Crab Grass

by Maya Jewell Zeller Issue: Fall/Winter 2019 Special Issue on Margins

                for J.M

Here in your town I walk the John Wayne,
for once feeling completely safe. To my left, 
an irrigation canal fleshed with willows 
and magpies, that bird with the smart
blue streak and the brain that recognizes
its own face the way you look at the moon
and know it’s you. To my right, a sky like Montana.
I could tell you of Montana or heartbreak
and go on like Cassandra, who knew more
than they believed she knew, but this is not
about me for once, which I find a great relief
and also probably impossible.
When you said you had to step away
from your own story for a while
so you could get up off the floor,
I went home and finally wrote the poem
about the man on the Greyhound, my mother
sleeping two seats away. I was a girl, young
for sixteen. It’s nice to be an adult, isn’t it,
to wander the grass-smelling night-streets
of Ellensburg with or without a head
lamp like a fish or a blooming flower, the buttercup
that first freckles the hills with its cheery subalpine
face, like a girl who doesn’t know her future.
Who knows the future? Cassandra?
Out there in the world people will continue
with their terrible crimes, and our government 
will condone and encourage them, 
those men themselves having committed atrocities 
we imagine and do not write. You say let’s have
our next meeting in a field, the crabgrass
is lovely this time of year
. I’m with you
at field, at crabgrass, which sounds, you say,
more ugly than it is, as if the crab with its shell
and its protected eyes could make the grass
less beautiful. I’m okay with shells and spiny hands
that know how to defend a soft underside,
and I’m okay with finger-grass, aka digitaria,
and I’m okay with cacophony
and the way words crumple like bones
broken or imploded, how our language
can turn public the sounds we only make
when we’re alone. Why John Wayne? I learned
there are more women in this county than men,
more unmarried ones, flinging out 
their filaments and hoping. A woman
on our campus who helps students make reports
wrote her master’s thesis on the phenomenon
of imbalance in this town’s dating. Her conclusion:
women come here to be alone; they aren’t looking
for a man who ropes or hunts or wants to take them
to the rodeo. They’re content wandering
the wind-ripped hills above the college,
watching the clouds slip like milk
across the oiled present, hair whipping
their faces, wondering what will come reaching
next, like a prophecy or a grasping hand,
from out of the scabbed, dirt ground.

Maya Jewell Zeller

Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of the interdisciplinary collaboration (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker) Alchemy For Cells & Other Beasts (Entre Rios Books, 2017), the chapbook Yesterday, the Bees (Floating Bridge Press, 2015), and the poetry collection Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press, 2011). Recipient of a Promise Award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation as well as a Residency in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Maya teaches for Central Washington University and edits for Scablands Books. She is currently at work on a memoir called The Privilege Button.