The Art of Reading
Requires a green floral easy chair,
a warm yellow mug of tea
scented with honey,
a robe the color of cabernet.
Between sofa and breakfast bar—
a view of the Nile, mosque,
and street market, the butcher
and the woman—one among hundreds
in head scarves—buying a chicken
plucked but still bloody.
The reader, without seeing, sees
the conversion of first snow
in Colorado to the dust of Cairo.
Snow takes its time—
smothers deer trails,
bleaches a huddle of geese,
erases the highway. Powders over
what we love. Blood vessels
clench, hands pale, wax
with no flame, wired to the grid,
the can opener, the dead radio.
Survival pounds the door—
Candles, matches, bottled water
won’t save you. Snow will
have its say. Come away.
Learning Colors in Russian
Getting mouth and brain to give up
ABC, to trust an alphabet where
P morphs into R and N turns its back.
The teacher’s tone and smile mean more
than the noise she makes when I get it right.
Because the teacher smiles, I want to
please her, someday say the words
for steppes and snow, to know more
than Lenin, Putin, vodka, Zhivago.
Millions of toddlers in Moscow name
what I cannot—three primary colors
plus black, nothing urgent, not a demand
for my passport in the train station, not
the words for belly pain or appendix.
Teacher takes back her squares of paper,
colors bright as beads. I thought I knew
the sound of red and black, thought
I might describe a flower or
the night sky over St. Petersburg, but
a mighty English tiger has my tongue.
Twenty-four hours later
blue, red, yellow and black fade
to humble gray, though I had them
on my tongue, had peeked through
the wet wool hat of English
pulled low over my eyes and ears,
mother tongue clogging my throat, jealous.
©2011 by Karen Douglass
Karen Douglass writes poems, novels, a blog, and grocery lists. She lives in Colorado with three dogs,
one cat, an old car and her family. You can visit her at KD’s Bookblog. Her books include Red Goddess Poems; Bones in the Chimney
(fiction), Green Rider, Thinking Horse (non-fiction), and Sostenuto, (poems)
and The Great Hunger (poems), which is available from Plain View Press (2009).