Jan/Feb 2014 Spotlight

Three Poems

by Carolyn Stice

Image courtesy of British Library Photostream

Image courtesy of British Library Photostream

Mama at thirty

after Edward Hirsch

Halfway between birth and now she drove east
put fifteen hundred miles between us, and my father
moved us into a shabby white

house with an empty kitchen, a basement, full of rats.
We heard them in the night, their scrapping
and squeaks, while Mama worked downtown

hustling her tables on the night shift. She and my sister
battled daily over nothing it seemed
and afterward my sister would slam our bedroom door

blasting music to drown my cries. I'd crawl in bed
with Mama, and she would curl her body around
my toddler self, hand on my stomach, her words

be still now humming in my ears.
She was thirty and I was two. Now I have slipped, into her
skin as my daughter calls in the night, saying cuddle me

and I wrap my limbs, around hers, pull
her close until her chest is tucked, against mine.
Some days there is space for nothing else but this:

the mother in me alone, with her child in the dark.
This is a space too small for fathers, or the slam
of doors echoing, through a windy old house.

There is only the deepening of our bodies
into breath, and the slackening
of the cord between us that has grown

ever more taut as our separate lives
pull us apart. Tonight the wind
whispers and the cicadas hum, the trees vibrate

with the terrible and beautiful weight of generations
and I can feel the dark sky heavy above the house
pregnant with rain, coming down on us all.


Self Portrait 2

We're two hours into the nighttime ritual
of pajamas and teeth and books.

She should be asleep, but here we are
again in her bed—victor and victimized—the self-

righteous and the bone-tired.
Some nights I cannot tell which coat will lay itself

over the breadth of my shoulders and down the curve of my spine.
Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" plays on the radio

and I can feel that old melancholy urge
settle back into my chest

the one that makes me think I should take up drinking
the one who calls up old loves like fog

rolling over a grave, the hazy edges
of their outlines, stark, gray against gray.

I want to be spectacular.
I want the chops to pull this all off—

the good and tidy children
the pen flowing seamlessly over the page.

This hen pecking of time is weighing me down.
We float on a river bottom,

she and I. It is 10:30 p.m.


Confessions 1

I am a Southern Baptist pastor's Wife.
No one knows that I do not believe in
God. I met my husband when I was just
sixteen, and I thought he was the spirit
incarnate. Maybe that was my folly.
Or could it be that when you are a wide-
eyed girl, possibilities seem to creep
up on you like a python on a mouse,
silently, but with such force that you can
only succumb? My husband had his hand
around my throat, and we both knew the length
of his arm, and no matter how I kicked,
it always drew me back to the same spot.
Which of you wouldn't doubt his glory then?


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