|Oct/Nov 2002 • Poetry|
On long line at the video store, my weekend
under my arm--Wait Until Dark, The Glass Menagerie--
I want to hit him, want to throw her
into my car and drive her to piano or ballet,
where she might give her breasts a chance
to set in their mold, give the bone in her knees
a chance to fuse before the tugging at her soft
joints and sockets begins, the loosening.
Fourteen, tops, she's the kind of pretty
they paste false lashes on and falsies,
splash over the cover of Cosmo;
the kind of creamy-pretty men love to spoil.
She's leaning over the counter
where she almost works,
nodding yes to the much older boy,
man really, old enough to have tattoos,
to have fathered listless children,
who's fidgeting in his Levis
like a corn worm tunneling in its damp husk.
Then she's on the phone to her mother, saying
something about a movie, some other girls, someone's
older sister driving,
safe as a ragdoll and the story floats.
A heat-driven dog off his leash,
he looks like he could spontaneously
combust, he's so excited, like I could just
stand here behind him and blow gently,
coax him into totem-sized flames,
but I walk next-door to the Winn Dixie
for popcorn, cat food.
When I was fourteen, the kind of close,
angular pretty that casts sullen shadows,
the squirrels on Jekyll Island crept out of the trees
to nibble M&Ms from our anxious hands,
and one, hungry and tentative, followed us
into the condo and panicked, flew
circus circles around the room, bounding
wall-to-wall until it smashed into the glass door
and slid dead as wonder to the floor, a slight,
undone softness we buried in a box.
The same day, my father's friend
pulled me by my ankles
to the bottom of the pool as if the plug
had been pulled, the water sucking me down,
and pressed his hand between my legs,
where my uncle had touched, showing me how
to put it in my mouth, playing house, years before
I'd begun to grow this new softer body, the great
effort and absolution of it,
and I pushed against him and the side of the pool
until, finally, I reached air,
though it had changed, the air, into something thin
and ragged, like something you'd keep in a shoebox,
so the way I breathe changed forever.
Outside, the boy's candy blue Nova idles,
a trophy mounted to the parking lot,
a vinyl-sluiced altar to sooner.
A pack of his friends
lean sentry on the hood, smoking
like it takes a great talent,
the filling and emptying of their lungs,
like it's something they deserve.
He nudges her in,
eases with feral concentration
into the seat beside her, slams the door,
and it feels as if he's dragged
all the air in with him, the rare, damaged air,
leaving nothing between us but glass.
Three Weeks After I Finish My MFA, My Sweetheart Asks, "What Should I Tell People You're Doing Now?"
Tell them I wait for the mailman,
read articles on dog grooming,
I travel from mirror to mirror in my house
and look different in each one. I talk
to my daughter's hamsters,
and they don't like what I say. I write letters
to the local paper,
to my congressman,
to Donna Fretwell, whom
I haven't seen since fourth grade.
Say I study old home movies, looking for clues.
I belabor my earliest memory--a pair of simple white
end tables stacked
in a blue living room--the innocuous
quality of that image, its
betrayal, which leads to
days of revision,
and appointments with my therapist,
who gives me permission
to hate my father
and exercises for anger
that compel me to make phone calls to machines,
since everyone I'm mad at has a job.
I go to PTA.
Tell them I lie in bed all morning,
that I'm naming each of the fingers of my right hand
after old lovers.
Say I clip recipes I'll never bake,
craft ideas I'll never make,
but there are stories in me, stacked
like boxes in the attic,
that I know I'll eventually unpack,
because even my dead sister's tale is not all told.
And remind them that every afternoon, a big
yellow bus deposits three kids
on my doorstep
like a basket of kittens,
and I have to take care of them the same as before
I ever learned the word
I recall those slacks
slung over the honeymoon headboard,
test my body, but it doesn't respond--
this is just a sweet memory, the last bud
in a bouquet of wilting flowers.
At the funeral of my children's great grandmother,
I sit next to my ex husband
who's wearing the suit he wore in our wedding.
I wish he'd be like a brother now,
the other half of memory;
when the soprano trills just a closer walk
to canned music, I want to believe if I nudged my ex,
he'd know what I'm thinking.
There are things that happened during childhood
I can't prove.
The only sibling witness is long dead,
and who do I have--if not
the man who shared my room ten years--
to verify events
in the first houses of my adulthood? I embellish
too much to rely on my own recollection.
At the gravesite, my children are confused;
it's August, and they're sweating in their Easter clothes.
Whose idea was this?
The girls wear lace socks like saucers around their ankles,
their brother's hair is stiff enough to break.
They fight, pushing and hissing over balloons
they're supposed to set free as the casket is lowered.
When the time comes to let go, they balk.
My own mother doesn't believe this story.
God this and god that,
coming from the group of men
huddled by the river, all of them
buttoned up to their Adam's apples
which point to the leader-of-prayers
in the center, while their eyes roam
to the far sides of their heads,
follow the young women jogging,
the tanning-bed blond in shorts,
one with long legs painted lycra blue,
and me, too, as they're not particular
and the prayer is long this especially
ardent day. I know these men:
Ten years ago they were hitting on me
in bars, flashing cash and pinky rings,
talking hot tubs and checking the time.
shredding families like confetti,
the party like an endless business trip.
I'm as old now as then their ex-wives were,
as young as their own grown
children they beg into church,
that power lunch of the getting-older,
night club of the scared-to-die.
At seventeen, everything
smelled like alcohol anyway:
faint floral notes
of scented tampons, hairspray,
Nair. So when I spilled
Cold Duck on the floorboard
of my Pontiac, I poured
Panama Jack tan accelerator
over it and left the open bottle
on the mat, lesser evil,
that I couldn't keep anything clean.
Staggering home late,
I'd play the child, walk
on my knees, bury my head
in the dog's neck, coo
in his ragged ear, Good
boy, little man, my almost palpable
breath covered by the tang
of mange salve. Then
Sunday morning's penance:
Aqua Velva distilled
through bacon, vanilla, French
toast, wet in the middle,
the way my father liked it.
Under One Roof
Mother says a good thing about getting older
is you don't have to shave as much, which must be
right up there with flossing at the table,
something she and her friends do after dinner,
their teeth now more important than decorum.
Mother tells me this like she expects me to get excited,
the way Georgia does when her dad calls,
because she can't wait to spell consolation for him.
Apparently, turning fifty you acquire the desire
for wearable art. Gold lame moves into your closet,
gives birth to matching shoes. I yell at Mother
because she spills coffee on the stairs, a drop
on each step as if from an incontinent bladder,
and she always leaves the oven on.
I need to buy toilet paper, she counters, or the laundry's
piling up, or why don't I get a haircut;
then she wriggles into something metallic,
takes off in a fog of White Linen
to eat wings with Judy and Judy. Never mind Sadie,
nine, embarrassed by my breathing,
because I sang in the car in front of her friends,
bawling face-down on the floor. I'm reading
the note from Mr. Stark that informs me she was
laughing during oral presentations. Sadie says
that Timmy Nummy says when he grows up
he's going to invent a new motorcycle
and call it the Nummster, how could she not laugh,
asks me to wear pants, not a short skirt, to the conference.
Well, nobody wears pants in this family--
not since her father walked out in his Easy Riders.
Even five-year-old Jack prefers a pastel floral print
that twirls above his knees when he spins.
Jack, the sugar-dusted prize Y in a cracker-box of Xs,
never dreams of motorcycles, but might
one day design his sisters' serial wedding gowns.
Oh, I can see myself now: rhinestone-studded
mother-of-the-bride's dress, silver mules,
searching my handbag for floss, and Jack beside me
whispering, Did you turn the oven off?