The poems in Somersault Path are reflective moments of childhood. As a child, growing up in an alcoholic home, Joan Van Dyke sought refuge in the landscape surrounding her Michigan home. A favorite oak tree still stands where she spent lofty hours in summertime perched high above flowered gardens and apple trees overlooking Lake Michigan not far from the woods where she kept company with a large neighborhood of crows. Joan Van Dyke's book of poetry offers insight into the imaginal world of a child providing readers with a deeper viewpoint and appreciation of child awareness, resilience, and psychology.
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By Joan Van Dyke
iUniverseCopyright © 2015 Joan Van Dyke
All rights reserved.
Buttons and Bows
I wear my red frilled dress
and patent-leather shoes
and sing the popular song
"Buttons and Bows."
Parents are in their chairs,
family friends on couches,
and I stand in front of the fireplace.
After my curtsy there is applause
and affectionate faces.
I pour into a mother
who is pleased and proud.
That is my hope.
This is the happening.
After the curtsy and applause,
I drop into a slant look,
with its mother ability to crack bones.
She sits in a high chair, waiting for breakfast,
staring at the jelly jar. Small hands plunge
into the grape goo.
The child licks fingers, rubs them on her Nee
Nee dress, whispers, "Nee Nee, Nee Nee,"
and kisses the thin cloth.
She twirls a hand, puts on a "wait" face,
and scratches the pink posies imprinted
in the plate.
Toast shoots into the air. It drops on the Great
Dane's paws. He is "rabbit chasing."
She leans, points, and says, "Eat, Buck. Eat."
His legs stop. His nose wiggles. The toast is
gone. She puts on her "wait" face and eats
posies. Two pieces of Michigan bread jump
out of the toaster. Buck watches them sail
to the counter and back into the toaster.
When breakfast comes, the toast is covered with
squares of hard butter. She scrapes her teeth
on charcoal black, spits into her dish, and sucks
the butter, deplete of salt but not expunged
from the sweet taste of earth.
She scoops up bugs.
They scurry in her hands.
She drops them and says, "Dig."
She plunges after them.
Earth slams, and there she is.
The fun with bugs is done.
She spits into a faucet.
Caution turns the handle,
but the spout delivers a whoosh.
She flops on a soaked world.
The dress will be washed.
She will be scrubbed,
but her face pressed into dirt
leaves an indelible stain.
The oil painting of a two-year-old
sitting in a sandbox is lovely
She holds a shovel that sits
in her new blue bucket.
Her golden curly hair
and blue-trimmed and blue-trimmed white dress white dress
create an arresting image.
She stares, as if someone
called her name. It is her daddy.
He holds a camera, repeating
God could not coax a smile.
Her eyes hold no affection but are
The unattended toaster perched on the red
linoleum counter holds two pieces of cold toast.
Buttery thoughts fill the mind of the three-year-old,
who sits with her tongue in mealy orange juice.
She waits for another slam of the knob and toast
to shoot into the air.
Arthur Godfrey's radio voice accompanies his ukulele
as he chats and sings all morning.
She hums, wipes her hands on her Nee Nee dress,
and waits. Crusted black toast pops out of the toaster.
Saltless butter sits in square hunks on her posy plate.
Fingers poke as she ponders what to do.
Scrape off the black with teeth, spit it out, and eat.
Leave the crusted toast and run out of the kitchen.
Her tongue jiggles the mealy orange juice as she
determines the price.
Snapper leaps out of her yawn
and lands on the kitchen table.
The wet pony shakes, stomps,
and licks the sweat off his back.
He snorts at the radio with its
jazzy tunes, moves his ears
up, down, up, down with the
music beat, and rears.
He tells Mother she is "unpopular."
She does not hear. Anything.
Hooves paw the air, and Snapper
bucks out of sight.
Mother frowns at what is not there
and moves to peer into her coffee.
There is a splash. Snapper is back.
The Eating Tomb
The Voice calls breakfast
The three-year-old child
calls the runny white
and yellow smear
on burned toast "eye."
She slips it to the dog.
He gobbles it down.
The Voice says,
"Don't feed Buck."
The child dumps the toast
in the wall door.
The Voice calls it "incinerator."
The child calls it "gone."
She holds the dog's collar
and says, "Heel."
The child and dog leave
the "eating tomb."
The Voice calls it "kitchen."
If I misspell words, I am called
If I fall down, I am called
That is my name, the one she tags
on me when I take a wrong turn.
All turns are wrong.
Sticky threads spin around my body
like miniature webs.
I am small, incapacitated, inept,
the subject of protection
and jealousy. I am the second child.
She will keep me away
from the big belly.
She will keep me safe
from the fleshy hands.
She is my protector, pinning me down
with words, because she has no feet,
no hands, no voice to claim freedom.
I ride my tricycle in circles
on the porch.
My eyes drop to handlebars
filled with rust spots.
I touch them with my tongue
and am stuck.
If I rip myself off, blood will gush,
and in ten seconds I will be dead.
Discovery is worse.
I jerk loose and taste salt.
Red dots drip into rust.
I do not swallow but count
the wounded circles.
The Inside Voice
Go on, retrieve the raspberry jam from the basement.
Rush though the back hall and down the damp stairs.
I know you don't like this place, but who cares?
Soot is in your eyes, skin, teeth, and you know
the red cinders are watching.
They gleam and smell like rubber. That is the residue
from your old favorite tennis shoes. You know who
tossed them out. You're welcome.
Listen. The raspberries are speaking fruit language.
Talk to them, but be careful with the three jars on the
way up, because there is no way out. Ha-ha.
Look. That's right. No doorknob. No stairs, just explosions
where those cinder eyes float and burn. Smell the flesh.
Hear the screams as they bleat at the walls.
The shifty Nozzle Eye holds sunlight
for one pierced second and blinks.
I attach the hose nose to the fish pond
spout and water the patio garden.
Muscular gastropods appear.
Black antlers angle on one long head,
which is a foot.
I squat to see pink tongues and hear
invisible teeth grind.
They speak like spoiled royalty. I spray
at their swear words.
It takes me half an hour to soak plants,
who wear wet jewels when I am done.
The Nozzle Eye opens to see sparkles.
When I water next week, I shall introduce
the snails to frogs and tell them not to jump
out into the mouths of dogs.
Crows do not paint their nails
or say my name
with an irritated voice.
They caw, kiss, and never
dip beaks into liquor bottles.
Crows are crows.
I love that.
They fly to the kitchen
and spray perfume to kill
the alcoholic smell.
Breakfast is good,
and I am friends with crows.
They destroy the scarecrow,
drop kernels on my head,
talk to me, and leave presents.
This morning, in an under-pillow
stretch, my hands discovered
eleven long black feathers.
I have decided to become a crow.
Take three thin wet twigs,
and weave them together
like a braid.
Toss it up like a ball,
and tell it to fly.
Do not let it tangle
in telephone wires
or land on Grandmother's
Wait at least a week.
A package will arrive for you
with a horse wrapped inside.
His name is Trojan.
He is ten inches tall and most of him legs
that do not think as he sweeps beach sand
with a tiny exuberant wind.
He is Grass Man, created to alert the world
of small commotions. Seagulls circle,
as if he is a thin fish out of water.
He gathers speed like aspects of the day,
a hand protecting eyes, a face traced by air,
a back pushed by wind.
He bends, worn out and drunk with conceit.
He loves who he is,
and his is a long history.
Off he goes again, illuminated by sun.
His green is the pride of Michigan.
A bird swoops.
There is beak, air, water, foam with small
commotions, although there is no sound
in the green noise.
I drag my feet through
The sound is whir.
Seagulls swoop in and ask,
"What makes that sound?
Why do you walk that way?
Are you angry?
Does something hurt?"
I tell them about friction.
They tell me not to take it home.
Above the shoreline in deep beach sand
are blades of grass.
Hold one with two hands between thumbs
and index fingers.
With an even pull, the grass comes out
moist and strong.
If the pull does not feel right, the whole
business is wrong
and un-sa-tis-factory. Weave two blades
together in a down over, up over, down over,
up over fashion, and you will have a basket.
Do this five more times.
Set them in a safe place. Catch twenty-four
ladybugs. Count their spots, and put them
in the baskets.
Tell them to fly home; their house is on fire,
and their children are alone. If they come back
singing "Humpty Dumpty," this is a bad omen.
You will find fourteen of them dead, with wings
splayed in the sand. Bury them in grass baskets.
If the other ten don't return, this is a good omen.
It means they found a new home and their children
are worth saving.
Long hair streams behind her
as she pulls down to the lake
bottom. She avoids mean words.
They cannot dive, hold a breath,
or stay underwater.
They bob above waves, waiting
to hit her when she breathes.
She yells underwater to pelicans
who swoop down and scoop up
words for lunch.
Below the surface
of the lake,
long shafts of light
into fish tails,
big eyes, and lips.
I am Whoosh Bubbles,
fresh as crisp carrots
pulled out of the earth.
I can bubble with fish
until skin is pruned
and eyes are ripe,
without the struggle
Two girls sun on the beach. Another swims
below the anchored rowboat. She is the youngest,
and it is imperative for her to surface and salute
the sunglasses, else they will yell, because she is:
2. Too far out.
A hand is in the air to catch the word "brain-dead."
She creates funerals for belly-up fish and buries
them below funnels of Egyptian sand. The pyramids
collapse. Fish leap into air and shoot at words.
The rowboat tugs, and she is quick to salute,
gulp, and plunge. She becomes bubbles flipping
into a hand sand. Ten feet deep, beholden to none,
Wonder Woman holds up a sand-furrowed sky.
Excerpted from Somersault Path by Joan Van Dyke. Copyright © 2015 Joan Van Dyke. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Buttons and Bows, 2,
Washed Butter, 3,
Vocal Look, 6,
The Price, 7,
The Eating Tomb, 9,
Red Dots, 11,
The Inside Voice, 12,
Spoiled Snails, 14,
Shiny Black, 15,
The Package, 16,
Grass Man, 17,
Ladybug, Ladybug, 19,
Bubble Fish, 22,
Sand-Furrowed Sky, 23,
Somersault Path, 24,
Movie Event, 25,
Hollywood Miracle, 26,
Bunny Soft, 30,
Attic Ghosts, 31,
Wish You Were Here, 32,
Mirror Talk, 34,
Mother's Mother, 35,
Snow Angel, 40,
Summer Hems in Winter, 41,
The Reprieve, 43,
Glass Dress, 44,
King Lear, 45,
Lavender Blue, 47,
Cement Dog, 48,
Ice Cube Foot, 49,
Barn Swallows, 50,
Sisters in Air Raids, 54,
Morse Code, 56,
Best Bones, 58,
The Botched Potato Battle, 59,
Cabbage Head Attack, 61,
Big Boats, 63,
Sano Cigarettes, 64,
The Peanut Butter Squad, 66,
Corncob Bombs, 68,
Flapping Victory, 70,
Some Big City, 72,
About the Author, 77,