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Connie Wanek: Gallery for Hartley Field

If Bees Could Vote | Checkers | Heart Surgery

If Bees Could Vote

No doubt they'd vote en masse
like labor unions—or like gun enthusiasts:
for they carry concealed weapons
and would rather die than surrender them.
They'd vote like true conservatives
to keep every last thing they already have;
they'd vote stubbornly for their queen,
however rarely she travels the realm
or even shows herself. Most of all
they'd vote against the annual veil
of paralyzing smoke, the gray dream
during which half their goods vanish,
the vault door left wide open
in the pillager's haste.


Red was passion, black was strength.
Yet one checker always had gone missing,
a deserter discovered eventually
cowering under a chair cushion.
What was there to fear?
Only time itself would be killed.

I was one who never planned ahead,
who sent my infantry into any open field.
Under my command they aspired
merely to be captured,
jumped and hauled off, bearing the smiles
of the successfully defeated.

Who really wanted to be kinged?
To stagger under a crown
heavy as a headstone,
to wander the board without a court
or even the escort of a fool?
What was glory? I never understood the word.

Often some idle soul of a certain age
taught checkers to the young,
offering stratagems
continually overruled by blind luck.
Then came snacks and naps
and afterwards, the balance of the day.

Heart Surgery

That day I sat astride the roof ridge
sorting cedar shingles and nailing them
in long rows, planting them, two nails each,
my hands sweating in their gloves.
Nearby the portable phone, silent and white,
napped through all this noise, like a good baby.
Or as if it were anesthetized
like my father, five hundred miles west,
whose afternoon was completely devoted
not to bridge or the Giants' game,
but to heart surgery,
to paying death a call, and coming away.

I moved across the roof as the sun
moved across the sky, and my apprehension
was as big as the house beneath me.
My job was to follow the blue chalk line,
east to west, carrying bundles of fragrant wood.
No one waited below, worried sick,
for word the house would live.
There was no hurry. It was November
and it never rains in Albuquerque in November.

Rush hour was beginning—I could see far off
where shining cars poured onto the freeway—
when the phone rang. Mother. It had gone well...
there were others to call...she'd glimpsed him
on the gurney as they returned him to his room,
"and I thought he was dead, he was so blue."
The sky all around me was blue,
but night would change that soon.
A cool wind rose from the valley, from the river,
and I shivered, looking west over the city,
toward Phoenix, beyond the mesa, across the desert.
I would see my father again.

Thanksgiving Day. I entered his room alone,
without husband or child, and took his hand.
Our hands were as alike as my left is to my right,
one a little larger, used to doing more.
The shades were drawn
but he showed me, in the dark,
where they'd parted his chest,
and it was a coarse, enormous, fresh scar,
like the first furrow on the virgin prairie.
It had been, he said, "tougher than I'd anticipated."

But his face was already
more alive than it had been for years,
the color back, the blood flowing
like a river undammed, whole and free
as it once was, flooding the brown valley
as it once did, and his brow was smooth
as he lay back against the pillow,
and said he was ready to see the children.

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