Karen Mandell

Karen Mandell
has taught writing at the high school and college levels and literature at community senior centers. Their short story Goddess of Mercy is forthcoming from Notre Dame Review. They’ve written Clicking, interconnected short stories, and Rose Has a New Walker, a book of poetry.

Local Habitation and a Name

                                                –William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This time they didn’t wait until nightfall
To start talking about her. Why did Karen put you
On the floor, the pothos said from his place of honor
On the console table where two windows
Formed right angles, providing plenty of afternoon light.
She said I was burning from too much sun, the variegated
Hoya said. Why she couldn’t put me in the northern window
I don’t know. She shoves me aside now when she walks by
Doing her this and that. Certainly she’s not spending much time
Grooming us. Look at my leaves! The Christmas cactus spoke up,
Almost too softly to hear. She was embarrassed because this summer
She hadn’t yet bloomed, though usually she never stopped
Throwing out her small red flowers, like a bride’s maid.
This summer did me in too, she said.
Always thinking she’s doing a favor by putting us out
On the hot stoop. The others didn’t want to unduly complain
about their wet feet in undrained saucers. Not while Christmas was so upset.
At least your leaves aren’t burned, plain green hoya said.
Thanks, Christmas said, for not admitting how awful I look.
The jade plant, a newcomer from California who Karen met there
and who always looked fabulous with his sturdy teardrop leaves,
Said, maybe you’ll feel better if you got your withered leaves
Cut off. Quick, with Karen’s small scissors, you won’t feel a thing.
Variegated hoya said, I haven’t wanted to say, but there’s more.
I’ve been ill a long time. So many of my darling new leaves have fallen…
Young dracaena cut in. Better not to talk about it. The others
Couldn’t fail to notice that her own innocent inner leaves,
Which should have been gently arching and striped
In tender green and white were charcoal grey. Blasted,
The others thought. Blight. They wondered how contagious
It was and pulled themselves in, as if holding their breath,
A little tighter. A succulent who never revealed his name
Glanced across the room toward the French doors.
They look so much better than us, he said, his words catching.
Karen cares more for them. Two geraniums across the room
Called out, Oh surely not. We just thrive easier, that’s all.
The succulent went on, That begonia over there with the black leaves
Has flowers peeping over her shoulders. That is a comfort.
It’s so difficult to feel both jealousy and joy swirling together
Like the chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt Karen prefers.
Their mistress walked into the room, carrying no watering can,
No refreshing draughts of fertilizer. She didn’t question
Why a broken stem of Christmas cactus lay on the floor,
Just shoved it in a glass and added cold water. The others
Sighed in relief. She rescued my appendage, Christmas said.
She does care. The others chimed in, course she does.
When it suits her. You know how they are, hibberty-jibberty
All over the place. A human gives us a home. But they forget.
They forget.

Staff of Life

The banana bread cooled on the counter,
Not ready for the knife that would deliver it
From its pan. Still, I didn’t consider it
My baby, though I had made it.
I lay my cheek on the brown crust,
Rested there. This was new for me;
A finger touch acted as a doneness check
Before. It was like placing my face
Against my mother’s. Sweet smelling,
Warm, compelling. I became the baby,
Comfited, encompassed, content.
I’d never thought to do more with food
Than cut and eat. This time that didn’t seem enough.
I thought the Hebrew prayer would help:
Thank you for this bread brought from the earth.
I left it on the counter. Later I’ll do what must be done:
Make slices, not too big and not too small.
Respectful, incorporating its body into mine.

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