foot for moments lost in thought. For sixty years his work was chiropody.
I like your accent he said, not harsh like some Americans. “Do you mind?”
he asked, as he felt her small toe, then picked up his tools made of wood
and her shoe, continued in the way of ritual, the way of work. He looked in her eyes
“I miss my wife beyond what words can tell.” Now the ocean of death lies between.
An ocean of death separates some, a living ocean roars between
her prairie family and herself. Mervyn wipes his eyes with the corner of his cloth.
“Beyond what words can tell is how much I miss my wife,” he says again. She wipes her eyes.
He plays his wife’s music box with meerkat figures on top. “Chiropody
gave us a good life. She fed me crumpets. Her love solid as ironwood,
soft as the skin on the top of your foot. I miss her hands. I miss her mind.”
Mervyn and five brothers, shoe repairers all, but only Mervyn minded
customers’ feet, the care of feet, the care of shoes, no difference between
the two in his gentle hands. He shaped shoes like an artisan shapes wood.
He shapes hearts like a chocolatier, wipes sweet or sad tears with the soft cloth
always in his pocket. Chiropody, care of the feet, Chiropody,
care of the soul is Mervyn’s work. He leans across his grief to see into her eyes.

He sees loneliness in waves, picks her foot up again, again his eyes
swim through sadness but he lets it wash away to focus, to mind
the store, to mind the feet, he picks up her other foot again. “Chiropody.”
Do you know the meaning of the word?” he asks between
caring for her feet and speaking of his dead wife, and again the soft cloth
to wipe his eyes, to wipe her eyes. If only we could turn to wood
and then be shined by a soft cloth to ease our single mindedness
where we could say the word chiropody as we close our eyes
and everything sad would fall between the cracks of dusty wood

              I Must Confide

I don’t know if stalagmites 
hang down or rise up
or how one thing seems like another
making metaphor the mother of all

I confide
I don’t know why sad settles in some
settles in shoulders, edges of eyes, soft corners of mouths
why it doesn’t rise like bread dough or elevators or angels
but hangs on heels, 
a sucking dredge fastening feet to floors

I must confide
I love and hate dichotomies
I don’t know how the morning’s kindness
weaves itself into the cushion of time

I don’t know the difference between the shapes of birds
and the stanzas of poems
the way red-winged blackbirds
connect like drops of ebony
in waves of rhythm and cadence
 to become silent poems
across prairies

I must confide


Longing for the Light

his brother sits in his room all day
their father says it was the war

the boy thinks of the bird’s eye 
wet with something and wonders if his brother
saw the eye of someone he killed
and if it was wet
and if the person looked at his brother
like the bird had looked at him

the brother says that America is in two wars without end
      Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
      as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world 
      without end. Amen
Father Maximos says “without end” means there are no accidents 
there are no accidents his brother says
we have done this on purpose


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