Jan/Feb 2003 Poetry

Four Poems

by D.W. Hayward

Photo-Art by Kristen Merola


Snake Bone Sequence

Perhaps there is a sequence
That you have not learned
And that is why

That is why you have slipped out
Of something, slightly disjointed.
You feel it unhinge, bump, you refocus

You limp through the big yard
You limp like you father always did
When you knew him older
And he had that disease that snakes get
That fusing bone disease
That hereditary disease

He would pretend to fishing
And make elaborate sequences
To display his fishing
And to hide his limp

It works for a little while
The important thing
The important thing is that
We appear to walk normally
That we fit properly and not
Draw attention to our peculiarities
And not draw attention

So I have learned that, at least
At least I have that.

And the hat that makes
Me look like my father
Slips off the rusty hook and falls
Into the shallow brown river
It floats briefly, amused
Like trying to catch a water snake

I suppose I should decide whether to chase it or not
I should weigh things, calculate.
I could come up with a sequence;
Chase, splash, capture, unhinge
Unhinge like a snake swallowing an egg

But I am filling up with rust
And grate constantly
That Father's snake coils in me like
A black serpent or perhaps the dry bones of a serpent
That I saw at the Museum of Natural History

Who could know if the sequence was right?
If the tiny, delicate bones were in the right places
Connected each to each and exact

It doesn't really matter. It looked right
Everyone would assume it was a snake
It was a snake
Long expected, ancient, and fixed as pure glass


Why We Cry

Mr. Laing was a distant, working neighbor
Long ago, the snow was so deep
His Metropolitan muffled like an egg
Or a hibernating big, lumpy animal

Here's a rule: Time cannot go backwards.
It can only advance.
Here's the loophole:
Time can proceed at different speeds.

Martha Laing hit me in the head with a rock.
The scar is still there, easily seen if I were bald.
Scalp wounds bleed copiously.
Mrs. Laing died of lung cancer.

Their Dalmatian slides down the hill
On his supper bowl. They filmed it.
"See?" They watched it over and over.

Sometimes, things happen.
People wander off, suddenly busy.
A two-year-old dies in an accident
Or from a disease.

We forget names over time.
"I think it was Kim, or Lynn"
Our mother only remembers
Whose fault it was.
"They let her play outside when she had Chicken Pox"

They moved to Barre with that ancient car.
And he worked in the Rock of Ages quarry
Making memorials and gravestones
For all those people.

Now I am eleven years old.
"Want to see how they cut Granite?"
They run long loops of thick wire rope
Over the surface of the rock
Dragging it over the same spot in the face endlessly
Until finally
A big slice falls to the loaders.

When my dog was two
She was chasing a stick
And ran into the fence and died.
She was down and still
Before I could get there
And help her
And tell her that she was a good dog.

It was the same day as the Super Bowl
And the Timekeepers kept having
To set the clock back
Two seconds here, five seconds there.
The stadium full of people, all ages.

I remember the sound
How little the sound was
Of the grinding wires
Just a whispering sound
And Mr. Laing held my hand
To keep me from the edge.


The Fifth Floor

They wheel her down to the playroom
Park her in front of the window
So she can see the other children playing

"See the children?"
"See the children playing?"

Her little friends are with her
The stands that hold her IV bags
The nurses tape funny faces to them
They follow her everywhere

The cards and balloons and stuffed animals
Stopped coming after about two months
Cards with pudgy, blonde babies
Sparkling and wiggly

They call her hair "mouse fur"
And it is hard to say what color it is

I heard her laugh once, noticeable
For its uniqueness, an oddity on the fifth floor
They started a new IV that had been in the refrigerator
And she laughed as the cold liquid ran up her arm.

Our daughter is fine, now
She was in the hospital for a few days
And had her appendix removed

I found out that the other little girl
Was in Foster Care, the Nurse said it like that
Foster Care with the first letters capitalized

"It's amazing how quickly children heal"
The Nurse said.
She was talking about my daughter, I guess.


Drawing a Perfect Circle

The math teacher would draw a circle, freehand,
On the blackboard
And then show, with a compass,
That it was perfect.

He would say: "I can draw a perfect circle, freehand."
And so he did.

The bums on Wentworth Street work the line of cars
Until the light changes,
And then they start again back at the crosswalk.

Viewed from the ninth floor of the hotel,
I am reminded of the time-lapse photography
Of flowers blooming, or stars wheeling.

In school, I used to donate blood plasma.
They would take out your blood, then put it back in.
The math teacher had worked 30 years in industry,
Then retired to take a teaching job,
Drawing circles from which we were to learn.

We're right back where we started.
God laughs at you.
"Good to see you again," says God, laughing.

Ah, well.
The tree-chained dog
With a sharp, perfect circle defining
Your limit
Or even
The wind-driven clocks
Of reeds on sand dunes
Keeping God's own time.


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