Two Poems

Ronald Wallace

Swiss Chard

And when I see we don’t have any lettuce
for my sandwich, I ask my wife, and she
says, Why don’t you just go out into the garden
and get some fresh Swiss chard? And so I go
out into the garden and see what looks like
cabbage (though it’s October and by now
it could be anything), and what looks like
broccoli (or the remains of it), and maybe shards
of rhubarb, maybe parsley, and one of these
must be Swiss chard, but I’m not sure,
and feeling ignorant: How can a man of 66
not know what Swiss chard is? So I bring in
a small assortment of leaves, hoping one will do,
and she just laughs, derisively, and says,
You think that that’s Swiss chard?
Come on, you know what Swiss chard is!
And, Of course, I do, I say, eating my weedy
sandwich. It’s a joke! But I don’t, any more
than I know a host of other things she thinks
I know that keep our garden growing,
that are all Swiss chard to me.


Blowout Preventer

Ernie, age three, asks me
to help him “unwrap” his banana,
and, sure, I say, laughing, and as he
lifts up the half-peeled projectile
in all its improbable splendor, and
I grab it, the top breaks, and
Oh, no! You broke it! he wails, and
no joke, he’s now inconsolable,
the banana collapsed in his hands,
his voice a loud smear in the air.
You broke it, he sobs, now it’s ruined!
And I’m thinking of the Gulf oil spill,
how the platform exploded, all the fail-
safes failed, oil gushing up for months
into the Gulf’s loop current
toward the Keys, everything dead
in its wake, and how this broken
banana, its thick skin discarded,
has blown up this small boy’s trust
in a world of such breakage
where even a grandfather can fail,
and what can I do but put the peel
on my head and wear it, a last resort,
a “top hat” of sorts, and then pretend
to eat it, a “junk shot,” a blowout preventer,
and by God, it works! as his wailing
disperses; he stops short,
his face a deep well of doubt
as his silence soaks up the moment.
And then our laughter seals the disaster
as we both spit the bad taste out.

Ron Wallace co-directs the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and edits the University of Wisconsin Press Poetry Series (Brittingham and Pollak prizes). His most recent books are Long for This World: New & Selected Poems and For a Limited Time Only, both from the University of Pittsburgh Press.