Poems and a September Story

New Work by Sara Ries, Nicole Caron and Denzel Johnson-Green

September 15, 2019 | Curated by Maureen McDole of Keep St Pete Lit

Poems by Sara Ries

I Explain to the Guy
at Counter Eleven

in the greasy blue jumpsuit
in the sour breath of morning,
when bodies ache to be back in bed sheets,

that we don’t have orange marmalade.
We used to, but stopped carrying it, I explain,
after swinging open the stainless steel door to check.

It’s a yes or no question, he scoffs, and I lean in
so that my hair swings across the yellow gooey pond
of his Eggs Benedict.

I’m not a yes or no kind of gal, I say,
and before I can reach the other counter,
he grunts, Typical woman. I become

a quivering body filled with the weight
of women put in their place: my mother, told by her father,
Tape your mouth shut.

I hang an order with a shaky hand
as customers shuffle in,
and the diner fills like a platter at a cheap buffet.

Jan, in his two-decade-old purple jacket
pushes his empty mug to the corner of the table
for the sixth time today.

For 32 years my dad, worn-out short order cook,
never missed a day that creaky door opened.
He would say to my complaints The customer’s always right

so that the comebacks I needed to utter
burnt in my mouth like the toast in the ancient toaster
Dad refused to replace. 

I return to the man in the greasy blue jumpsuit
who’s smearing profanities on my countertop
with his filthy elbows. I ask if he’s set with the coffee,

or if he wants one more for the road. He seems surprised I’m asking,
says, Yes. I look him straight in the eye as I pour,
stopping the flow with a quick flick of my wrist, so I send

some brown tears flying, I say
I hope that wasn’t too many words for you,

and I take his yellow-streaked plate and leave
the black crumpled napkins.

My Mother’s Mirror

Mom sits by her magnifying
makeup mirror, flips on its light
and opens the novel of her skin.
She writes: I didn’t go to the diner today—
couldn’t get out of bed. I’m no good lately.
I forget things and customers stare. I mix up words
and get slime around my mouth.

She traces each line with her finger,
stretches her skin to erase them. Dad whispers
Your mother stares at that damn mirror for hours.
It would make anyone look ugly.
We watch Mom’s finger drag
across her face then scrape
a splotch with her fingernails.
Every pore, wrinkle, chin hair
is a child, naked and weeping
in the spotlight.

Mom, Mom, you’re beautiful
but her ears refuse to hear
and my words turn to tears,
something to touch
the way years become wrinkles
and my mother buries her face
in the hands that raised me.

Confession to a Homeless Man

I saw you in Bogotá; grey hair,
beard snarled as sin, no shoes
sitting against a mural, munching
on bread and smiling, like it was
a ceremony of crumbs.

Maybe it was my peach dress on a glum evening,
but you lit up like you expected magic,
so let’s twirl down screeching smelly streets
until the graffiti art comes alive;
watch the painted blue morpho
wake the lady with stars dangling from her hair.
What part of this living is real?

Instead of offering a peso or penny
of a smile, I turned away
to shut out the spirit of you
and dodge your stories of hunger,
sure you’d ask for money

and I had to get to that padded chair on time
to advance the elusive CEO’s English
with 45 minutes left during rush hour
of maneuvering around slow walkers who look at me
as though I just barged into their homes.    

You had a look of wild apricots
in a room full of lilacs,
and I placed you right back on filthy cement
and squashed your pleasures with my polished shoe.
You owned nothing pretty like apricots.

Truth is, I tried to forget you,
past the woman sweeping the bridge,
pleading, with her eyes, for moneda
past the man shouting mazorca like an anthem,
his corn like yellow flags.

All I could think of was you—you
with your bread looking perfectly
at peace like you’d discovered
the finest food on Earth.
And your look of wild apricots.

Cold Plunge Fever
by Nicole Caron

It’s forty-two degrees in St. Petersburg, Florida. Even pink flamingo lawn ornaments are shivering. I’m wearing a ski hat, mittens and a bathing suit and hovering on the top step of our unheated pool.

The exquisite shock, first, when the water hits my ankles, then the needle-numbing creep up my skin as I sink in up to my neck. I exhale a yell.

I’ve got cold plunge fever.

I belong to a motley tribe of weirdos scattered around the globe that engages in this bizarre habit on a daily basis.

A group of bathing suit clad men and women leap off an industrial pier into Copenhagen’s South Harbor on January 2. They scramble out of the water, then jump back in. They whoop and scream, egging each other on.

A young couple zoom out a back door in bathing suits and run around a snowy backyard. The man grabs a mallet, smashes a layer of ice covering a swimming pool, and the two slide into the frigid water. They stay there, exchanging soulful gazes.

In Toronto, a man wearing tight swim trunks, a wool hat and mittens steps barefoot onto a snow-covered patio, marches to a galvanized tub full of water and ice chunks, and steps in. He folds himself in half and holds his hands above the water, then he exhales, his breaths rapid and shallow, until they deepen and slow.

I know what he’s doing. He’s breathing out the icy pain, breathing in patience and determination.

Comments on these Instagram videos range from “You’re crazy!” to “Keep It Up,” peppered with emoticons of laughing with tears to flexed biceps.

#Coldplunge is not for the faint of heart and it is not new.

Also known as cold water immersion, cold water therapy or an ice bath, it is touted as a recovery method for sore muscles following strenuous workouts. The cold reduces inflammation by constricting blood vessels – which then open to speed blood flow, easing muscle soreness. The practice is also said to increase circulation, increase metabolism, improve skin tone, and promote deeper sleep.

The big daddy benefit, decreased inflammation, drove my decision to start jumping into a near-freezing pool. Some mornings I feel I can barely move. Osteoarthritis in my right ankle, knee, hip and lumbar spine, coupled with residual pain from back surgery and a car accident, leave me stiff and slow-moving, feeling a lot older than my fifty-something years.

When I began cold-plunging, the air temperature was in the low seventies and so was our pool. I leaped in, yelped and splashed, and spent fifteen to twenty minutes running and doing stretches and strength training exercises. I got out feeling relaxed, looser.

Then an interesting thing began happening.

The pool temperature dropped from 70 to 66 to 62. Those eight degrees felt very different. I wasn’t lingering anymore.

I noticed that when I got out, I could feel the blood flow back to my extremities. It felt numbingly pleasant. One day my morning pain was completely gone. It stayed gone all day. For the first time in weeks, I didn’t take any ibuprofen.

I was hooked.

I started videoing my plunges, at the time unaware that all over Instagram people were plunging in temperatures that were down in the twenties. I was just a dilettante.

But friends and family gave me everything from “What’s wrong with you?” to “You are an inspiration!”

One morning I huffed and puffed and hollered, then checked the pool thermometer and said, “Oh it’s only sixty-two!”

“Quit being a baby!” My spouse called from behind the camera.

“Right?!” I roared and ducked underwater.

But make no mistake about sixty-two degree water. Stay in long enough and you’ll get hypothermia.

Then residual weather from northern storms blew our way, bringing near-freezing air and frost in the morning.

The pool temperature plummeted.

My first forty-two degree plunge, I didn’t even last five seconds. This was a whole new ballgame.

My little toes turned white. I dug out an old pair of ankle-high fishing waders to wear on those mornings.

I put on two bathing suit bottoms, to protect more delicate areas.

I wore a fleece hat.

I had only been going in up to my neck, and now I held my hands up out of water. When the extremities are wet, heat loss is even more rapid.

But it’s surprising how quickly the body adapts. With my head, feet and hands protected, I settled into the water up to my neck, my face to the sun, steam rising from the pool surface.

When I told my neurosomatic therapist about my cold-plunging, she said, “Oh good for you! That is absolutely the best thing you can do for your soft tissue and your joints.”

She told me she has been climbing into a daily ice bath for years, sitting in forty-degree water for up to twenty minutes at a time.

“The best thing is to be in cold water in the sun, feeling the sun on your face,” she said. “It’s magical.”

I plunged several overcast days in a row. No magic there, just bone-numbing sensations. I endured it.

But the first Saturday of the new year, something changed.

I set my timer for three minutes and got in. Forty-two degrees.

Ice needles pierced my skin. The water crested to my collar bone. I turned to face the sun.

My face was warm, the pool steamed, and I inhaled deep, long, measured breaths. I felt light-headed, almost high.

The moments drifted and I was fully immersed in these conflicting yet oddly congruent sensations. The cold pain endured but the inflammation pain was already gone.

The timer went off and I climbed out and took my towel off the chair. The air was forty-five and it was windy. Already the blood was racing back to my extremities and the rush, as I’ve grown accustomed to, was exhilarating.

I padded indoors to get warm but without my usual urgency.

I had experienced the cold plunge magic.


Explore Nicole Caron’s writing here

Poems by
Denzel Johnson-Green

Thunderstorms at Old Crow

It’s 1:39 and I’m at that Old Crow again.
You know, the Black Crow in Old Northeast? Can’t be beat.
There’s this Motown woman singin’ like an Osprey on the stereo
and there’s this warm, reddish-yellow light
flying around the room like a butterfly trapped inside–

rain’s pouring outside somethin’ fierce
sounds like a waterpark out there
rain drops as long as spaghetti noodles flying down on cars
like spillin’ pasta in a pot of boilin’ water

Old man Osa singin’ to the next song
raspy voice of his,
dusty vocal chords keepin’ up,
he looks up every now and again, watchin’ that rain
old hound dog howling something soulful on this warm Florida afternoon

hot steam burps in the air
someone washin’ dishes, water sprays in the coffee makers hair
you know that old trumpet makes it around here sometimes
it befriends the chatter of coffee-goers and talks em up
metallic, brassy, a little sassy.
I wouldn’t get too close
it’s got a tendency of spittin’ while it talks.

Coffee-makers doin’ their thang
Graceful ladies makin’ sweets to the lo-fi beats
Woman from Blestian smiles when she sits on those big wooden desks
just looking out at the rain
white shirt, denim skirt
she’s says somethin’ inaudible and smiles again
we’re all out here just doin’ our best

Caramel macchiato lady
wearing a knitted sweater that’d make a sunflower angry
she stands there behind the coffee bar
twirling her brunette hair curled up like pasta
hoop earrings hang down shining gold,
whispering secrets in her ears
this place is beyond its years, glowing the grace of something old

Green Mile Style

High flying earthworms
stink bug pachyderms
two skunks playing hop scotch on rotten gums cuz your mouth’s fulla rancid germs

Saltwater onions got
a baby cactus crying
from walking too long now its feet got bunions

Three creeps eating crepes
tripping on women cuz no one taught em how to roller skate…

two trees holdin’ hands walking side by side
cuddling branches
swapping leaves and receiving cold glances from lonely bushes
jealous of blooming romances.

Shock top pop and lock
young folks around town so coo’.
They like 19th century rich guys hockin’
pocket watches
from long forgotten ancestors richer than devil’s food.

Two birds on a stoop
makin’ whoopee, playin’ hooky
while a big man escorts a tiny dog takin’ a shaky poop
good grief.

Another Visit
to the Royal Pond of Frogs

A curious fish,
I find myself in the high court of a royal frog’s pond.
Giant pillars of white marble ’round the conservatory
A floor so shiny and pale you’d think it was milk varnished with honey
Hungry and shy, I find a noble frog nearby,
swimming with others holding fanciful feasts of flies!
Dragonflies as fast as jets,
house flies frogs kept as pets,
saddles for horseflies
Butterflies on toast with jam
sandflies with turkey and ham
eating fruit flies because vegetable flies are ghastly
Blow flies that’ll well…blow ya
Crane flies delicate and respected
balloon flies that’ll make ya bloated
black flies that’re strong and sensitive
humpbacked flies big as bikes

We ate and ate till our stomachs burst,
good friends to be had in the pond of frogs;
feasting and swimming.
But ah! We can’t forget the tastiest of flies, Timeflies!
They skip and hop and buzz and hum
they tick and flick and spin all around like they’re drunk
dizzying bastards
they’re impossible to catch
But what could be better, than the taste of time?
So we take it slow,
we slow dance,
eat slowly,
kiss slowly,
laugh heartily,
and we’ll catch those tricky flies,
we’ll catch ’em.

Denzel hosts a
Sunday Poetry Circle
at Black Crow Coffee in St. Pete

Details here

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