THE CEDAR KEEPSAKE BOX
What happened to the cedar keepsake box my mother bought
me the only time I ever went to the Jersey shore when I was
growing up? After she told me that I couldn’t have it, too
expensive, my mother bought it for me anyway.
Here, she said, turned away, my mother who loved all of us
with a devotion so complete we could have been gods or
saints to her. Though she never said it, each act of love a
demonstration. I loved that box, loved the aroma of cedar,
rising out of it when I opened it. I loved the feel of the
burnished wood under my fingers, the box that would keep my
tender secrets for years. So much in our lives is like that, we
love and love and love an object and then one day
it disappears, and we don’t notice as though there were a
canyon in the middle of the world where all those lost loves
go. It is like that with people too. So now, when I hear your
voice on the phone, that trembling, rasping it has become
or when you tell me you fell four times today and describe
each place where you fell and why or when you fumble for
words to explain some simple fact, I know you, too, are going
to vanish from my life, the feel of your skin under my
hand, the way your shaking hands reach for me, the same way
I still remember the sweet smell of cedar lifting into the air,
the smooth feel of that wooden box under my hand.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Parts Left Whole
Outside the fence the vultures leave
the tough half of the deer, with its antlers and eyes,
ribcage and heart. These parts left whole
and intact, the way a lover leaves
an uncomplicated warmth on the sheets
as his tailpipe coughs in the driveway.
Like a sick joke, the big highway splits
a graveyard before coming to a toll.
It’s easy to miss if searching for quarters,
and easy to ignore with hissed babble
on the radio. How easily I can spin a dial
to fill the whole car with nonsense, denial.
In the storm, my home rips away at itself:
The shutters swing loose, the shingles
tug free, even the foundation
rocks deep into new space.
I check for someone at the screen door
each time it slams hard in the wind.
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.
I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
THOM GUNNfrom The Man with Night Sweats, TFarrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, 1992
The Painter’s Wife
Rain brings the husband home early,
white dots specking his neck and skull,
a primered knuckle through the milk jug
without apology for the swig
or cold hand on her breast. Downed lines
mean dark when he’d rather have sun
to finish the job, or if here, like now, inside her,
light to watch himself by (and her), overalls
at his ankles, spattered with the colors
of the housewives of the neighborhoods.
Naked he’s hers again, until the throb of power
restored, the refrigerator
kicking in, and under the stairs
where his ribs anchor hers to the floor,
a bare bulb burning into her eyes.
Outside — the deck slick, boots
warped with chill, amphibious —
there’s his forehead to kiss
and the letdown of thunder, the crotch
of her jeans gritting along her skin’s
seam. At her feet, to the spit
of soaked gravel (his retreating tires)
a handful of furred sow’s ears listen
for spring without head or brain.
If a person lives
to be eighty, he will lose
two years of his waking
life to darkness—
the compiled time
of his eyelids shut
it went, this means
that in the last thirteen
point three hours
I have lost twenty minutes.
This is my excuse for how
I fucked up and could
not see the smallest
on which love hinge.
We blink when we can’t
take in anymore information.
We blink so that
we can take more.
You Know, I Think More And More Often
You know, I think more and more often
that I should go back.
Maybe I’ll meet you. And happiness?
Happiness is being sad together.
So I look through the moonlit window
Nothing. A breeze stirs somewhere.
Alone among the leaves - the moon.
Like a golden wheel it rolls
above the windblown leaves.
Such moons, only paler,
shone over the Wisla.
Even the Big Dipper on its course
stops in a tree at midnight,
just like at home. But why here?
Truly, I don’t know.
What’s here? Longing and sleepless nights,
unknown streets and somebody’s verse.
I live here as a nobody:
a Displaced Person.
I think of you. I know I must leave.
Perhaps we can return to our past,
but I know neither what youth will be like
nor where you are.
But I’m yours or no one’s
listen, read this poem
All I Have To Say For Myself
The last time you came to see me
there were anchors in your eyes,
hardback books in your posture.
You were the five star general of sureness,
a crisp white tuxedo of a man.
I was fiddling with my worn coat pockets,
puffing false confidence ghosts in the cold January air.
My hands were shitty champagne flutes
brimming with cheap merlot.
I couldn’t touch you without ruining you,
so I didn’t touch you at all.
It’s when you’re on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
You told me that once.
When I can’t bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
I swear I fired that night, but, nothing.
Someday, I’ll show you the bullet I had for you,
after time has done the wash.
I’ll take it out of the jar of missed opportunities.
We’ll hold it up to the light.
You’ll roll it around your mouth like a fallen tooth.
You won’t forgive me exactly,
but we’ll laugh about how small it is.
We’ll wonder how such a little thing
could ever have meant so much.
Pool and Water Series, Kristin Martincic
thank you, jealous curator
It’s a scorcher here in so cal!
Man at the End of Something
Admit the day’s veering toward something
else, the tiny flag of your heart inverted.
Admit the pause between words, wearing
away at the febrile. Admit jealousy, the want
for what you have if you didn’t have it.
Admit hunger. And an absence of which
you are far too aware. Admit the necessity
of breathing, the sound of several thousand
humming birds in torpor, ruby throats
pinched against their breasts. Admit sorrow,
which is the only heirloom that lasts.
Admit the deity, hallowed be his hollow
name. Admit change, but not so much
its progress or lack thereof cannot be seen.
Admit intrigue. Admit hangnail. Admit lovely,
how it casually and often passes you by.
Fail, because you won’t find respite.
Recourse, only as an occupation for the hands.
Reject delicate because you have walked
on glass for reasons. Admit deduction,
how easy it was to itemize. Then possibility,
but limit it to the aroma of an orchid, wilting.
thank you, rabbit-light
(Source: levelerpoetry.com, via rabbit-light)
The Old Masters
The Old Masters were right — we get what we get —
their paintings familiar to any girl
with a museum pass or t.v. set.
How women wait for wanderers in whorls
of crackling oil, or crawl onto a pyre
of sweet nothings, so Helen sees Troy
for the first time, and Cassandra names it fire,
and I, in my room at the London Savoy,
will feign disinterest about your wife and child,
and pray for breached barriers, your house in shambles,
myself an innocent, a foolish pawn —
for surely I was caught up, a sweet, mild
Danaë, infused with sudden particles
of gilded light, a reactor, rods withdrawn.
The Plants That Grew
Without regard for season,
zone, soil, sand, or loam:
frangipani – all scent, creamy
petals, no nectar,
driving the bees mad — named
after an Italian marquess who distilled it
to perfume, daubed it
behind her ears to drive
to nuzzle around her like a bee,
asking her where she’d been—
heads like drowsy cabbages,
draping from long canes as thick
as a man’s arms, and prickled all over,
grappling over the landscape
into a rustling carpet,
bourbon, noisette, centifolia —
petals loosen with every breeze.
Rot-scented pawpaws, corpse flowers with their thrusting
and poppies dashed throughout,
and everywhere the insects,
greenbottles, flies, swallowtails,
flying low, caked with golden pollen,
and they were all drunk with the wealth,
buzzing their good fortune up to heaven,
their sleepy song continuing into the evening,
before bats and birds descended.
A Bed of Strangers
He says Good morning awkwardly,
head perhaps leaning
towards a hushed lamp
and she replies simply, Hi,
as if they were just meeting,
the morning and then the night
unwinding itself. Her arm
around his open chest
they could be lovers, he asks,
Did you sleep well?
And in his head questions
Where can I touch you?
She would say, I like to be kissed
on my bicep. If they were lovers,
he would know this about her,
that her moans are louder
with fingers lightly brushing
the beauty-mark on her right thigh.
She says, It’s hard for me to sleep
once the sun rises, and would like
to curl his hair between her lips.
He thinks about being inside her again,
instead makes a comment
about the weather
and they go on, until he begins
to cradle her bicep
the way morning and then night
unwinds itself. He says,
Your skin tastes sweet
and wonders about brushing his teeth
she says, I like how the rays
are bursting through the curtains,
he replies something about wanting
to stay in bed for hours
and she watches the sun
touch his brow with its long fingers.
The day is moving along his face,
she can see this and wonders
about brushing her teeth.
He says, I want to throw the sheets
on the floor.
He says this because the sun
makes him feel spontaneous
and she says nothing,
feels his fingers slip inside her,
her eyes shut or observing
the beads of sweat above his eyebrows,
and the sun lays its rays
on a corner of the mattress
where a foot may have dug deeply
into the spring.
In the Guest House for Pilgrims
it’s still dark and cold. Andrew’s rib
under her arm his scent the undeniable
fact of him warm and even when he’s sleeping
American, holding on for her
to all that loosens its hold:
what she told people when asked
for example the story about before
when we were some kind of bird
beaks buried under the outer layer
of each other’s feathers.
Just think of me whispering
A small, tender thing,
Or something quite beyond our limit,
But in an intimate ring.
Just think it, don’t say it.
Merely fold it into your mind.
A thing not fully possessed, perhaps,
But never left behind.
A COUNTRY IN OUR HEARTS
On machine #5 Juan
and says, “Thank you, my friend!”
with genuine unashamed child-like joy
when I come over unasked to grab one end of the heavy vise and help him
onto his machine table.
Then he remembers
and looks around himself to see if any of the other machinists have seen
or heard him
and puts the same mask of callous indifference they all wear
back on his face.
It has been only 5 years since he left El Salvador to set foot
and sometimes it is hard to keep the mask
on his face.
he calls me
because I have long hair and a beard but no hair
on top of my head like that guy in the rock band Fleetwood Mac
and tells me
how he likes to sit in a soft easy chair each evening after work and listen
to rock music
that knows no borders
and with our hands on wrenches
over from machine #2 at him and break out
in a big beaming smile
just to show him
that when it comes to wrenches
and vises and machine tables
and the joy
still shining inside a human heart
there will never be