Avatar Review Index


Jeannine Shackelton 

Jeannine drives country roads. Her poems have appeared in various magazines and ezines such as The Melic Review, Conspire, Wellspring, Suite 101, PHS, Savoy and the upcoming issues of Pudding and Rattle Magazine.  She is driven to write.



Charter House 


1

Because of the loom of prolonged 
lock-up, or being strapped down,
the pills get shoveled on
the furred flap of my tongue anytime
between 6am and the roll call
of evening.
                    I'll have made my bed
or not, depending on
the mood, then shuffle down
the halls before wandering out back
to sit upon the green matted ground
of the hospital garden, 
watching black ants climb over 
the faces of blue azures,
carrying sweet sap
to their dark underground holes.


2

This is my borrowed house in the country, 
west of the Maryland line
whose white coats still button
among the blossoms of red bud trees
and spoon like a ladle, teeming
the cast-offs into proper minds.

Over here, women, men cannot
dry their wet hair with a blower or use 
razors without watchful eyes.
In Charter House, every room has eyes,
cameras like reedy weeds in every corner
choking out the spread of bloomed madness.

Dr. Lentz addresses me, I pretend
to be rolled into the shape of an ordinary
broom, hard bristles by those whisks
he wishes to sweep me out the door,
my mold cast in pills and conversation passed
between his pen and the smell of rich work.

Time is stationed on the foyer landing,
before they open the front doors,
clean dark slates of pine board creaking
with each trepid step forward, crossing 
the rooms before walking out
to kneel beneath new green leaves.


3

Under the grasses, my great grandmother's 
bones crumble upon the rose 
satin lining of a steel coffin box,
huddled in the cup of sod and stone
and three crosses standing in the Illinois hills. 
                          She was there once,
awake in strange rooms,
breathing slowly the warm air
down another world,
spread like oil toward distant shores-
no voice
no ears
not one wave curled
with spray
riding down her face
to wash the earth.


4

For my birthday my two sons give me
a ring, emblazoned, deep gold,
three hearts, each of their birthstones
with mine mounted in the center.

Do I tell them about
the woman I've sat up nights with
who moaned in soaked sheets,
ripping the gritty strands

from her hair,
hour after hour in penance to a god
she'd eaten through pages torn
from Gideon's Bible,

                                       or that
I've seen the wild roots growing in our family
tree, bulging out of the cracked earth
like white bones piled,

stacked around the trunk,
digging into the bark,
hearts
and our initials?


5

These days the world is frenzied.
Do I tell them, when I remember Charter House,
I'd brush my long clean hair
with crushed azures,
stroking the blue, ground petals until
my hair shone softly as the moon,
                                             and then
I'd sit, watching on my front porch
as the cars drove by, and what passed
weren't simply cars
racing manically, 
but the actual machinery of ants
headed toward their swallowed cities?


© Jeannine A. Shackelton


In Time


The bucket has soaked and washed me bare,
my hands wrinkled back. You're young still,
now I'm changed, my tongue stuck
at Sunday Mass and everywhere I go, to Aldie, to York,
to the woods, mountains or home, I hear the water rush
traveling to the churchyards, the clouds hung
side by side. And you're watching, but thinking
the world inside these scrubbed walls stand still,
mold on the windows scraped, bruising the hours.
In time the mice will settle behind the wainscot,
and when I die, my Son, the beetles will click
over my dirt grave. The rain will fill the black bucket,
the sun blister your feet running day by day,
to crowds of people, mountains of money,
a driving mire of men trapped in muddy empires,
oozed away from its frame and underpinnings,
and your children's children will stare back,
as you stand staring at me, bones like crickets
gorging on the night and idleness of faith
in the fields where the church, home crumbled.


© Jeannine A. Shackelton


Outside In America

The summer of 1969, a year after
the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam, 
Bruce was vectoring planes in Cam Ranh Bay, 
the doors were closing
at Rolland's Drug on 10th and Main; 
they counted the strokes 
of an old broom back and forth,
the straw muzzle swept in 
and sprayed 

out into another covered sun.
I sat and watched the body count
on the evening news eating peas
and mother's meatloaf.
Outside America, away from the table,
through my window toward the mountains,
half the boys were crying in the dust, 
their eyes reddened poppies.
Robbie was cutting kilos, rolling lids
down in La Luz Canyon. No one knew
he'd stick an M-16 in his mouth
in a rice paddy six months after 
he'd been drafted. Maybe that's why 
half the other boys lied.

Janey and I boxed up care packages, letters
for the local DAR. Burt mailed back 
socks full of smack, and I watched
his sister get strung out, arms like
mine fields. The desert sun bleached
her long sleeves, long hair, rock stare.
I was only 13 listening to ole Lady Bird 
Johnson push Beautification of America 
while she held the contract on all dumpsters 
running below the DMZ. Who knows who
had the contract on the zippers and body 

bags being flown back state side.
A year later, I saw Bruce parked in front
of the Taco Bell watching traffic. 
"Welcome home," I said as the cars flicked
past his unblinking eyes. "Whatcha doing now?"
"Still pushing tin," he replied.
Cat Stevens played on the radio
of his friends white Camaro, and Burt honked
as he drove by, headed toward a northern university.

© Jeannine A. Shackelton


Then Munich


As Madame Derra de Meroda said, we had come
from small towns, the dusty tarps
of southwestern American soil, where we kicked
sixteen years, overshadowed by hillsides.
I looked across the sea: the restless feet
of Salzburg, its moon castles,
the spit of Residenz's Fountain. On the train
I was so sick I couldn't even chew
the crackers cupped in my thin hands.
I threw up in my sweater when mountains heaved,
glass strobed through passing balsam firs.
                                                    Then Munich,
We had come to inhale the absolute German. 
The dreamers breathed on my cheeks
the smell of Cecchetti, they mixed the rosin 
of dancers ashes to the perfect pine floor.
A line of toe shoes mirrored the barre,
assembled with "Madame's compliments."
Plie', she urged. The fasting sweat
of our doctrine rolled to my lips
as seed-pods were blowing off the mountain
where young lovers walked, by God, all over
fields of spontaneity.
                                                  The black cane
tapped methodically in the dance studio,
it's echo a flame to our stretched throats.
I tried to write in my diary about pillows, soup,
things not bad, lying as usual.

In the evenings, then, I began to breathe.
On dim lit sidewalks of throttled June,
huddled at a Wurstelstand, mustards running,
my fingers squeezed tight steaming bratwurst,
the push and pull of my tongue spun around.
Passing young men spoke to me as I stood
at the blushed wall to fluent German, homesick
to manage a few words. Yet still I could recall 
white sand, hard rock, azure ascending from
the small towns of their eyes.

© Jeannine A. Shackelton


With Red Roses


I will come with red roses bursting
in the vines of grapewood, thistles
where boring bees swarm-
out of the heat of my garden walls
when the grass stands raw and climbing
through weeds that shout
between cobble stones, leading a path
away from my front door,
when the thin-skinned peaches
shred the wind, and corals rain
over the black pastures of my soul,
when rivers of clouds overflow
their morning bowl, and the west breeze
presses my lips open with densely yellow air
and dissolves as a lover into a long afternoon.

This is prayer; to unlock the iron gate and fly 
from the underbelly of a rock,
turn, bidding a pale adieu.

© Jeannine A. Shackelton