In Your Absence

by Jim Zola
The Waters
Honorable Mention, November 2015
Judged by Barbara Siegel Carlson

Yesterday was soup day, the kitchen a mess
of parts, turnips beheaded, tomatoes crushed.
Hot and sour, potato, stone soup, a cure-all
or just a distraction.

I suspect the kids are feeding the mouse on the sly,
left out slices of bread stale and nibbled. I too
hide behind an armory of mercy,
putting out the traps but forgetting to set them.

On my drive to work I watch the homeless parade
from a stand of trees to take their posts at each
street corner of the busy intersection.
I wonder about what isn’t seen in that small patch
of wilderness. I think of a line from a poem I read
this morning — he’s made himself a study in the trees.

Before the light turns green,
I’m one of Cabeza de Vaca’s lost men
arriving to a gift of 600 open deer hearts,
emeralds. The explorer wrote about a poison
the natives gathered from a certain tree
so deadly that if animals drank from where bruised leaves
had been steeped, they would burst.

What I’m trying to say is I’m lost.

You are my Kashmir, not here,
not actually mine.

I’ve made myself a study in your absence.

Vividly detailed mini-vignettes portray the emotion brought on by the loved-one’s absence. The poem develops from the mind/head (turnips beheaded) to heart/soul (deer hearts with the emeralds inside), allowing the emotion to be confronted directly at the end, making the impact stronger. The line “I wonder about what isn’t seen in that small patch/of wilderness” leads finely to the paradoxical sense at the end of discovering the self through absence. --Barbara Siegel Carlson