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)

Leave a Comment

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)

Leave a Comment

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)

Leave a Comment

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

Leave a Comment

In my sixteenth summer

a girl named Beatrice
taught me what to do with my desire
while lying on the concrete apron
beside the town swimming pool,
eyes turned skyward watching
boys mount high, sliced cream
across the sun, standing, arms wide
contemplating their dive, thinking only
of stride, nip, tuck, turn, while I lie
sweat sliding down my side, lips glossed,
thighs touching, belly bare, thinking-
oh, god! the curve of his arms,
the shine of his hair, the way his lips
puff out-  and then he’s off, into the air
feet clear, body arching, jackknifing down,
shear into the blue-green, rising
with a shake of his head, hand quickly
slicking back hair, then striking out
to the edge where he lifts his body
and twists to sit, leaving two
wet half moons before he grabs
up his towel and finds me and Bea.
She shields her eyes and calls, “Hi, Mike!”
and begins to banter while I watch
her style, always holding his eyes, words
sliding like oil over skin, never penetrating
beneath the surface, only hinting at
what really is on both their minds,
tossing jokes like sizzling rocks,
sitting on the edge flirting, leaning in,
schooling me in this most
heat driven style,
learning to lick with my eyes,
to put common names
to my intense desire.

Published by:
Apparatus Magazine
February 2010

Leave a Comment

Endymion

I saw you there, perpetually dreaming,
your arm thrown back, resting on fur
draped rocks, the day’s bright rays
licking your nakedness.  Sweet Selene
left you on display as if she thought
no one would notice you so artfully
arrayed, so ready for any wanton
woman’s caress. Soft cream limbs,
chest raised, throat bare, I wonder
what inhabits you there and if, perhaps,
I could tame my own forest god as easily,
lay him out in the back garden, come to him
at night, stroke his thighs, and keep him
always, my wild James Dean, soft,
young, away from chain saws,
clogged arteries, and the north wind’s raw call.

Published by:
Apparatus Magazine
February 2010

Leave a Comment

What we found in West Ripley the winter of 1970

Snowdrifts crowded beneath the sagging roof
of the porch, thick mounds that we slogged through
in the spitting cold of February, the four of us drunk
on owning an actual house, a house tired and roughly used,
smelling of tobacco mixed with the hard nip of night air,
worn with the memories of all those Bane children
birthed and shouldered out into the world, the floor
nothing but bare boards where we laid our sleeping bags,
settled our Coleman lantern, arranged ourselves
in a circle, broke open a bottle of champagne,
laughed with our white breath and, finally, slept
knowing that we had found our own place,
however crooked, in this restlessly tilting world.

Published in:
Bangor Metro
Jan/Feb 2010

Leave a Comment

Wishes

That first day, when the water was clear
and the line sank to the sandy bottom,
it was your hook that pierced the fish’s mouth,
your hand that pulled him panting to the deck.

How could I know what I wanted?  I was young
and already you turned from me in the night,
preferred the cliff at the edge of the mattress
to my arms, the lumpy straw to my own

dark caves.  All that hunger settled in my belly,
so when you came home empty-handed,
with that tale of a princely talking fish, you
frightened me.  I saw only sorrow

in the lines of my hands, only old stains
on my marriage bed.  You should have heard
the longing in my eyes instead of the words
that fell like stones from my lips.

Published online in:
Flutter
2007

Leave a Comment

Rapunzel’s Mother

I hold to darkened rooms, and when I must,
I creep through back alleys in the shadow
of bricks.  Forgiveness is a rich cake I will
never eat.  Alone now.  Blame has fallen
from me like wet leaves.  My husband only
a name, with the taste of bitter roots,
gone to an early grave.  I drink cold tea,
try to conjure the rounded face, the small
commas of hands clutching sunshine,
the girl child’s scent.  I feel an ache
in the curve of my arms, rub them
till they bleed.  My heart lies
in the succulent green-arrowed rosette
of rampion, a withered fruit within
the springtime plant.  I pin a shawl
around my pain and watch young
mothers in the market slicing radishes,
white teeth biting firm, hot meat.


Published online in:
Flutter
2007

Leave a Comment

Some things girls know

The slow thrashing of the rope against the pavement
spit out a pattern, a rhythm that we counted in our heads, before
pledging ourselves and plunging straight
into the swirling center of the rope.  Wrap her up
in tissue paper, send her down the elevator, first floor-
STOP.  That starts the easy one, the beginner’s game,
where we stood and got our ankles slapped.  From there
the tricks progressed to turning, touching, and finally
slipping away through the worm tunnel of air.  We learned
all the heart stamping tricks in those days spent beating
our feet on concrete driveways –  what to do when robbers
came knocking at your door, how to grit your teeth, take
the blame for all the broken bottles – as you’re pushed
faster and faster, the whip and laughter spreading
like a stain, your feet keeping up, keeping up, keeping up,
until you can’t handle it any more, stumble, miss the beat, stop
it all and there is nothing left to do, but take the end,
turn the handle for some other girl’s jammed feet, watch her in
longing, waiting to trip her up, make her scream, punish her
in that whirlwind that left everyone panting: red hot pepper.

Published in:
The Monkey’s Fist
2007

Leave a Comment