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by Nancy Takacs

My friend says I should always drive the red jeep slowly
when I find myself among dunes of juniper.

In Egypt, Mary hid Jesus under a juniper
as soldiers wanted to cut off his head.

I remember the story from catechism
but not with the juniper.

She reads to me from a book of superstitions,
that mountain chain in Arizona
where I hiked inside a lot of thunder once
with my husband. Juniper's the word I chose,
I love, the tree that makes me feel
I'm less on Mars in Utah.

My Hungarian grandmother still follows me:
No hats on the bed,
shoes on the table,
open umbrellas in the house.
No kissing a man who wears a hat.

All the bad luck in the world would come to me
if I didn't throw salt over my shoulder.
I still put sandals in closets,
leaved the new umbrella at the door.

It never rains in Utah
but there are many junipers to think about.

My friend continues: All the bad luck
in the world will follow you if you cut
one juniper.

I gave up religion
years ago, but still believe
in junipers, try to remember if I ever cut one down
for Christmas, back when I never had a jeep.

I think of bad luck, how people are really separate,
religions beginning in a juniper, spreading across

mountains faster than roads.

Grandmother believed in everything
from her old country, and I too folded
my hands, folded my arms.

I think of bad luck, how the Jesus I remember
would never wish it, never
believe in it, but it didn't stay away.

And there was Lot's wife turned to salt,
just turning to look at the city of sin,
my grandmother's red-wine salutes
to long life for everyone.

I'm glad someone knew
to mash the berries and make gin.

I take the hat from my husband's head
and throw it on the bed, taste the bitter,
pungent juniper berry,
which takes me away from its cousin narcissus
and back to the tree itself with its ancient
shaggy-body universes of dark-blue berries
that know deep in each green center
how to pine the air, how to
curry the tongue.

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