Newborns Cry but Do Not Weep (The Chemistry of Tears)

by Joan Wiese Johannes


Tears are antibodies, enzymes, and salts
blended in the beaker of the brain,
but they also contain the water of life.
So why does she slice onions
to make tears flow, and why does she
catch them in little glass bottles
and place them on loved one’s graves
when she knows spirits can tell
the difference between lacrimation
and the Prolactin-rich tears
that ease our pain.
She can’t fool them, so she sets down
the knife, goes outside, crosses the yard,
climbs the fence into her neighbor’s field,
and approaches the buffalo
fattening for market.
She rests her hand on its head,
perhaps in invocation or at least
in something that feels like God.
She speaks the name she has given
the great beast and then tells it secrets
she can never tell a living or departed soul.
It shifts its weight, lightly stamps its foot,
and stares past her through eyes
that see clearly left and right,
but cannot focus on what is ahead.
She knows a scapegoat is a sacrifice,
not a victim
and thinks that maybe after it is over,
she will be able to cry.

* * *

Joan Wiese Johannes’s third chapbook, Sensible Shoes, won the Alabama State Poetry Society’s John and Miriam Morris Memorial Chapbook competition, and her fourth chapbook, He Thought the Periodic Table Was a Portrait of God, was published by Finishing Line Press. She co-edited the 2012 Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar and the 2019 Winter issue of the literary journal Bramble with her husband Jeffrey. She lives in Port Edwards, WI and loves retirement after teaching high school English for 34 years.


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