Janice Dabney, 2015 Poet

Guitar as Tree

The teacher of my “Starting to Play” class tells us
shifts in weather create a need to tune one’s guitar:
After all, it used to be a tree. The instrument
pulls moisture from the atmosphere, she explains,
expands or contracts with climate changes.
Today’s June storm reminds my Fender
of days in the Congo as an aboudikro
with a trunk it would take three of me to encompass.
With little branching below eighty feet, it stood
grand as a diva’s note in a packed hall, housing
colobus monkeys and caterpillars harvested by natives.
The high pitch of chainsaws brought silence.
A transformed shape now hugs my body,
breathing in horizon’s dark clouds.
We both exhale a minor chord,
sharing one harmonic.



Twice-Told Warmth

19th-century baked potatoes were sold to factory workers on the late shift. Not only were these baked spuds nutrition, workers put them in their pockets to keep their hands warm.  

History Channel

These walls reflect no light, no heat.
This factory where Grandpa worked
and my son will too, uses our blood
to oil its fine machines.

This month I drew the night shift,
coldest slice of our clock
even with a heavy coat
zipped to the chin. Mother sends
bread and cheese from home,
but I still buy two baked potatoes
from the foreman. Cheap comfort.

One in each pocket, I warm my hands
when fingers are not needed for production.
When I hold their rough brown skin,
I am shaking hands with my father,
no longer alive. My palms
embrace their small eyes in the darkness,
for they have seen more than I will ever know.



Water Content

I was comforted to learn
that potatoes contain the same
water content as humans.
When I feel dry at 75%,
the Russet Burbank agrees,
becoming fluffier to the taste when heated.

The ancient Incans measured time
by the rate it took
to cook a potato. I vow
to begin that practice immediately,
planning to meet you for drinks
when the fingerlings have boiled.

If you are delayed, I will
enjoy the company
of Honey Gold and Ruby Sensation
and meet you at home
when the clock tolls
half-past baked.



(based on a 1908 painting by Wassily Kandinsky)

The people huddle in the field,
overwhelmed by the vivid color
of parallel buildings. Stunned
by new experience, sky on fire.

As I’ve been stunned
by the sudden inability to form words,
by my first ambulance trip.
Overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers
walking up and saying you look so much better now,
wanting me to succeed.

The horse pulls a hay wagon with red wheels
somewhere to market. Progress is
slow but sure. When I return home,
someone who has loved me for thirty-two years
will make sure I continue to heal,
scars from surgery, the tilting buildings of my psyche.

The red building on the right of the scene
looks like Hoover Tower, a Stanford landmark
that has grounded me for sixty-three years. Soon
I will ride the elevator to its highest point at sunset,
appreciating the new discovery of fire.

Dedicated to the H1 Patient Unit staff at Stanford Hospital & Clinics



What Appears to Be

“Your brain only thought you saw spiders.”
Stanford Hospital physician, describing results of delirium

Webs in the bed frame,
on the walker,
in air above me.
Catching light.

Small objects
rappelled from the skylight,
their rolled-up bodies
decorating my blankets
like brown sugar.
I asked for new covers,
but no one could find any
without spiders.

Before long,
they set up home
in the Purell dispenser by the door,
crawling in and out quietly,
waiting for me to fall asleep.

The nurse said it was just a hand sanitizer,
but I knew better.



Janice Dabney was the Poetry Editor for The Sand Hill Review until 2016. She enjoys introducing new and favorite voices to the reading public each year. She has published her own work in numerous journals, including Poet Lore, Santa Clara Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Poetry Northwest.

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