In the wake of serpentine limos,
saccharine cards, carnation fields
arranged just so, the water
in Simon’s pond went black.
Our house grew laughless, tombstone cold —
spiders ran their gamuts of lace.
It was 1959 — computers hadn’t been born,
so Daddy deleted our stringless harps
with gin or a beer, something with ice
and a fragrance that stung.
I sensed it was our medicine.
I thought I should learn to pour.
Sunday was our lazy hour —
a game of camping under sheets.
The mattress seemed a vacant lot
some CAT had cleared by accident.
Lip of the cotton always infused
with the liquid of eyes.
Exhausted from spearing
unspearable moods like silver trout.
He sent me out to hunt a bear.
My tiny hands came back
with one of your socks still smelling
of leather in shoes that were gone.
I boxed your pillow with a fist
until the feathers left in air
like blackbirds struck by B-B guns.
Father’s bed, a wasteland now
where bridges of touch
seemed useless iron.
With rivers dry, no wonder
the lake of our chatter was low.
At barely four, I ran my digits
over the lumps of crumbling coal.
Found rattling gourds of his arms
reaching for flesh in a grave.
*First Published in Rustlings of the Wind
She walked straight into the gaping wound
of another woman’s death —
wondering no doubt, if such a war
could ever be won.
I was six, afraid of her clothes,
her swinging purse that pruned
dead limbs of unfixable dreams.
All at once, old photographs
came off the walls.
A moving truck arrived like mace.
Perhaps I grew envious moss
the color of emerald and grass.
Father’s kiss forgot my forehead,
tried her lips like brand new shoes.
I wanted them to pinch and hurt.
Suddenly I was pocket change —
she was stacks of dollar bills
bribing the grief to retreat.
I didn’t want a different draft
of sweet perfume on apron strings.
I didn’t want to sew a button
only to lose its circle to fate.
“You’ll call her Mom,” he said aloud.
With lilies gone, planted at tilts
around the stone of a grave,
I looked for black capes and a broom —
a cauldron of logical steam.
I didn’t want her slippers
lounging near the bed.
I didn’t want yours
boxed and left beside the trash
for passes of a Goodwill van.
I was still grabbing at sleeves
of your shirts like willow puffs that
settle away from a desperate hand.
“You’ll call her Mom,” he said aloud.
Those letters were shreddable stars.
I’m five again. Dresses with bows
in the back become an impossible reach.
Mother’s death is everywhere — especially
in speechlessness, in flour bags
beneath dark olives of Daddy’s eyes.
He’s earned this shade of painful pitch.
Phrases that corner her name
rub rocks in the gaping sore, create
a kind of carpet burn when
elbows touch by accident.
My sister tries on all her clothes —
ghostly blouses hang below her shaking knees
like circus tents without their pegs.
She throws them on the bedroom floor
in angry heaps of autumn leaves.
Soon enough we’ll learn to sweep,
Your hair was the color of pearls,
but I didn’t think they were real.
I couldn’t admit to the ash
of your skin, its porcelain pose
on saucers of graves.
Two long days beside your bed.
A cradle I pushed but could not rock.
My eyes were grabbing renaissance.
I knew it but I acted blind.
You warned me of death and its salt —
how oceans are garnished with thirst.
You taught me how to rope and rise
a baby grand from dining rooms
of buried ships — and still I
painted ivory keys of fingernails
neon shades of busy lies
with no respect for waning light.
A wish was stepping on my hands.
Eyes wide open for the Fall —
it’s a season as well as a fact.
We can’t exchange
these tired carrots of our bones
for brand new pencils in a box.
Consider this a thank you note:
I’m grateful you refuse to skip
the parts of life that tell
our eyes a bomb was here.
All our ankles, all our knees are arguing
with Waterloos of daily chores.
I think of times when touching toes
were take-for-granted music bars.
Five days after surgery,
I roll your socks in condoms
over wet erections of your will.
Vacuum while you shower and dress,
squint in case I’m missing dirt.
Bending down to pick up soiled underwear
could snap the fragile paperclip.
Standing is a stale cracker under weight.
Cheese we were becomes a scar.
We talk apart the wars that won —
go home to rest a thicker shield
as bullets build behind our backs.
These front-row seats of death we own
would make us pale applesauce if not for
specks of cinnamon, of being there
as hours grow bruised, become the worm.
As years play tricks, as menus fade
where sweaty glasses parked their rings,
I ponder how lonely the path would be
without your footprints next to mine.
From bookends sliding down a shelf,
we learn to meter what remains
on pages with their binding loose.
So this is how agape reads —
the seed that makes the jam the jam.
We divided your stuff
on the tail of black limos
creeping the ragged streets.
My sister took the pretty towels —
the ones that said:
“Don’t touch, I stain;
Don’t fold, I tear.
Don’t use, I bite.”
All that was left was the lump of a chair
that cradled the crumbling straw.
From here, you argued with walls,
with a god you couldn’t see
but chose to trust no differently
than ducks fly south
imbued with promises of warmth.
An afghan draped across the back
to cover holes your spine had rubbed.
From here, you flipped like a caught trout
in the moon’s gray pail.
Watched as the rainfall bled
on fuzzy portraits of glass.
Listened as the furnace chirped
its bird-like morning arias.
From here, you grabbed an apron string
as love would jet from room to room.
Lit your pipe, gushed about her homemade pies.
Marked her lips with syrup spittle,
afterglow of Sunday waffles on the porch.
This old thing Grandma called
a wart on nice, an albatross of tackiness,
a dog to shoot, a rock to lift —
but never moved and dusted
like a precious mink in closets of the very rich.
Dimes between the cushion cracks.
Songs of sweat on beaten arms.
I had to keep this monument.
All your craters, all your perils,
all your Hells had settled here.