How to be Lucky — Excerpt

Two poems from How To Be Lucky, Winner of 1990 Bluestem Award, English Department, Emporia State University, Emporia Kansas; William Stafford, final judge


She wore gold earrings
big as Kerr Jar lids,
and a purple scarf waving behind

her yellow jeep for blocks
as she picked us up for watercolor class.
She drove faster than our mothers'
voices calling us home.

Instead of aprons, she wore eyelashes
so long and black we couldn't
take our eyes off them. Her work
was our play, her play, our delight,

and her laugh sailed every pond
in Julie Davis Park, startling
the iridescent mallards
we girls painted, greens flowing
into blues, blues into greens.

Round-eyed, we stared up at gigantic
trees reaching over the still pond,
tried to take them in, couldn't keep them

on the page, leaves greening off
into blue's washed sky, trunks
dripping brown onto our bare toes.

It was the summer we wanted
to last beyond the white pages
of our artist pads,

until the next year when we discovered
boys and, blooming inside us, the roses
we'd only red-dotted on the page,

and lost our vision, stored our brushes
in metal tins, trees shrunk down to salt
and sugar, measured, then spooned
into nested silver bowls. We baked white
bread and brownies, timed everything,

nearly forgot where we'd hidden our colors—
the murmur of blue, red's rejoicing,
violet's tenor enhancing yellow's aria—

frozen squares of color, waiting for
the brush, a drop of water, background
light enough to let us through.


On a cool September day, the soup commences:
vegetable beef, its vitamins an orange and green
rainbow, its sky dotted with beef, the dark
storms of carnivores. Then split peas, solidly
green or yellow all the way through. I soak them,
boil them until they give their sandy gift,
wrapped in ham smoke and salt. And turkey noodle:
breaking the empty carcass, boiling it,
dark meat and white relaxing from the dancing bones.
My kitchen a smorgasbord of smells, I ladle
steaming soup into seven bowls. At the table,
six people take and eat, while I lean back, full,
and watch an early snow stir and blow outside.

When lilacs unlock their buds, it's salad time:
tuna salad, celery a crisp parenthesis
around slipshod macaroni. Radishes snapping
back at the bite; thin cucumber wheels and purple
onions roll me away in shivers; boiled eggs
gussied up with mustard and green chives. And artichoke,
the queen of vegetables, the sharp-tongued ruler.
Green crown shined and oiled, her layered
wisdom begins with justice only but ends with mercy
and butter melted and lemon mayonnaise.
Oh the feast of it all! Oh spring!
Pass the salad, pass the iced tea,
pass the lilacs for a second smell.

Jill Breckenridge is available for readings of her poetry or memoir, and talks on various other topics about writing and publishing. You may contact Jill through this website.