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Fall 1995 · Vol. 24 No. 2 · pp. 10–13 

Four Poems

Jean Janzen


These days my mother rarely notices

the magnolia outside her door,

its cupped, white blooms,

hardly glances at her potted plants.

Her small chest heaves,

her sparrow-bones gather on the couch.

This valley is too dry; her skin

has become parchment. She hears

the hiss of failure—prairie dust,

the thin wail of children.

Clinging to a drop from the bent straw,

she refuses satiating gulps,

too lavish now, like branches leaning

with their many hands.

I open the door to let the June night

come in, the magnolia crowded with fragrance.

Then the mockingbird begins, sings

his tireless aria. Rudolfo’s lament?

Which way should Mimi turn her head?

All night he continues, borrowing

my mother’s breaths phrase by phrase.

He wants to hold her here, as if

to see her rise, wobbly and rumpled,

but faithful to the singer,

the lover we want to believe

will never forsake us.

For this is his season. {11}

But birds when they die

find hidden places, sigh invisibly

into leaves. For it is the air

itself which finally claims us,

drawing our last exhalations

into its reckless burning, this air

which we have borrowed since

our first stunned gasp.

My mother stirs and breathes

unevenly into this night’s betrayal,

its leaf-rasp and empty pods.

Her hand is pale against mine,

and her bruises flare in the dark.


Earth’s skeleton.

Skull-rocks, the skin

stretched tight.

Lavender valleys, sharp edge

of dunes in late light—

my mother dying.

She sings, the desert sings.

Nur mit Jesu. Presses kisses.

“Help me, help me” from her bones.

And now I know:

the soul lives

in the marrow.

Under the sand-shift,

the secret.

In the desert. {12}


(Luke 2:36-39)

Come see this child, old Anna sings—

God in a baby’s skin of silk.

Come hear his cry, she chants—bird call

and ocean’s roar to save us all.

Come walk with me. My gripping hands

release into this infant’s dance;

his flailing fists are mine to hold.

Come sail into the dark, the gold.

(in memory of my mother, Anna Schultz Wiebe, Oct. 18, 1898-Sept. 11, 1994) {13}


They come home with school papers flapping

in their hands, wings for civilization.

They smell like wind,

grounded in their bodies. I kiss them,

admire the strokes, the rows

of o’ s, save the best from year to year,

like the layered leaf-fall. Like

the botany booklet of my schoolyears,

the pages filled with the wet green

of summer’s trees—maple, box elder,

ash, and that catalpa leaf which I loved,

its thick veins, the way it overfilled

the page. Oh, I know it will all be buried,

pressed into rock at last. And yet,

somehow those markings loosen out of time.

What the children printed, bold—

Yesterday I caught a dragonfly,

and then I let it go—is saved, somewhere,

the place we enter after death.

That book of leaves.

And on the front, our names.

Jean Janzen is a poet living in Fresno, California, author of three collections of poetry, the most recent, Snake in the Parsonage. She teaches poetry writing at Fresno Pacific College and Eastern Mennonite University.
“Magnolia” was previously published in Poetry, and “Markings” in Burning Light.

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