365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor

Instructions to a New Cook

    (a soup kitchen in the South)

Few know the trick to good grits: a tablespoon of vinegar,
a dash of salt, a generous handful of cheddar for color,

and a pot big enough to keep 'em warm till, maybe, 6:00 a.m.,
when the last man will nod to your asking, Grits?

See -- the kitchen knives, numbered one to six, too dull to cube
garden-grown cucumbers, too dull to settle any dispute.

In any conflict, the management reminds you to ask simply,
So, what's going on? During your lunch shift, no one should refuse

your rice, your rolls, or your canned corn, the mother of grits.
And as cook, you choose the spices, Apple Pie Spice in particular --

best as a brown sugar glaze for fruit or custard cups.
Don't forget to place hard boiled eggs in ice water for later,

for men to take away in their pockets, three or four
for midday traffic-watching at the bridge near King.

You may see one peel back the shell and rub the egg white
with wet fingers, reminding himself to salt supper meat twice

or maybe just licking his rough chin, glazed with sweat.
You will watch through windows long after the meal's done.

Open Like a Vowel

On an afternoon walk to no particular place, a small stack of pebbles lies
at my feet. A small stack of pebbles I hadn't noticed yesterday.

I would tell their histories to any lover: looking into his blue or brown eyes,
explaining how they bounced along the riverbed like words in a sloppy sentence

or the sentence of a speaker nervous because she's being too real,
pebbles worn round and smooth by abrasions, no place to go but downward, to the ocean.

I would tell the story slowly as if it were my own, my mouth moving cautiously,
opening each vowel like an egg, or -- I don't want to say something ridiculous --

like a refrigerator door, and my lips open, pulling out the last rrrrr sound.
He certainly would see my pleasure in making this sound -- raunchy, rough, like motor

and my tongue suspended in the middle of my mouth like a guilty lover's.
But we're talking about pebbles here -- what I particularly love is how gray they are,

all of one color. I would bend to pick up a pebble, a smooth one, and taste it --
running my tongue across its surface (finally it tells me its salty history,

how it came from the sea; how it had no mother, no father.)

January on the River Fils

      (Sussen, Germany)

Our eyes move from the channels of water to our sketch pads --
the sky shut to the sun, the rims of ice moving under the bridge,
glistening as if cold were light, as if we just opened our eyes.

He counts the male ducks and I the female, eleven each,
eleven solemn pairs bending toward the current to cross.
The cold binds the skyline quietly, only the tallest trees

and the rounded Albs break it, while the heavier
brick-colored stones remain at the edge of the river,
closing in on the surface, sometimes breaking it,

changing the color of the water like a wave, soaring up.
I urge him to divide his skyline into parts, beginning at the juniper tree,
stopping at the water tower. We make our sections overlap

near the water. The telephone pole will be our joining point,
like the pole I ran into late one night with my bicycle.
Afterwards the front tire wouldn't turn,

so I locked it there, to the pole, walking home in the dark.
Yes, the pole near the river will join us, in not some landscape, but this:
his country and mine, his urgency and mine, ellipsed over a river.

On Duty with the Night Janitor

The night before last,
cleaning the classrooms, I spotted
Witness in chalk at the top of the board.

Then, Shampoo, Sheet, and Mother
followed -- a race for what would start
a story going at last:

for a fairy tale, Once upon a time...,
a realist's account, In the small provincial
town of Pů, or a Go to the devil build up.

All possible beginnings, but this,
just a message to you of what I've found,
intends to create no illusions:

I keep shifting the orange chairs,
looking for softened gum -- my cloth
poised for action -- feeling

that few adventures start
in fluorescent light, few
are willing to brave the hum.

These nouns, like cubes in a glass,
were strangely abandoned here: Stairs,
Toothpaste, Father, Kitchen.

That's all. In this empty classroom
there's no occasion for a private point of view,
for the evidence of song.

Jessica Grant Bundschuh holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston and now teaches at the College of Charleston. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review and Quarterly West, and in 2001 she received poetry fellowships from both the South Carolina Endowment for the Arts and the South Carolina Academy of Authors.

© Copyright by POINT, 2001