Widow with empty hand

My vision’s full of holes–the empty cup

of earth beside the river where the boulder lay,

thin footprints in mud, the shoulder of ice

on the lawn with caves of air.  I ache

for warmth, shuffle into soft bits

 

of forgetfulness.  On a hook in the entry,

his worn brown sweatshirt cradles the hoe.

I slip it on, step into fertile air, make a row.

I kneel in dirt, dropping small seeds.

 

Another spring.  Tongues of snow slip

back into the woods.  The earth

turns up rocks, leaves, a rusty worm,

the mole’s small bones.  The gravel rakes

hard, scratches into piles. Raw green leaves

 

of skunk cabbage push up, turning

for a bit of sun.  The dog paws over

the soil, eager for what’s below —

pine cone, severed root, shriveled fern.

 

My knees leave twin hollows.  The earth packs

down beneath my palm, moist, expectant.

 

Published in:

Blast Furnace, Vol. 5, Issue 2

 

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Brooklyn, 1952

Shades kept light at bay, their crocheted tassels hung

in meager sun, behind draped inner curtains and darker

patterned brocade. The old apartment, a cave, a lair.

Armchairs rested on their haunches, moody under

fancy antimacassars, ancients huddled on the oriental rug.

In the kitchen, smoke and words swirled. Backed into the corner

the coal hod sat beside the stove. The white lip of the kitchen

sink curled, a place they rested elbows, leaned, pondered

the unfairness of the world. The boy they sent off

to the basement ­­ out the wide front doors, then down

the concrete steps. He lugged the trash into shadows

of boogeymen, slanted eyes of rats, the sound

of threats and laughter from above, older boys who

flicked the wheels of lighters, coughed and spat.

The girl crouched beneath the table amid sensible shoes,

one finger traced the leaves on green linoleum,

waited for someone to lift the scissors, snip the cord

tied around the white box, take up the knife and slice.

On good days, a carriage nestled beside the curved entryway,

a great­aunt on the first floor rested a pair of flattened

forearms on the windowsill, watched the baby sleep.

The mother knelt in the bathroom, breasts pressed

against the tub, held the board, slapped heavy sheets,

scrubbed, short wet hairs clinging to her neck.

 

Published in:

Blast Furnace, Vol. 5, Issue 2

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If I hadn’t picked up the turkey feather

it might still be lying on the ground,

slightly mangled now by rain, by wind,

by the peculiarity of dirt’s domain.

 

I might still be staring at a passing car,

caught in the thick craw of going or

not going, harpooned to the moment,

 

forgetting to look down, to caress

the careless treasures found in the garden

by the roadside, the gravelly seeds

 

of the fallen, the abandoned, the dispossessed.

I might be humming a lullaby, my arms

empty as the turkey footprints depressed

 

in mud. I might have forgotten the way

home, the rich drape of sympathy roosting

in my bed, the beauty of loss.

 

Published in:

eclectica (Jan./Feb. 2015)

 

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Let’s go visit Millie

my husband says on our way back from Home Depot and for a minute

I picture us pulling up beside his mother’s home on Front Street

in the shadow of luxury yachts. Then I remember he means

 

her grave and the oddness of it settles into me. I never

went to the funeral, having ministered to her in those last

days before she slipped away, her blood refusing to move.

 

I said what I said. Too late for her to hear anything now,

but my husband went with a small group of her last friends,

laughing at her oddly splattered reputation. No service.

 

No solemn rituals. Funny how he went fifteen months

without speaking to her, yet he wants to see if the rosebush

your ex-wife planted still grows above her head.

 

You’re fat. Lose some weight, she scolded.

Paint your house. It’s an eyesore.

You should get a job.

 

A haiku of accusations, insinuations, betrayals.

I listen to the impartial grumble of the truck, one brake

catching slightly, groaning. We turn right beyond

 

the Youngstown Inn into the cemetery, drive

to the end, near the last headstone, and park.

His footsteps bend the August blades

 

and I follow, not knowing exactly where we are going.

He kneels down, fingers the cut stem, the remains

of the plant. They’ve been mowing over it,

 

he says and wonders why. There’s no marker

I answer.  Only a vague rectangle still exists

in the grass. I point out other graves

 

without stones, with wooden crosses,

with whirligigs of ducks, endless American flags.

Next time he comes, he says he will bring

 

a large rock, a stone, dark and heavy,

something he has lying around, something

easy to throw in the bed of the dying truck.

 

 

Published in:

Eclectica (Oct./Nov. 2014)

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Dry season

After the spring thaw when the damn snow there melted, left

behind  brittle etchings in dirt, the time came for me to move,

carry the last hay bale to the barn, scratch the goat, feel her

dry bag sag low. Time came for me to let the dog free,

ease her collar over her scrawny neck, give her room

for one last drink from the dented aluminum bowl. Time to

gather my clothes in the burlap sack. Take my spoon,

half a jug of whiskey, the fine lace tablecloth, white faded to

ivory with just a few holes. Turn the latch, greet the thin

jittering day. Birds, like torn leaves, kick song in the bush.

Kind of like this morning’s a bad draft. Too many

loose vowels and crossed off lines. Too many bitter

moments like off-kilter rhymes. I step in the dust-mottled yard,

notice the black sprawl, piles of wood ashes. Makes me think

of the days when I had a little smoke house out front,

plenty of ham, bacon, tied with twine, and me always with

quick piles of green apple boughs to keep the burn going.

Right now don’t mean much. Right now I think I should have

sold it all in one punch.  Not that anyone would come looking.

Too far out. Roads like black scrawl. No electricity. No water

unless you use the pump. Too far gone now.  Never had many

visitors, except maybe when I had those chickens.  Don’t know

why I sold them.  Bright little bunch.  Claws that made little

x’s in the ground, hunting bugs. That was their life — laying

you eggs, spending the rest of their time digging for insects,

zig-zagging some crazy path. No sense to it. None.

 

Published in:

Comstock Review (fall/winter 2013)

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How to be a toaster

Remain steadfast. Do not

have great expectations f

or yourself, but be ready

to rise on demand.

Heat things up. Let the air

above you waver with

irresistible smells. On some

days, you will just burn

for no discernible reason.

Chances are you are stuck

on something and need

a good shake up to clean

out your insides. Mediate.

Let life come to you.

Never stay down too long.

Jealous sidelong glances

at the microwave serve

no purpose. Be thankful

that you are not toast.

 

Published in:

dirtcakes (Spring 2010)

 

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Night Work:  Walter E. Fernald State School

Once on a clear night in the spring

I stood in the nurse’s station

with the new boy they brought in,

a black boy with arms as thin

as reaching branches of the lilac

bush and eyes wide as an empty pond.

Blind.  Deaf.  I perched him

on the counter, lifted a spoon

of applesauce to his lips and watched

as he sucked it in.  A dark form

moved in the doorway and the prisoner

came in.  Jim.  Part of a special

release program.  As though throwing

the retarded and the damaged together

would somehow heal them both.

There must have been something

of the dad in him, because he lifted

that sliver of child to his chest

and cuddled him, as if this were

the seed of his race, its scarred

history, as if somehow a man’s voice

and the hardness of his hands

could reach past soundless

dusky shadows, slip into moving blood,

fill an aching belly.  He jostled the boy

as if he were a normal child and

for a moment I thought there might

be a reaction, some remnant of a smile

on the boy’s face.  But it was really me

Jim had come to see, slipping out

a joint, teasing, trying to pull me out

into the star blown night.

 

It was a fluke, the way he sucked

the applesauce in.  After that no one

could get him to eat, not even

from a bottle, much less a spoon.

They put a tube up his nose,

lay him in a crib in Ward 1

where the hopeless, cripples stayed.

 

Published in:

Verse Wisconsin (Summer 2010)

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Routine work at $1.25 an hour

We sat in rows along a wooden bench.
Each place equipped with metal stick,
lever, and a bulb. Our task: to count the slip straps,
to package them in sets of twenty-four.

The drill was simple. You slid the slip strap
down over the metal stick. Each time you did
you hit the lever with a click. Click click, click click,
click, click. Twenty four and then the light stayed on.

Click click, click click. Juanita and I were hired
to pack the straps. We laughed and practiced
Spanish as we slapped the multi-colored slips
of cloth down on the growing stack. Click click,

click, clack. For us it was a lark. July and August,
fat beads of sweat crawling down our backs. On Route 110
squat factories nestled, lacking light and air, swallowed
in the dull roar of low flying planes. We tracked

the days on calendars of windowpanes and clocks
of tapping feet. After each bundle of twenty four,
we wrapped them with a rubber band and laid
them in a box, dusky slivers of color, traveling

incognito, a cardboard box of silly strands looking
for the remainder of the garment: the strapless slip.
I was horrible at this. I missed the light and clicked
and clicked until my pile overflowed the stick.

I couldn’t make my quota. Juanita slipped me bundles
from her box when the super turned her back. Click
clack, click clack. Dark haired girls worked beside us.
Twins. One so pregnant her wrinkled smock rubbed

against the bench. One morning she came in with one eye
bruised, a puckered lip. No questions. Just click and click.
They hated us. In the listless room, where we ate our twenty
minute lunch, they laughed behind their hands and turned

their backs whenever we sat down. I don’t know how,
but the manager found out that we had other plans,
did not expect to keep on clicking straps, but wanted to
escape this clacking mess come September. He fired

us and we went out the door and stood beside the highway
carousing in the sun, drunk on an early release, our fingers
like the wild wheat of fall, waving and ready for the harvest,
streaming like threads of silk in conquered air.

Published in:
Verse Wisconsin (Summer 2010)

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What you said as my mother lay dying

Slipping in the hard curl
of florescent light, I cut
potatoes into cubes, watch
as they boil, a scum forming
on the sides of the old
aluminum pot. Too many

days lay stacked on the shelves
of this kitchen, too many chipped
cups, sour mild jugs. cracked
memories,eggshells, and coffee grinds
tossed out on the difficult lawn.
I hardly hear you when you enter

the room, returning from your vigil.
You stand close, stare down over
my shoulder into roiling water,
and tell me that I have chopped
them too large, that this meal
is taking too long to complete.

 

Published in:

Off the Coast (2010)

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And tomorrow we will eat cake

I woke up hungry this morning.
The truth is I am always hungry.
My hunger is like an elephant
riding my shoulders and I cannot
put him down.  On sunny days
I hunger for rain, for the way
the sky splits into thin bits
and the stream rises, lapping up
the land.  When storm clouds
gather and drops sputter
like hot grease across my window,
I ache for oven hot days
when the sky spreads blue
on the bread of my face.
Oh, I am always, always hungry.
When the wind blows, my mouth
seeks calm.  When the air hangs
still, I want it to whirl.  When
all around me people dance and sing,
I want only a pen and ink and silence.
No one can be as hungry as me.
When the movie ends, I want it
to begin again.  When the weeds grow,
I want to yank them all out.
When small red berries cover the ground,
I curse them.  For they will never fill me,
not if I picked for a million years.
When I read a poem, I want to stuff
the words right into my ears. I want
to swallow voices whole.  I want
to gulp an ocean of souls.  I want
the world to simmer and pop
to my own time, to swell my belly,
to make it an ocean wave rising.

Published by:
dirtcakes
June 2010

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