Jan Steckel

Last Spar Shanty

The lady on the prow, boys,
she’s not made for laying.

Whale-crooning wave-rider,
frozen madonna,
mother of merwomen:
she splits the seal-furrow,
plows the rows roiling
while kraken rock her.
Leviathan opens his maw to receive her.

She’ll crumble you like hardtack,
shiver your mainmast,
snap off your tiller,
and pitch you half-way to Greenland—

or drag you straight down
to the sunken king’s hall,
where coral buttresses hold up the roof-beams.
Crown-of-thorns sea star
settles on her forehead,
lapis laps her thighs,
tentacle ropes wind between her breasts,
staghorn coral crests her consort’s head.
A hawk’s-bill turtle’s shell cradles her son.

Seal the dead back in their monuments.
Let sea-wrack settle and wreckage rest.
It’s another century.

The Unfortunate Rake

A bed of half lavender, lemon verbena,
with rue for you, hibiscus for me.
You towered above me, your rake in your hand.
You might have been the God of War.
I smiled as the sword came down.
I was ready for the next world.

Dama de Noche drugged the air.
Iris and the wild roaming rose
encircled the calla lilies, trumpets of judgment.
Arboreal snails clung to the crotches
of every fork in the toyon’s branches.
Deer nibbled the agapanthus.
Red newts crawled from under the house.
Scatter ashes in the glass and stir thoroughly.
I’m more than ready for the next world.

Stir the worms and save the snails.
Pry a spider from the ceiling;
deport her to the hearth.
Soon you’ll be flaming armies of spider babies.
Ignited termites wing out of the firewood.
A railroad spike right through my hip.
Six jolly lesbians to carry my coffin.
Stay me with flagons of Manischevitz.
Comfort me with mortar of ground walnuts and crab apples.
Who’s going to write for you when I am gone, gone, gone?
I’m so ready for the next world.

I’m wrapped up in flannel though warm is the day.
I’m ashes. I’ll fall down. You be Pompeii.
I’m compost alive with slugs, earthworms and pill bugs.
Lay me like bark mulch. Spread me like lime.
Scatter your grass seed. If only you’d told me.
I’m already ready for it to be over.
Always drink ashes with plenty of water.
You might have been the God of Love,
laughing as the sword came down,
making me ready for the next world.

Jan Steckel is a retired physician, a bisexual and disability rights activist, and a poet and writer. Her Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) won the Gertrude Press fiction chapbook award. Her chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) won a Rainbow Award for lesbian and bisexual poetry. Her writing has appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her first full-length poetry collection, The Horizontal Poet, is available from Zeitgeist Press.