EPIC Poetry Group: Poet’s Corner — The Cult of Domesticity, Working From Home, Spring Cleaning

My Edmonds News is pleased to present the latest installment of Poet’s Corner, presented by the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group.

The Cult of Domesticity 

for my mom 

Flour double-sifted, hush after hush 

all part of the secret 

recipe of my Mensa mother 

who baked us pies, and kept her mind busy 

with anagrams and number games 

after the war, back when women quit 

working when they married, 

to make a home and raise little monkeys like me. 

She, who vowed to avoid her mother’s scullery fate, 

trapped in the kitchen, called me down from the highest branches 

of a great red cedar across the street, 

to try a slice with ice cream, a salve for her worried certainty 

that I would find some Icarious fate 

or drown in Pine Lake sinking with my home-made raft. 

I always gave into pie: apple in autumn, 

blackberry in August, 

pumpkin chiffon for Thanksgiving, 

and so differential equations, Bridge, Scrabble 

and the hermeneutics of her philosophy, 

chirped and rattle away in the steam 

of the pressure cooker that always seemed 

to be on the stove with spareribs and sauerkraut. 

We became her life’s work. 

She fed and clothed us, 

nursed our scrapes and falls, 

taught us to read and to love to learn, 

while our father worked from dark to dark 

in Downtown Seattle. 

Our nurture was assured. 

Nature is Mendel rolling the dice. 

How did she feel with one daughter 

in saddle shoes, begging for a Barbie for Christmas, 

or her oldest boy in leather, organizing 

the keggers at the gravel pit, 

or her younger daughter 

beating up boys at the bus stop, 

and me, lost in the middle, 

swaying in the crown of the tallest tree 

trying to see beyond our neighborhood? 

James Backstrom

 ~ ~ ~ ~

Working from Home 

Looking out my window into the greenbelt 

I am taking an inventory of the various 

shades of leaves as they open, 

yawning into a wet spring. 

The willow first, then the red alder and bigleaf maple 

after a showy display of pendulous golden flowers. 

Not to be outdone a bitter cherry preens 

like a bride in white bouquets, 

while the red elderberry’s creamy cones of inflorescence 

wilt above waves of Himalayan blackberry 

whose invasion is stalled only 

by an old wooden fence. 

A misguided hazelnut grows 

maybe 200 feet to the south. 

Its twisted branches chart 

rising uncertainty in the markets 

I take my coffee outside 

and catch up on office gossip 

with the incessant chickadees, 

and a song sparrow who almost majored 

in music but settled on business. 

Deeper in the woods, where the ground stays 

marshy into August, a spiny spruce and a shaggy red cedar 

coat the windows of the undriven cars 

along our street with their dusty politics. 

Toward the retention pond black cottonwoods 

await a little heat to let go of clouds of seedy hope. 

The recovery this time is just a little beyond us. 

Our morning meeting again concerns rabbits, 

Acres reserved for native growth, 

and still they nibble on our lawn and sneak 

into the vegetable garden in the early mornings 

and evenings when the light is soft and kind. 

Their anxiety is their safety, 

says my beautiful boss, 

They’re twitchy and wary 

scampering from shadows. 

I’m sleeping with her, 

and everyone in the office knows it. 

On Saturday, I think, (the days blur together) 

I heard two young eagles whistle before I saw them 

playing in the sky above, wings in soaring arcs. 

The rabbits no doubt burrowed away 

in nuzzling safety. 

Even the handsome coyote 

I sometimes see slip by in the morning 

with a tail nearly as bushy as a fox, 

looks more hungry than cunning. 

Someone’s called in a specialist. 

A feral calico, lovely and murderous 

arrives to cull the redundant, 

to make the necessary optimization. 

She suns on a three-man rock in the afternoon. 

What’s her per diem? I wonder to myself. 

I’ve watched her go a mousing 

in the groundcover, or take a songbird 

mid chorus, leaping like sudden tragedy 

into the purple lilac I planted some years ago 

for the boss’ birthday. 

Now the calico’s taken the initiative on the rabbit situation. 

I watch incredulously as she trots towards 

a hole in the fence, jawing a bunny half her size, 

carrying it away like a naughty kitten. 

Lori, across the street, feeds the feral one 

on her patio, but still the calico stalks 

caching what she cannot eat 

domesticated to a degree like we are 

but always on the hunt. 

James Backstrom 

~ ~ ~ ~ 

Spring Cleaning 

Here are the things that weigh us down: 

One heavy, brown farm coat with a broken zipper, 

too big now for your uncle in the hospice. 

Six buckets of paint mixed in the wrong shades of taupe, 

stacked against a wall in the garage 

where funnel-making spiders flock little canyons 

among the curves of the cans that turn away 

from each other with a touch of deadliness. 

In our closet: the ashes of every dog we’ve owned since 1993, 

a few of my father’s loud ties my mother insisted that I keep 

believing fashion to be cyclical though paisley sparked off the wheel. 

No one wears ties anymore, not even the yellow power tie scented in Old Spice. 

Maybe I can make a quilt out of grief to slumber under its heaviness. 

Boxes of old photographs of distant relatives in black & white– 

We keep believing on some rainy day we will sort through them all 

and scan them into ghosts to hide in the Cloud. 

Instead, we binge on Netflix & popcorn. 

I’d dump it all, but I am afraid I might lose my parents again. 

I remember pictures of my folks as newlyweds, 

and one of my mother, posing in a new smock, circa 1960, 

embryonic me in a secret spacewalk inside of her. 

Three doors down Schwartz is not so nearly nostalgic. 

His house burned down while he was away 

when a shorted wire in the wall ignited a can of lighter fluid. 

He rebuilt and bought a new car 

and a new wife with the insurance money. 

He’s lost hundreds of pounds, he says 

The weight of the past, the bad marriage, and any evidence 

of crimes he may have committed. 

He cartwheels on his newly laid sod. 

“Learning to let go requires the dexterity of a gymnast,” he tells me. 

And the soul of a sociopath, I think to myself. 

James Backstrom 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

James Backstrom grew up exploring the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  His poems have appeared in Soundings on the Salish Sea, Spindrift, The English Journal, Poetry Seattle,and other publications. He is also a proud charter member of EPIC Poetry Group that meets monthly in the Edmonds library. A long-time teacher in the Northshore School District, he and his wife raised their three children just north of Snohomish. Whenever he can get away, you’ll find him hiking the trails of the Cascades and Olympics.


4 Replies to “EPIC Poetry Group: Poet’s Corner — The Cult of Domesticity, Working From Home, Spring Cleaning”

  1. Jim:
    Displays a delightful and reflective view of life and memories. He has the ability to weave in his appreciation for nature in conjunction with his deep and abiding love for family and friends.
    Well played Mr. Backstrom. Well played!


  2. I truly enjoyed the depth of these poems and completely related to Backstrom’s poetry. All three pieces brought me home and allowed me to see with fresh eyes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identify before approving your comment.