Joannie Kervran Stangeland

Ali, Unable to Leave the Bakery

I remember stirring yesterday’s ashes,
lighting the new fire for the day’s work.
I remember the warmth from the ovens,
the smell of yeast,
the dust of flour on my palms.

This was the taste of my mornings,
my sons working beside me.
The neighborhood came for bread—
young wives with their gossip,
Abdul who lost a leg
in the war against Iran—
and for old Rasha, we left a loaf
out back, as though we forgot it there.

I remember the heat like it was yesterday,
but I smell burning, the sear
of bullets in my flesh,
the singe of screams,
fire licking at the clay.

How long has it been?
Now I am less than ashes,
yet I sift through the ashes,
try to forget the heat, the smell,
the taste of bread and fear,
the way to breathe.

After You Go, How Can You Get Back?

War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try
to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves

......................................................................—Leo Tolstoy

A woman sits by the road for a heart beat,
three beats, a full minute of pulse
while the stream of people seeps by.

In a room without corners,
a man signs another document.
Ink flows easily across the heavy page.
The pen feels smooth in his fingers.

A bird song is picked up
on an afternoon wind, carried past
husks of burned-out cars, charred trees,
earth stained by the residues of life
and dying.

The young foreign men
and women swallow themselves.
The hooded men swallow themselves.
The officials wipe their palms
and swallow themselves.
An acrid taste, the fear lingers
in their hollow mouths.

Their eyes, empty—
chests, empty—
minds clicking like tiny clocks,
hands flapping like crows.

The people on the road keep moving,
the woman one
with the current.

Joannie Kervran Stangeland’s chapbook Weathered Steps was published by Rose Alley Press. A Steady Longing for Flight won the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. More recently, her work has appeared in Pinyon and The Cape Rock and on the New Verse News and The Smoking Poet websites.

(author retains copyright)