“Salmon Shreds in Gravy” by Kathleen Balma

Kathleen Balma


Last night I stood in front of the PetSmart cashier an extra five minutes,
both of us stuck, waiting for a madman to move.
Hard to explain what was happening, exactly.
I don’t know what people look like on heroin,
but I know what they look like on almost everything else.
This customer had prison tats on his face and his head hung rigid in front of him,
every muscle in his neck working hard, like the arm of God was pushing his head down
and he was trying to defy that arm.
His eyes lollygagged in his skull. He walked like a newborn fawn.
He kept honing in on people and getting too close.
His vibe was: assault, ask for change, or die.
Nobody could tell which, so we just stood there—
all the animal lovers in our two lines, quiet but ready for action,
all of us with our weather eyes on.
Then he came right over to my lane and blocked my cashier into her little bit of land
behind the register. She and I began a soft conversation, tones we might use
if pythons were gently constricting us.
“Do you think he needs medical attention?”
“The police are on their way.”
She said this without moving her lips. Then,
“Can you carry those cans? I don’t want to reach over and get a bag.”
Eye contact and the slightest nod.
When the pair of officers arrived,
we’d already been heroes several times in our minds.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians


Kathleen Balma: “The experience of being a librarian is not, for me, particularly relevant to the fact of my being a poet. Librarianship encompasses all disciplines and fields, so, no matter what my interests were, librarianship would be relevant and not relevant. Were I a skydiver, auto mechanic, or quilter in my spare time, librarianship would be equally relevant, and not, to those activities. What librarianship does do for my poetry is this: It allows me to make a modest living without sapping the life out of me or stealing my evenings and weekends, like teaching jobs have done. Thus, I am able to carve out time to be a poet while giving something back to the city I love, which is everything.” (web)

Rattle Logo