i I can only reach the line by standing on the metal box that once held milk and cream in thick bottles. Into my arms the clothes ride, wheel screeching, the chattering sun playing in the pines. Pull in the billowing backs, shake, fold. The beginning of so many years cleaning the clothes we wear, secret garments with odd cups and openings, something to pull on over our indecency, to cover the growth and wrinkling. My mother lays them flat, sprinkles them with water like a blessing, iron hissing steam. ii We keep the copper bodied washer on the porch, its snout of hose hanging over the lip of wood, dirty water feeding burdocks and dandelions. Inside three shiny metal cups stump up and down in a pounding circle, amid sparse suds and cold water. With the wire to the motor slightly frayed, I sometimes get shocked, pull back quickly, dropping soggy diapers on the wood. Once my hair tangled with sheets, my head pulled close to the wringer. iii After we move, the plumbing has yet to be done for the washer, the gas lines still not run for the dryer. But the laundromat in Searsport gleams. If I wanted, I could watch TV there. I lose countless single socks, pasted to metal drums. One day a woman taps my arm, holds my jacket, my canvas bag, my purse— everything I brought and left on the bench. You shouldn’t leave stuff there, someone might steal it. Easy for ‘em to walk right in, take everything. I stare at the wine colored bruise on her left cheek. I want to tell her that if someone needs the little I have, they should take it. But my voice folds flat and when I reach to take back my things, she won’t let go. I have to pull them free, unwanted anger bullying up in me. Tar River Review Fall 2017
Kayla and I sit out of sight where the hall turns, a short leg to the exit, with a window to view the outside. Outside where snow trembles on the lip of a small rivulet and sun catches random rings of light. She chose chickens for her topic, because I have them, she says. She fans the pages of notebook, looking for where she ended while I think about Ryan who chose sharks, who’s never seen a shark, but wears a tooth on a string around his neck, tells me a great white can find me in the water by the electricity I give off, then bite my skull open and eat my brains. Chickens, on the other hand, have short legs and a heavy body. Males with brightly colored feathers are roosters and then there’s the comb on their head, a flap of extra skin. Kayla knows all this. She tells me about a rooster they had once who turned ugly, chased her and her sister up the drive, pecking their legs, until they arrived home bitten and bloody. Her father said he’d had enough got his gun, went out, shot the chicken dead, from the loss in Kayla’s voice I picture the flesh tremble, the eyes glaze, the words barbed wires. I watch her shoulders pull in as she sits beside me. The smell of bread drifts from the cafeteria. She picks up her pencil, erases whole paragraphs until I stay her hand. Chickens, she writes, and then stops. My own probing only more misdirection as she grasps at facts. They are not always white. Sometimes a rooster will peck you and there is blood. Sometimes they eat what you give them and that is still not enough. Hens lay eggs and you eat them. Tar River Review Fall 2017
we bought for fifteen dollars, black and rangy, parked in the darkness of an abandoned car wash, while in the morning his moonface hung over me, a redundant sun. This rodeo of a ride had no reverse, made a poor case for living the free and easy life, its carcass often stuck in the hospital no parking zone. Still, it’s where I landed, this cheap constellation of rays and cones, this hairy-headed boy who pursued me, ensnared me, freed me from the navy’s swabbies, could drop acid, smoke dope, but couldn’t afford a room. Days we lounged contentedly in the casket wagon, maybe walking to the dairy to devour hot fudge sundaes where he’d describe luminous planets, a bloom of sunbow rays. Some regret the loose track of the past, the ride through crumpled days, but I think it's sorrowful to get your back up over missteps, divide life into what is and what was, so I’ve combed the limber lines of once upon a time, consulted the oracle, embraced the train of shallow days, and pose content in the shadow of my lost insolence. Crab Creek Review Spring 2017
and when it’s first reported there isn’t a name, only the bare bones of when— about 3:30—and where—near Hilltop Store—and pictures— small red car with the driver’s side caved in, hood twisted skyward in a mouth-gaped V, splayed across the right front of the truck. Troopers said that the woman’s car crossed the centerline and I imagine her, glancing at her sister’s picture of the newborn on her smartphone or reaching down to retrieve the groceries fallen to the car floor, never feeling the drift of the tires or sensing the way the distance from the new mown field slowly widened. Naugatuck River Review Winter/Spring 2017
in great brick buildings while underneath a tree in the yard a man stood moving an invisible bow across a wire hanger tucked under his chin. I strained to hear the music, but never did. Those days I tied diapers around the children’s necks, fed them pureed food while in the sunroom, behind the wire mesh, one girl spun on her toes, eyes wild animals with no escape skidding on blue cement. I made beds, folded sheets in tight angles and outside dark bodies of elms cut the sun to pieces. On visiting day, Olivia’s Aunt Jane came, touched her curls and cried, picked her up and sang nursery rhymes to the tune of the slow moving fan. The girl’s wide tongue protruded from her mouth, drool slipped down the front of her shirt, limbs hung like putty melting, captive in heart-dulled arms. In those days the moon came and the tall boy with mismatched chromosomes pointed his finger and said the one word he knew: mooon—wonder woven in that one syllable. Too late, too wild with night-longings, I eased him back to bed, put on the johnnie with straps and tied it to the rails. In the room across the hall I listened to thick, clotted stillness while I matched pajama tops and bottoms. My shift ended, the shackle of hours broke, and I left. The bus moved through the hackneyed city with billowy sighs as the door opened and closed, and streetlight fell like stale bread on my lap. Some died while I was away— one boy with a head swollen to Wonderland size plunged out of his chair, skin split, blood everywhere. Others slipped away quietly. Bone limbs twisted, they forgot the way to take in air, to lift eyelids, to sigh. But I returned, worked on, lifted arms, birthed heads through holes in shirts, led them down windowless halls, bathed feverish bodies in shallow, waist-high tubs, my own life measured in diapers, spilled milk, sweat. Summer came, the wards impossible, strangled with tongues of heat. I piled children in a wagon, pulled it over broken ground, sang them James Brown— Baby, baby, baby. Baby, baby, baby. I got the feeling. Comstock Review Award Issue Fall/Winter 2016
I seize. A car engine driven
too long in the hot sun, steam
escaping from under the hood,
radiator a dark-throated beast
seethes and leaks. I stand
stricken. Words blown
from me by the sharp air
of your death. I crouch in
the bushes, wait for the worst
to pass, for muscles to
remember. Here, in the current
of life called Maine, here in
the vertex of all my choices,
I expect the world to stop,
the leaves still, the black calls
of the birds to fall like ashes
on the split curtain of June. This hard
packed bough, my mother’s death.
I climb the hill, feet meeting road,
tar a hot slap on my soles.
The Comstock Review
we talk about the past,
the first time we took off our shoes
whispered in the cobwebbed corners.
For me it was that day on tenth street
the old house standing like a man
with missing teeth, disheveled
among all the clean suburban lines.
Of course it called to us and we stood
with scabbed brown knees
and one of the boys – I don’t remember
which one – Freddie, most likely,
with his skewed freckles and dirty
fingernails – said there was a dead
body in the room upstairs, the closet.
A dare to enter this house
with black air in the windows
instead of glass, unkempt trees
rubbing the dust, fear and longing
sharp splinters inside my feet.
My hand pushes through into
this emptiness, disappears the way
things do when time swallows them.
What is it you hold in your mouth when
you’ve chewed up all the words and can’t
go on? That’s what my lips held then,
climbing the steps, reaching for the doorknob,
hand cupped, ready to turn.
The Comstock Review
That first morning after her divorce
she burns her floral apron, the lilac shoes
with stiletto heels, the kumquat blouse, a cape
of steel blue. She rummages through a box marked Summer,
pulls free the orange bikini, sands of Newport Beach glitter
on her fingers. She adds huaraches to the pile, caresses
the slit neck of the caftan, the bell sleeves imprinted
with patterns that once filled her with desire. She combs the drawers,
thick with night silks, grabs the grey necks of cashmere turtles,
the hems of sequined peasants, scoops bandeaux, tanks, halters.
She nearly misses contentment, tossed forgotten over the back of the chair,
tired from excessive wear. She plucks grace from the wardrobe, bitter
with pearls of denial, tosses in the worn out boots, soles walked through,
skin of remittance clinging to the inside. The cropped denim imaginings
and early pea coat silences try to hide their folds in dark closet,
but she rips them free. That morning after her divorce, she strikes
the match against her naked iron thigh, licks the flame across her lips,
makes promises, tattoos a glowing coal with her new name.
The smoke rises, a ball gown stretching its satin arms to the sky.
The Comstock Review
In the arms of a spruce, a black-capped chickadee,
gray wings flat against its body.
Among twigs in the thin crown of the birch moving against
distant clouds like the fingers of the blind reading the coming storm,
through a white oak leaf flattened on the trailer’s top,
still and perfect. Under the overturned hull of the kayak
lying on leaf-littered ground, abandoned like the thick days
of summer. Tracing the dark brown
water of Wescott Stream, moving again after the dry spell.
In the turtle that crawls towards comfort
on its muddy bottom.
The past lies in her hand like a dead bird, feathers spread,
feet covered in dust. It frightens her, but still she holds it.
Into the sadly turned nape, she reads her own failings,
in the steely blue-black wings, her own stiff desire, the need
she has to be held. This is ridiculous! she tells herself. Mad
flies circle her hand. I’ll change this, find something better—
a coin, a forsaken toy, a wildflower. Yet this dead bird becomes
so much a part of her—her lips now a beak, the turn of her head
a bob. Her mother a woman nesting on a couch. Her father
with eyes of sharp obsidian, blustering amidst a crowd
of strangers. A trill, whirs, a sharp chirp. There’s so much
grit in the years. This morning she looked at old photos,
starchy shots, her mother with a hand on her shoulder.
The day beckons. A car passes. The present squirms
like a deer mouse, pushing its nose on her palm,
deeper in color, insistent, perhaps kinder. Morning
split with bird calls, the underside of everything revealed.