Apr/May 2003 Poetry Special Feature

Six Word Poems

by Taylor Graham


For Bea

Bible after Bible on the shelves,
but the clerk can't help me.
Was it Psalm 71, the one you kept trying
to recite on your bleached bed?
Everything about you is reflective,
glass and chrome; the hospital sterilized
with perfect corners. You couldn't
tear the walls down
if you tried. Instead, you memorize
from memory, bringing yourself
back like fuzz to a shorn skull.
Someone's brought you a stuffed bear.
Honey-colored, furry; nothing
will sweeten. I didn't call. Too
many words already have forsaken you.


The Chrome Museum

Even after closing-time nothing sleeps.
Not the clerk from kitchens & baths
immobilized in a pose to demonstrate
the equal mixing of hot & cold taps/
left & right/clockwise & counter.
Not the moon arc'ing above skylights
filtering a silver glow that speaks
of heavens moving predictably as metal;
of gunmetal glorified to gleam;
of everyday filth scraped, scoured,
bleached and polished away. Nothing
rough or tufted, hirsute, furry, wooly
or shaggy survives in this room
that still dreams of electroplating
a slovenly world, that just goes about
its un-shined business before, during
and after closing-time.



Lisa Blue-Light (what everybody
called her) has amazed us all
with her one-girl show at The Gallery.
The critics talk about her blurring
of "fine arts" with the useful,
the allegorical with the everyday;
and "break-outs" from traditional
media in richly-textured vision.
Take her "Six O'Clock Awakening,"
for instance, counterpoising hues
of black and something faintly
dawn-ish, a radio alarm from house-
wares and a lacy saffron negligee
that used to hang limply across
from ladies' jeans. But the real
show-stopper is a furry yellow bed-
room slipper labeled "Cygnet" placed
before a white plastic bottle
of bleach, out of which gracefully
curves a bathroom fixture in chrome:
the buoyant body and silver neck
of a swan. Lisa calls it, simply,
"Transformations." And we thought
she'd be a Kmart clerk forever.



January 1st, a blank sheet of paper
as if you spilled a quart of bleach
across whatever you might have written
last year—but that was yesterday.

A single sheet of paper perfectly blank
and a little smudged, as if you leaned
too hard down with a sweaty palm,
so even if you tried to write a sentence
now, the ball-point wouldn't leave a mark,
so you'd curse the pen and not the paper.

Or maybe curse the clerk who sold you
the paper. And then curse the old lady
who kept interrupting to ask some silly
question, with her frizzy apricot-colored
shrunken dog on its silly chrome-studded
leash that kept tangling around her legs
and yours, until you just wanted to kick
it through the store-front window
like a furry faded basketball.

But that was yesterday. Today
is a whole new year, a blank sheet
of paper "to write a resolution on"
as your mother would be sure to say.
Sure, you'd like to tell her. Some-
thing else to break.


Secret Ingredient

Of course you won't tell the checker
what it's for. One part bleach
per hundred, a privy concoction
that infuses through glass tubes,
their S-curves sibilant with variant
interpretations. In the darkened
room behind a deadbolt lock,
it drips into a vat shiny as chrome.
It collects and waits and ages,
a life-transmogrifying brew.

The cat sits like a furry cabalist;
your chemistry teacher of years ago
would cross your name out
with a thick red pen. A therapist
would wait for you to tell him more.
The clerk says, with tax, it comes
to a dollar ninety-four.


In the Attic

She keeps his letters
like he was the man
she married. In a clutch
of envelopes tied with a thin
white ribbon, she unfolds
accounts of how he waited
through that first cold winter
clerking in a hardware store,
measuring out Tide and bleach
at the laundromat
under the stare of mothers
with small children
clutching their furry bears.
How he saved on bus fare,
riding a bicycle to work,
and spent evenings polishing
its chrome like the thing
he loved most in the world.
And after the letters stopped,
and she with a husband
of her own, sometimes
in the attic she unties
the ribbon for its clutch
of a remembered hand.


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