Jan Johnson Drantell
Pop—needle or knife.
Squeeze it until it screeches.
Let it fly before you tie the knot
like the path of a bumble bee
drawn by a child.
Set it free in a heavy wind.
Drag it behind you through a rose
garden where there will be thorns.
That's half a dozen
with the red balloon.
Repeat with blue
and for the finale
extinguish the flame and
roll when you hit the ground.
Life they say is a bowl of cherries.
Or the pits, depending.
Under any circumstances never eat cherries in bed.
You could swallow a pit
and then who knows who would grow in your stomach?
(It is risky to swallow a pit in the back seat of an automobile as well.)
Cherries drip red juice that stains white sheets
that could be mistaken for, well, something else red.
Among other things you should not do with cherries:
Stick them in in ears, eyes, nose, or other orifices.
(Especially between bedsheets or in backseats.)
Scrupulously follow the rules for washing fruit.
Do not shower with a friend.
When in doubt, use cold water, and conserve.
What Eve did with the apple cannot compare to what
Adam's sons will do with cherries. Avoid Adam's sons
until you are ready to deal with the consequences.
It is not a sin to desire cherries. When you walk in a cherry orchard
it is only natural to feel deep longings you do not understand.
But remember you must always wash fruit before you eat it.
In which Mama John makes an appearance behind her bar in Soulard,
surrounded by Monsanto, Anheuser Busch, Ralston Purina,
the stinkiest neighborhood in St. Louis where white people live.
Mama John runs her establishment like this:
the door is locked and you don't get in unless she recognizes your face.
She is a woman with a gray bun, a bent spine, thick cotton stockings rolled at the knees,
a full apron over her sagging breasts, most likely now dead.
She presides behind the bar, breaking up fights between the Frenchmen—
a partisan and a collaborator—neither budging some forty years
after the fact. It is September, outside the air is acrid.
This afternoon I get a geography lesson with my beer.
When she was eighteen her father sent her on the Grand Tour
from their home in Monte Negro. "Where is that?" I ask, nodding
I'll take another Grain Belt. We do not drink Budweiser.
It is a political act.
My braids are thick, hang down my back.
I hold the cold bottle to my forehead and listen.
"What? You not go to college? They no teach you no geography there?"
In green satin and real silk stockings, she remembers,
a feather in her hat, I imagine,
Mama John saw Gertrude Stein's France and Lotte Lenya's Germany,
before she became a Displaced Person from a country I'd just now heard of.
Years later, when I finally know that learning the names
assigned to countries with invented borders by the victors
is not the same as learning geography, my ex-husband
who sometimes drank with me at Mama John's
is living with a man from Japan when he dies of a heart attack.
After the funeral, the man from Japan and I
become friendly in mourning.
One more war is over.
About Jan Johnson Drantell
At age eight, Jan Johnson Drantell published her first story (using her father's typewriter and carbon paper) about a girl who ran away to Paris.
Later, she was a founding member of Women Poets of the Twin Cities in 1972. Her work appeared in their first anthology and in A Coloring Book of Poems, Vanilla Press, 1976. Her chapter on Muriel Rukeyser appears in How Shall We Tell Each Other of the Poet, Macmillan, 1999. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from San Francisco State University, with some crossover into poetry. She's published various other non-fiction books, and edited more than a thousand. She's now Publisher Emerita of RedWheel/Weiser and a poet, writer, and editor who teaches occasional classes and seminars in writing and publishing. Her first chapbook, This Might End Well After All, is just out from Bent Boy Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.