These three poems by Hannah Jane Weber explore the complexities of connection and longing through ravenous grief, the comfort of a ritual shared with others, and an unexpected doorway to the past…
by Hannah Jane Weber
The Beast it snatches our words from us gobbles up every unspoken syllable before devouring us as well we cling to each other in its dark throat shivering in the weak light flickering through blinds of yawning teeth we climb the yawn stagger across the tongue’s rough carpet your footsteps smacking close behind me I hear your voice but cannot understand you its jaws snap shut trapping you on the other side of its serene smile while I watch helplessly as it settles in for a long nap
Water Aerobics We are uprooted flowers in our neon cover-ups and floppy sandals, towels trailing behind us like roots. Hair is thrown into buns or braids, uncombed or barely brushed from our faces. A few wear swim caps, and one lady dabs lipstick on as she rushes in. The locker room door opens with a blast of gab and steam. No topic is off-limits—grandkids, cancer, lovers, inattentive daughters, bunions, an array of errands to run later. Lunch dates are confirmed with friends on the other side of the locker room, plans finalized in hollers. We grab weights and belts before baptizing the pool with gossip and laughter. Most walk-swim in lines, continued locker-room conversations much louder than the instructor’s commands, which are really just faint suggestions that surface now and then. Nobody leaves at the scheduled time. We climb from the pool whenever we are wrinkled or tired, always in pairs, lips still smacking with chatter. When we open the door, the locker room spills its clamor unabashedly. A lady tosses her suit in the swimsuit dryer, and with a hand on her naked hip, finishes her current rant. We dress for work, doctor appointments, errands, lunch dates, confession, an empty home, and dry our hair together, elbows tucked in close, faces shining with exhausted release. We flip our hair as we sashay past the retired gentlemen in the lobby, conversations continuing to radiate like petals from exchanged smiles, each face blooming in a riot of color.
The Variety Store The man behind the counter could be God with a droopy front pocket, cigarettes ready to spill. His eyes are wild, radiant with the kind of light shared by crazies and healers. When I say hello his luminescent smile paints the dirty walls electric yellow, and I cringe, waiting for his blessing. Paradise, his open arms suggest, the skin on his elbows suddenly free. “Everything half off!” He beams, and I nod, taking in the leaking roof, buckled floor, and 1970s merchandise that has been growing mildew for decades. “I grew up here,” I start to tell him, but he has already disappeared. I can smell bear claws in the musty damp. Just past the display case filled with costume jewelry, a table materializes, and my mother’s voice snags my ribs. Her head is tilted back, whoops of laughter bouncing doughnut crumbs on her chest. She waves her cigarette, adorning the air with ash. My grandma sits to her right, a visor hiding her face. Across the table my brothers shove each other, their sneers crusted with sugar glaze. Behind them, the wood-paneled wall grows soft as mildew consumes the memory. I fight to balance myself between past and present. Above me the ceiling wheezes and drips into overflowing buckets. Lures hang from rusty shelves like fluorescent aliens eager to burrow into my flesh. A pair of water wings fight a battle of orange and green, and as I lift one from its shelf, the plastic protests. Below the table, my mother’s feet shift in and out of her flip-flops. I follow her fidgeting legs to her waist, where her body abruptly stops. Next to her, a visor nods briskly. “Time to go.” My grandma’s voice rouses the empty spaces across from her, spider webs bright with energy. The man appears, his cigarette a glowing globe between his cracked lips. This may be the end. He might flick the nubby cigarette to the floor and stomp it out. He might pluck the cigarette from his mouth and light another world with it. I don’t wait to find out. I rush past him and fling myself into the sun. My grandma’s Rabbit is already turning toward the lake, taking with it memories of Saturday morning doughnuts at The Variety Store, and a family whose love looked effortless every Saturday. I wasn’t ready to step inside The Variety Store. I was on my way to wander my family’s old property that had been sold and would be stripped for condos any day now. As I was driving past, I could not believe The Variety Store was open, and I was unable to resist the time capsule of my childhood leaning closer to wreckage with each passing year. I take one last look at the wisp of cigarette smoke spilling from the darkness, think of turning around and buying everything in the store, every last bit of plastic covered in filth and mildew, but I know it won’t bring anyone back. I’ve been driving all morning, but I cannot stay. I have no one left to visit. I climb into my Matrix and turn toward the city.
Hannah Jane Weber’s poetry has been published in I-70 Review, The Phoenix, Plainsongs, The Poeming Pigeon, Ponder Review, Rosebud, Slippery Elm and more. She is also a recipient of the Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize. Hannah Jane is a children’s librarian and tennis enthusiast. She lives with her husband and their dogs.