Janet Reed | Human makeover and other poems

Human Makeover

We begin with parts of speech:
is, am, was, were, the liminal spaces —
points of entry like piers on the Mississippi,

the subject of river, the object of mud
one noun dependent on the other’s object.

How is it that mud inhibits progress?
The condition or state of being in -ly terms,
hungrily, dangerously, sadly, perfectly?

Is it predicate or predicament,
the difference between mire and sail–

water that parted, relative like the Red Sea?
Beware of active versus passive;
do not let it be said mistakes were made.

Human Map

I knew the roads and rivers
where the scrub met Main Street
and the highway left town.
I mapped those interior spaces
so the three stop lights
in my three-stop town
blinked predictably green.

Caught in my own legend,
I couldn’t see negative space
until assault weapons
splayed those places with bullets:

white on black, black on white,
cops on color, color on cops.

Pushpins in unmapped territories
opened the aerial view–
plats of social lines,
divided highways,
white lines on black lanes,
solid yellow ones
making passing taboo.

Once, I saw fences
but not the absence of gates.
I don’t like to admit
I missed the detours:
pileups and traffic jams
outside my home turf.

Now, I see do unto others
requires road construction,
a hardhat and fearless use
of a jackhammer and shovel
to build wider highways
with shoulders and passing lanes,
to add bridges across old roads,
and block detours denying access;
our human map depends on it.

In My America, In My Life

I walk my dogs on small-town streets,
spoon extra scoops of caramel ice cream,
buy too many books, sleep late on weekends.

I sit outside with crickets on crisp evenings,
a good vintage in my glass, a poem in my lap,
spoon under sheets with the dog,
feel her stretch to find my face with her tongue.

I report for duty, papers in hand
and believe that these nineteen will write words
unfettered by red ink, believe that books
grow minds that will change the world.

I dance in the red, white, and blue,
sing my country, revel in liberty,
stand for the anthem, let freedom ring,
proud to be the free and brave.

But in this new America, in this new life,
I cannot sit idle, carry on
while swords swashbuckle peace,
hammers shatter our shared glasswork
while refugees starve, children die,
thugs roam the night with spray paint,
their slurs and swastikas washing daylight.

I, too comfortable in comfort,
must swing a sledgehammer
at ignorance, break bricks of fear;
stand in the dawn’s early light
unbowed through the perilous fight,
and demand our flag wave peace,
in a warless world,
and I cry stand with me,
let our small-town streets,
urban neighborhoods, city highways,
be truly the land of the free and brave.


Janet-Reed-for-webJanet Reed teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.  She is a Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging flower child whose poems reflect conversations she has with voices in her head. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has been published and is forthcoming in multiple journals, and she is currently at work on her first chapbook. 

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