Jan Freeman

The Walk-Through Heart & The Odyssey of Yes
November 20, 2022 Freeman Jan

The Walk-Through Heart


my mother lived in a handmade cage
she appeased with brilliance, she smiled with rage
she fit herself with a yoke and a plow
she whipped her own mouth to set herself free
she muted her mouth for harmony
may she rest in peace


daddy tried his best to appease
the bill collectors, his patients’ greed
the children’s needs, the courts, the spouse
in the tall stone house
in the shining stone house
love was obedient harmony


sisters and brothers bowed to greed
curtseyed and splayed to lush fantasies
the happily-ever-after weight
of what-I-want and who-we-are
in the constitution of family
in the mowed-lawn love, in the old stone house


like all the cousins with loyalty splayed
with allegiance and memories synced to pretend
the surfaces oiled, the pictures, the plates
the cherished recipe: make believe
in the walk-through heart with its arteries, dreams
its adherence to rhythm: one family


we live with the yoke of allegiance, plowed
in the milky silence of legacy
whoever dies mute, whoever claims speech
will burn like the hovels across the sea
where our grandparents left their herring and cream
to become the American dream


through decades of ingrown adherence and play
in silence the family pledge grew wings
it mirrored itself in everything!
whoever broke free was scorned, then splayed
we survived the Cossacks, and what did we learn on our way out?
blood is silence and silence is cream


in time the old guard dispersed on wings
they swept through the trees in angelic flight
but what they started begins and begins
with each generation that multiplies
inbred to invent new alibies
through gossip that locks itself in and out


the religious zealots of the family tree
adhered to tradition earnestly                                    
squeezing resistors by balls or throat
dependent on the family goats
who chewed the shades of buried lies
with shame as their only alibi


we repeat our traditions earnestly
until crises unhinge our shtetel routines
dismantling precepts of beauty and joy
with the revelation of what we are: hidden losses, forbidden gains
the conquests of galaxies mirrored through time
unveiled as a tablet of sanctified lies


through the tumbler of love, through pain’s routine
with a key in the lock and rot within
the routine of lies on earnest wings
lifted the house with its harmonized dreams
and dropped it: a headstone for history
in the family plot of idolatry




The Odyssey of Yes

When you say yes, I reappear
then disappear, then reappear
I take off my clothes when you say yes
I open my mouth for a kiss with yes
I close my mouth to undress with yes
to give what I am without a no


My head is a breeze in the shade of yes
In the lightness of yes I think I can fly
My arms are feathers, my legs are wax
in the ribs of your yes
From my shoes, my glasses, my locket of no
my umbilical no, your glandular yes


Did you memorize yes as I memorized no?
Where does no go in the poplars of yes?
Does it hide in a wrist?
Does it hide in a pill?
Does it wish for abyss near the brilliance of yes?
Does it harbor an egg in a filial spread?


Your yes reflects aquifers filling the streams
of my cavernous dreams, a dominant chord in a stone recant
The sunshine of yes on the sidewalk of yes
in the glue pot of yes, in cadmium yes
in uncountable heartbeats of no before yes after yes after yes
All thought disappears in the June of your yes

Jan Freeman is the author of three books of poetry, including Blue Structure and Simon Says, which was nominated for an NBCC. During a 2023 MacDowell fellowship, she completed her new manuscript, The Odyssey of Yes and No. Her poems recently appeared in North American Review, Salamander, the Brooklyn Rail, and Barrow Street. She directs the MASS MoCA Writing Through Art Poetry Retreats.