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Sample Poems by JoAnn Balingit

The Swing

My son says Push me harder
Push me a lot and I try

To remember laughing on the swing
my father roped to the grapefruit tree

But all I get is the sad seat the RFK-is-dead seat
twisting my toes crying in the dust

My-cat-escaping- from-my-brother's-carat-
a-phone-booth seat

Where I swung in gasps for my parents
alive one minute and

Exhilaration the next or anger
it was their fault they died and Myra ran away

Dead and gone or not I had
Kools any old time I wanted and Mateus

But what was I doing packing my albums
to live with the ex-addict girl and her dull

Family who hated cats who did not allow
cats? Because of their dogs-Oh I love them

Love them I beamed Pulling him back
Pushing him with all my might


Story I Learn at Forty-nine

Aunt Rita's lovely cursive
bares its hips, flinging words like
confetti to tell a story where my mother
delivers herself whole to my father-
elope they called it, a foreigner,
Filipino-old enough to be her
grandfather! No not quite, Rita,
he was forty-nine and she nineteen
in all, so old enough to be her father, yes,
Joan was just a kid, all impulse and beauty who
knew her mind before he sent the ticket, St.
Louis-a plane fare away! Rising past
midnight she must have worked quickly,
nickels tucked in pleat pockets, must have
opened her bag one last time, called Kitty to
pat the orange glow in the dark before stepping
quietly into two a.m. on the moonlit
road. Barely can she make out her house on its hill,
saddle shoes tipping stones like skunks nosing
trash to steal, when Taxi pulls up, driver dazed
understudy for tonight's dramatic role,
Viceroy a-dangle as he grunts to slam her door.
"Wait!" she whispers, hand on headrest. A phantom
X-acto knife slices this life off the next.
"You headed somewhere?" She nods. The Talon
zipper of her good jacket gapes. It's jammed.


My Mother's Whereabouts

I always suspected my mother
of having no whereabouts:
lost in the shower? laundry room?
or down the dirt road picking
Mrs. Whiteman's green beans
no, naturally she was juggling pans
when her twelve human cannonballs
were shot without a net
a magician threw his curtain back
to reveal-vanished! impossible
to reach her, except through her
twins, the clairvoyant boy and girl
I've hardly met, who look just
like my mother, this isn't funny,
upside down underwater in chains,
who steal through the applause
and a tumult of stallions and tutus
to climb smiling into center
ring-no one ever told me
my mother joined the circus-
or that I would find myself
on a tightrope learning not to fall
when I swallow my mother
like a sword in flames and dare
the lioness of her death to wake me
throwing blankets off in terror
I've forgotten her address




Willow Creek Elegy

A heron hunting on Willow Creek
scatters my heart, a school of loss

as I sit in a duck blind waiting backwards
for drift ice to float up this tidal creek

and hours later return
to where I am. Trees bluer, air colder.

A heron of words without the words
standing in Willow Creek helps me

untease the silk of her death,
whisper cedars in a black March wind:

my mother anonymous to the world
as the air inside a feather.

I do not recall her last glance at me
only the struts of her face, bridge

on the map of years. Huddle- backed
silhouette of reserve, cloud that threatens

so beautifully, the heron unfolds
its six-foot wings and steps into flight

as my mother steps off the west
spiral arm of the Bluegill Galaxy:

her death a fish I swallow whole
by aiming my throat at the world