Ann Howells

Western Shore 

Grandma says ladies don’t sweat,
but we’re in Papaw’s steel cooker,
turning red and squirming.
Late August, not quite Labor Day
but close enough. Air liquid as the river,
cut-offs and bare feet are the uniform,
little kids in skivvies.

Papaw sets up under the pecan,
two bushels fresh caught this morning;
Jo-rie puts melons on ice –
two infused with rum, two for kids.
No other liquor, but Jim’s pick up
hides a case of beer on ice.
Allen and Marie, first cousins,  
hold hands under the catalpa. Family
don’t mind. It’s in our blood.

Women set out wooden mallets,
salt, pepper, vinegar,
and Papaw dumps the crabs –
bright red, steaming, caked with Old Bay –
on newspaper covered tables.
This is not a picnic. This is a crab feast.
No ham. No fried chicken. No potato salad.
Mama don’t cook. Kettles sit idle.

We gorge,
grown-ups pick sweet white meat
for young fingers. Pick by muscle memory.
Later we lounge under trees,
on the porch, the steps,
satisfied in belly and heart. Jo-rie slices melons:
candy sweet, arctic cold, sky-at-night red.
Juice runs sticky down our chins.


Sharing the Front Seat

We drove one night to our island,
down narrow roads
that might have been stratosphere
so far were we from city light.
Perseid showers enveloped us,
plummeting stars on pluming tracers.
Wish after wish,
folded like secret missives
close against our hearts.
Fingers touched, entwined;
we held hands in the dark,
shared comfort of being together
without need to speak.  

Thirty years and a lifetime removed,
under the same sky,
we are showered again
with dazzle and vibrancy,
promise and possibility,
but the silence has changed.
We remain, each in his own thoughts,
nothing to say to one another.
When my fingers brush yours,
without a word,
you shift your hand away.


Conversations with My Sister 

My sister’s husband plants a little evergreen –
contorted pine – in their yard.
Artistic. Aesthetic. My sister
cannot remember the name. Convoluted pine,
she calls it, conflicted pine, constricted pine.
When I phone, I ask
about her contrary pine, cankered pine,
constipated pine. 

My sister phones Tuesday evenings,
sitting on her deck as sun dips
into the Potomac – crimson, rose, and tangerine.
Frogs in the estuary
belt out bawdy love songs. I strain
to catch her words. 

Neither my sister nor I battle our weight –
it’s more a series of skirmishes.
I try to drop pounds; she tries to gain.
Currently I’m trying low-carb.
If you lose five pounds, she says,
I sure hope I’m the one who finds them. 

© Ann Howells

Ann Howells edited Illya’s Honey for eighteen years, both in print and online. In 2001, she was named a Distinguished Poet of Dallas. Recent books are: So Long As We Speak Their Names (Kelsay Books, 2019) and Painting the Pinwheel Sky (Assure Press, 2020). Chapbooks Black Crow in Flight and Softly Beating Wings were published through contests. Her poems appear in small press and university journals.

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