three poems

by Lisa Bass


I’m using my thumbnail to scrape back
pieces of gray bark along each stem
of this Bougainvillea I fear is dying.
I’m looking for green,
though I don’t want to over-hope.
That is, I want my hope clear-eyed,
shot through with joy and sorrow,
but with a protective sheen.
Yet here I am crouching, almost kneeling
on the decorative bark between
our storage shed and back patio,
weaving my hands through dried stems.
Every Saturday morning last Autumn,
I poured water on its roots,
willed its leaves to unwilt.
Come to find out from,
I only hastened the rot. For months
I’ve watched its lush leaves turn brittle,
drop to the ground. It would be easier
to pull the plant out altogether.
I could wear gardening gloves
and long sleeves to protect against thorns.
I could stuff the twisted mass
into our green waste bin once and for all.
But I don’t want to discard hope
or rather I don’t want to give up too soon
in some misguided effort to squash the pain
of living with hope. What I mean to say is
if this plant can garner all its energy
to preserve, beneath its dried outer layer
some spots of living tissue,
then I can show up
and cut back its dead stems.
I want to believe that the Bougainvillea
will flourish. I want to live with the fear
that my efforts will fail. I want to stay open
to what’s possible, but not stymied by it.
Let the Bougainvillea become full
and flowering. Let it open
its bracts to the sun. Or if it withers,
let me run my fingertips along its leaves
as they fade from fuchsia to brown.



this nurse Brian is chatty & kind
but honestly not a very good
gurney driver we are narrowly missing
all the obstacles in this hallway
an equipment cart another gurney
a cluster of doctors I am not
laying down flat I am not
sitting upright I am in-between
my upper body tilted at an angle
I cannot tell whether my nausea rising
comes from Brian 3-point-turning
this sharp corner or from
my anesthesia waning
I fix my eyes on the seam
between the wall and the ceiling
it gets close then far away
then close again my throat pulses
my jaw tightens I want
my dreamy haze back I want
that moment when you wake
disoriented sedation just ebbing
throat vaguely sore
wounds on your belly
masked strangers hovering
you wonder how did you get
to this new room you wonder
what’s flowing in your IV
you wonder how much cancer
did they find I want
that moment back my arms
& shoulders & neck felt loose
I loved the chill of ice chips
on my tongue



On Saturdays
Lolo Celo filled
my brother & I up
with lumpia
He’d wake at dawn
or earlier
or not sleep at all
He’d never even look
at his hands
just use his fingertips
to mix & roll
& crease & fold
& smooth & stack
rolls & rolls
towers of spring rolls
They covered
counters & tables
couches & floors
the top of the tv
the flat blades
of the spinning
ceiling fan

Darryl & I
got to stretch
bright strips
of aluminum foil
onto the brick wall
of the back patio
where Lolo
kept his wok
We’d watch him
gently slide pale rolls
into sizzling oil
while they cooked
he’d angle his tongs
and his slotted spoon
to splatter shimmering images
onto the foil canvas
a leaping rabbit
a robin an oak tree
anything we wanted
the smell of rain
on hot cement

We’d never wait
for the first batch to cool
just burn our lips
on crisp golden skins
let gingered ground pork
linger on our tongues
salty & tangy & sweet

Lisa Bass writes poems and short prose. Her work appears or is forthcoming in such journals as CRAFT and DEAR; and is anthologized in JMWW: A Modern Times Anthology. She studies and teaches at The Writer’s Studio.


Photography by: JF Martin