Apology & Cold Spring

Judith Skillman

He sits across from her, again, and clears his throat.
She knows this to be the start of what occurs

every year, twice a year, sometimes more often,
depending. He begins. “I need you to understand—”

“Yes,” she says, “I understand. But we can talk only
of the weather.” “Yes,” he says, “the weather. And yet

there is—ahem, ahem ahem, and, and still,
a country you should know of, what happened there—”

“Dad, I know, you’ve told me this before. I don’t
want to hear it again. I’ve told you that. Do you

see the clouds?”—she points, outside the window,
beyond the pane of glass, a front of cotton batting

hanging in the sky, darkened, phthalo blue
crowned with thunderheads. “It’s coming our way,”

she says. Thunder appeals to him, she’s learned
to cater to his needs. But on this point—his guilt—

there will be no caving in, no enabling. “See?”
He looks at her arm, which crosses off her face

now, head averted, her left hand small
though she’s grown up, that hand, the useless

pinky, too tiny for the violin. He ahems again,
agrees, “Yes, it’s bound to hit us. We should

go before the rains come.” His voice
bullish as the flattery of her red sweater.
Cold Spring
Judith Skillman 

All mine, these ornamentals, the headache
they carry to my forehead, where allergies
spiral in sequence like DNA to beget
a new varietal. Stunned by the beheading
of another mimosa—thin-leafed, sleek, one
I’d come to talk to upon returning
home to the same-old sameness
of seniority. Alone, no fellows,
not a colleague left to tell physics jokes:
What did the subatomic particle
say to the duck? Quark, quark.
And an impressive tour de force—black-and-white
cartoon of buffalo hugging stick figure
reads, all caps, I FOUND THE HUGS BISON.

Today, as yesterday, the plum bears
no fruit. The grown daughter doesn’t call.
She’s learned I love the violin despite
its scratchy shrieking. Finished with therapy,
done with doctors—and no desire to change
or save the scribbles on an old-fashioned pad,
legal yellow, like the daffodils behind
that felled tree. If someone were here: A photon
checks into a hotel. The bellhop asks,
“Can I help you get your luggage?” It replies,
“I don’t have any. I’m traveling light.”

When slipped disc nails itself to bone,
in blasphemy I curse the thorny crown
my daughter’s come to worship. I pull out
another Thera-Cure, set it between shirt
and undershirt. Those metal wind chimes
go on ringing as if Jeezus Himself
had landed in one of those private rockets
made by the idiot who thinks Earth folk,
their planet soiled beyond saving, can migrate
to Mars. He stands before me as if in VR—

If this T-shirt is blue, you’re going too fast!
Harrumph. A laugh of sorts. Once
I could play the clarinet. My embouchure’s
gone rusty as His shirt, His stupid promise.

Judith Skillman lives in Newcastle, Washington. Her work has appeared in Cimarron ReviewThreepenny Review, Zyzzyva, and many other journals. She is the recipient of awards from the Academy   of American Poets and Artist Trust. Her new collection is A Landscaped Garden for the Addict (Shanti Arts Press, 2021). Judith teaches at Hugo House in Seattle.

Her book Oscar the Misanthropist was winner of the 2021 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award.


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