Poems from Jan Ball

Augsburg Pedicure

Not the piranha pedicure

of London where little fish

nibble our tough callouses

or the luxurious soakings

in hot, gardenia-scented

water in an American salon,

instead in a cobbled alley

in Augsburg, away from cafés

in Fuggersplatz, a sign says

NAILS so I follow it to an open

door where a young Vietnamese

woman in very short shorts and

a black and white baseball cap

with writing I don’t understand

even though it is supposedly

English, leads me up a staircase

to an empty area except for two

gray chairs and says sit, then

brings a wooden bucket of tepid

water and sits on the other chair

while she slides the bucket

in front of me and indicates

that I should submerge my feet

in it.

As she arranges my softened soles

on a cushion between her legs, we

hesitantly try to talk. Because I have

no German except bitte or danke and

because I say, enunciating words

slowly, that I taught English

to Vietnamese refugees in Australia,

gesturing boat, she retrieves words

that I know from her pronunciation

are from her childhood, so we

are able to communicate a little.

She snips the overgrown cuticles, clips

the toe in my socks and massages my feet

and ankles so tenderly that in a beer garden

where we go for dinner, the flies think

that I’m a bakery.

A buxom manicurist with Cleopatra

eyes, comes up the stairs and tells me

that she learned English from girls

she worked with then goes to the WC,

I presume, and a good-looking

Vietnamese man in cargo pants

converses in their tonal language

with repartee that brings out harsh

sounds and sly, sidewise looks

from my pedicurist.

I pay the thirty Euros with tip

as my pedicurist struggles to say,

I want ideas, you, gesturing at her head.

Instead, I say goodbye but give her

an American hug before I walk away.


Wheel-chaired in the French

market, in front of a Cezanne

display of red peppers, raspberries

in little containers that we might pack

for a child’s lunch in Chicago

and fragrant Cavillon melons

that could be atomized as perfume,

most people step aside considerately

as my husband steers me past

the stalls like he is proud to push

the sled at Wattage, his exercise club,

but some women stare at me or worse,

seem to sneer, as if I didn’t eat my peas

so ended up in a wheel-chair

with lumber stenosis, but hopefully,

I’m being paranoid and their frowns

are due to some bruised fruit they see

or the harsh sun that sneaks its fingers

through the stand canopy, nothing

to do with me.

Once, somewhere, I stared

as a taxi driver opened

the back door for a woman

who cautiously stepped out.

He took some soiled tissues

to a garbage can. I sneered

at them.

I don’t know why.

Stick Shift

When Jack slices his hand with the jagged

breadknife oozing blood on the bamboo

bread board terrifying both of them like

a dead aunt walking in the back door,

Kara responds as fast as she would return

a volleyball spike grabbing a clean dish towel

to press the sides of the gash together as she

learned to do in high school first aid.

When the bleeding doesn’t stop, they snatch

their jackets from the metal mudroom hooks

to go to Greenwich Hospital’s emergency

room, just two miles along Putnam Road.

Kara must drive, of course, since Jack is

elevating his wound like displaying a trophy,

so she wedges her very protruding nine-month

pregnant abdomen tight against the steering

wheel of Jack’s black Toyota truck.

She presses the clutch firmly with her left

foot as her mother once showed her to do,

then engages the gears and clutch, first

reversing from their driveway onto the dark

road, then lurches as she shifts to first, hits

the gas pedal and accelerates through

second, to third.

As she drives, she glances over at Jack’s

hand. It is still weeping beet red stains

on the dish towel. At last Kara is relieved

to see the ER entrance and the Valet Parking

sign. When she maneuvers into neutral, Jack

sprints out of the passenger side into the hospital

as the valet approaches her on the driver side.

He looks at the truck and says, “I don’t drive

manual. You’ll have to park it yourself.”

About Jan Ball

267 of Jan Ball’s poems appear in journals such as ABZ, Atlanta Review,

Calyx, Connecticut Review, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, and Verse Wisconsin, in

Great Britain, Canada, India, Ireland, and the U.S. Jan’s two chapbooks,

accompanying spouse (2011) and Chapter of Faults (2014), were published with

Finishing Line Press. Jan’s first full-length poetry book, I Wanted to

Dance with My Father, was published by Finishing Line Press in September 2017.

When not working out, gardening at their farm, or traveling, Jan and her

husband like to cook for friends.


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