Box of Stars
Truth is that box of stars my kids press
on the bedroom ceiling. Shine a light
and they glow a little in the dark.
Then they stop no matter how much light
you give them. They fall one by one.
My father told a story about how he cut off
a man’s ear and stuffed it in his pocket.
When I was seven, the doctors
wanted to break both my legs to fix them.
They bowed just like my father’s did.
Standing side by side we made an M.
Mother told the doctors No. She wore
her anger like a scarf. Father
talked with both hands, grabbing air.
I thought if I could see the shapes,
I might understand his logarithms
of happiness. At eighteen, I ate
a paper star, saw colors in a lover’s face
that weren’t there before or after.
I walked my dog along the broken notes
of railroad tracks, memorized each missing
spike, her favorite spots for squatting.
I walked in shoes of blood. I walked away
from love so many times I ended up walking
back to it. When my father died,
I searched his pockets and found the stars.
On the Mantel
sits a bud vase with last fall’s flowers
so spent no one can name them,
and a photograph of a stoic child
on the dappled back of a horse.
Behind boy and horse, faded apartments
boast empty flowerpots. It’s the wrong
season for dahlias, for old world herbs –
basilico, salvia. The horse
pauses from deliveries – coal or milk.
All you can see is his swayback,
the reins and snaffle bit. The child,
bundled in layers and topped with a wool cap,
is posed by those out of camera’s reach.
He stares at the photographer
who is trying to make him smile.
Eighty years, they all are gone –
deliveryman, tired horse, photographer,
flowerpots, my father’s sullen glare.
The years have made the photograph brighter,
more colorful. Whites yellowed, blacks are brown.
Then I am in the garden. Father pays
ten cents an hour to pull weeds and pop
whispery seeds from dead heads. My lips
are moving, a mantra on bended knees.
Portulaca, portulaca. They will return.
Jim Zola has worked in a warehouse, as a security guard, in a bookstore, as a teacher for Deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher Price, and currently as a children’s librarian. Published in many journals through the years, his publications include a chapbook — The One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press) — and a full length poetry collection — What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press). He currently lives in Greensboro, NC