Selected Poems:
I don't know what alien possessed me when I wrote most of my stuff -
here are a few I don't want to shred (yet):

The Book of Hours * Madame Marvella * Dorothy Remembers *
A Narrative Arc Without Resolution *
Tattoo Narratives * The Platte, 1854 * Bird *
Marguerite goes to Dan's * Gallop * Marguerite at the Beach *
Fat Marguerite crouches * Raven's Woman * Approaching the Infant *
Unstopped * Hardwood * Raving Man * After *
Zarafa * At the Fishkills, 1664 * Solving Saint Perpetua *
Lot's Wife * Still Life with Rat * Temple Square * Lady Magpie * River Boy *
For the Flint-knapper's Wife * Olduvai Mud * Forma Urbis Romae *
Boneshadow * Soddy * Late Harvest * Minotaur * Baucis Telling Bonsai

 

The Book of Hours
Greyhound Route 5613

Terce
We're out here waiting for the bus.
This bag holds everything I have.

Sext
The rails attest my sore knees; the cross
how I bent to my heart's ear.
Our fountain is mute, but the arches sing
ohohoh from their dun adobe mouths
while pines bristle at the gate.
Along a narrow path, black shadows
send the limp leaves whispering,

I kneel
to my work but yellow September
calls from beyond the wall.

Nones
I promised
that He would know me by the lily
held in my right hand. He would know
me by the way I turned to face the sun.
Ignore the sound of clinking
dishes, I will tell Him. This is not
a diner and I am not a waitress. Listen,
I will say, you can still hear the beads
slide through the hours slow.


  Madame Marvella

This morning
my glass brought glimpses
of birds without wings
and a snow of paper slanting
through blue light,
but it never said
                         nothing
about those
                   who’d sat
                                    at my table
crossed my palm
with silver,
and been lied to,
                          falling curled like babies
                                    out of the sky.
It never said
nothing
            about steel arms coming down
                                    to gather them in–

The lying thump of my bag
rocks me along Broadway. Grandma
ghosts out of a shadow,
wards me off, evil-eyes me
painted with such pale dust.
The marks all stare–
                               their mouths O’s.


9/11/2001


  Dorothy Remembers

How to explain the way the breath caught
and would not come, would not come, as I hung
dragging frozen air into my lungs? What I remember–
hold under my ribs in those red moments–
is the desert bright as polished stone;
the way I swung under a chestnut hide
and found that gravity depends less on apples
and more on the string which tethers kite to hand.

My husband tired of his crabbed
shuffle. He could not fly. I dreamed
of green cities, red poppy fields. I left him,
crouched at the door,
holding his cape like a shield.
A lover gave me an organ grinder’s monkey–
I threw it peanuts; it climbed my shoulder,
chittered sadly in its cage, watched me
with sweet, black currant eyes.



 

A Narrative Arc Without Resolution

I
The car is stick,
of course. I dimly remember mother
saying shift now shift now shift
three on the tree, 3 speed straight
shifter. I picked Sunday, lazy day, drove
the car, lurching, four blocks to go,
filled it up--buyer here at noon.
You said you liked the control a stick
gives and signed the title slow.

II
If you would just try the damn wig on.
Yes, the color is wrong. So what it itches.
No, no beer. Give it a rest.
I don't give a flying fuck
whether you want ice cream right
this minute or not. Will you please,
pretty please, take your goddamned pills
before I murder you. It won't kill
you if you bend half an inch.

III
They rise from their boxes,
slip from their shadows, all the while
murmuring about their dark years.
Some still wear crisp summer dresses,
while others have lost everything
but their small white slippers.

Their unblinking eyes are indifferent
to the stares of strangers. A fat woman offers
twenty dollars for them, so far
away from their cabbage patch, and I watch
as she carries the box to her car.

IV
The Got Junk men arrived too soon
and they pulled me from the artery
sprouted from your chest,
white crab straddling the rip. I knew
I could knit it better, bent to my needles
faster faster thump the doorbell thump
the bell thump, men stared through the broken
valve--no a door--it was a red door
and you knocked
and I looked through the peephole
sun a halo backlighting hair
and refused to let you in and the men left.
How could years fit in their truck?
I found the footless Prada with its broken
strap--ankle, arch flexed, pink toes
this little piggy went to market
this little piggy stayed home
this little piggy went


  Tattoo Narratives

Marguerite

It was hard, she says, needles
biting bone. All summer I wore sandals;
the skin, a red lace sock.
A gecko clings
to her ankle, flicks his tongue up her pink shin.
Bent koi fin her throat as if the sweep of tail
through curled water could quench parched days.
A mellifleur cloak hides her fat shoulders.
One gray winter, she says, gold freesia
blossomed up my thighs.
She strokes
the parrot who cocks his head on her breast.

Patrice

This year Mother plans summer inside a castle
on a stone hill in France. Patrice lists things
to take: shoes and jewelry, a map of shops,
a beaded evening bag, a book of flash. A man waits
in a sterile room in the village. His head bends close;
his breath stirs the hair on her nape. He strokes
his canvas, pulls wrinkles flat, and carves
until he finds her Lalique heart in bone and gold.
When she leaves, nine cicadae wheel under linen.
Lizard ripples welt her ribs as she drinks tea with Mother.
The stud in her left nipple slides under silk.

Ruth

She names her sins with her tattoos–
through the INRI tattooed on her breast,
a squat god thrusts the thorns that nail
Jesus to her chest. In light, ink is chasuble
and lappet. Her blue Mary jostles cow and manger,
elbows a sacred heart aside. During day,
Ruth sits on a bench in the park
and cries Away! Away! like a leper rattling
a clapper. She picks through Mission bins
searching for a missing shoe.
After dusk, the letters inch apart.
Darkness slips past bone and sinew.
At night, she struts sidewalks
in leather boots and a fox skin jacket.


Vyvyn

Snowflake, Arizona: hearts carved on her hand,
starred knuckles, a boyfriend's name on each calf.
She stitches two eyes to her chest–
they blink at a green horizon.
New York: she fingers the wing
which feathers her arm like a sepia sleeve.
Every night she works graveyard
and slips asleep just as the pigeons wake.
She dreams of flying.
San Francisco: a cross moves
with every breath. I believe this,
she says, pressing Jesus deeper.
Hawaii: black bands and Ouroborous lock
under a skull plucked from dreams on Molokai.
I met a man with a bar code
on his back. He said it meant he was for sale.

Tourists avoid her outstretched hand;
skirt the jitter of her cup.
Takapuna: She dreams
a saffron snake coils at her temples
and its shed skin pools at her feet.

Annamarie

She slips off her gown and waits for the doctor at Saint-Pothin.
A man needled lines into her, carved color straight
from spring's Parisianne, left himself staring out of her back
and riding the ridge of her pubis: Try it, he cut
in Germanic script. She worked the cribs of Tangiers
and got tips. She blows smoke rings at the nurse
and shimmies to make the blue women dance.
A pimp smokes a cigarette between spine and side.
Psoriasis rusts on her chest, drowns the sparrow
on her shoulder. See, she says, points to her neck
where a butterfly shakes loose from its cocoon: papillion!

published in Literary Salt, January 2004

6/2003

 

The Platte, 1854

Papa waded into the prairie grass when I was nine
and never came back. Mama keeps his medicine bag on the wall
and a powder horn he brought down from blue-eyed Quebec
waits at the fire. His crucifix dangles under her buffalo robe
and she can still recite Il me fait reposer dans de verts pâturages,
Il me dirige près des eaux paisibles
, though the words are water
on her tongue. I imagine him lying in the stickgrass, his shoulder
blades forever shrugging the crows away. The last of our good
doeskin went to make leggings like a proper girl should wear
and the quill embroidery has not faded. Mama has a beaver hat
taken from a corpse beside the trail. Her cough won't go.

Where the Conestogas ford, I stand and offer pommes blanche
two for a penny to drovers who whip their oxen straight into the mud.
The cattle low and balk and protest the icy tug of water
at their hocks: 10,000 will cross in a summer's day. Mama turns away.
She rode a spotted pony as a girl and left no track. Whiskey swirls
in the Fort Kearny barracks after dusk; she dances, whirls and shuffles,
comes home with a bloody nose and two bits in her pocket. Ripped
knuckles fester from the washboard; steam has leached her blackbird hair.
At Dirty Woman Ranch, men fall upon her– Like this?
Like this?
–she asks. The kine look back but do not answer.

The Platte cinches my chest as I wade into the fickle water;
my feet dig into the mud searching for white bulbs of arrowroot.
Rising light capes my shoulders, wraps my throat higher,
higher until each breath drags through constricted dark.
The river, ten wagons wide, flat, shallow–once the winter melt
has boiled through–throws sandbars up one day
and, the next, carries them off with a twist of nut-brown water.

published in Literary Salt, January 2004

6/15/2003

 

Bird

A persimmon rests on the sill–
part of the window, part of the light,
part of the violet shadow touching the wall
where a bird thrashes
feels the red weight crush

sleepless into my pillow.
Sam opens the package,
says, When you're slapped, you'll take it...
and I take it like some cheap bitch
who combs for her lover
between rafters
where a small beak opens
and closes and milk-thin chirps pour
through holes I've made
to let light in. I press
ear to plaster to hear
the shuffle of toothpick bones.

You're good. You're very good,
he says and my flashlight is a candle
no moth attends. Light nudges
the hem of Brigid's skirt.
You're supposed to do something
about it,
he says in a fog of feathers.
I'm to help him find some doll,
a dame, a lover and not see slit
and skirt, the curved persimmon lips.
I slide a hand along the gunsel's arm;
Cairo rolls a cigarette and takes a drag.

I wake to chypre-scented sheets.
Listen, Spade says, I don't mind
a reasonable amount of trouble.

Wrist bones have a hollow snap.
Pinions prick through ivory skin.

11/15/2002

 

Marguerite goes to Dan's

The produce man stacks eggplant, heavy
papaya, watches her in the mirror,
knows how she could rise like cream
float above the shelves and aisles.
He reaches to tether her but she drifts
into the aisles, her mouth opening
and closing. She scoops from the candy bin–
gathers thick-necked root beer bottles
until her cart won't swivel. A butcher counts
roasts as she passes. An old man grinding coffee
stares down her hard nipples until she pinks.
She pays at the checkout counter,
slick aubergine hidden between her thighs,
crimson lipstick burrowed into her bra.

published in At the Balmar, December 2003

10/21/2002

  Gallop

A horse runs in a corral;
small clouds of dust rise behind him.
This is exactly how the scene became memory
except for the slight inconvenience
of an ill-placed utility pole,
easily elided.
Faint shadows of overhead lines
tie raised legs into a knot,
slip into the ground.
Dead grass and green vapor
pale into white.
Hills and sky mean nothing.
For a moment, the artist holds gallop
—round and heavy, hard as an apple—
in the palm of her hand.
*Jon Teet's photograph of his horse, Hotspur's Fury, is used without the slightest hint of permission.

published in Avatar Review, Issue 4, Summer 2002
 

Marguerite at the Beach

Marguerite wades the tide,
sways fat bellied for turnstones
rattling cut-cut-cut in the surf,
and her elbows ebb and push,
leis of byssus and white ginger
twisted at her wrists.
Her thighs hip to beach
like boulders sheeting spray.
Heels strike sand, tan
sand — the sea grabs her ankles,
darkens the shore, hisses
Melusine Melusine Melusine.
She flexes bright curves
of breast-edged cotton,
fears a salt house, ringed cormorants,
grit under her tongue.

published in At the Balmar, December 2003

4/6/2002

 

Fat Marguerite crouches

before the open door
where desire pricks
and plucks out olives, pickles, secret
crackers hidden in a bottom drawer.
She laps soft ice cream from the tin.

Marguerite stands afront her mirror,
terraced pink and dimpled skin,
holds a magazine cover like a mask,
peers through the model's eyes—
slips glossy on, coils her lank hair,
licks the flat-faced
Glamour pressed to her lips,
rips the cover into strips
the way thighs chafe
under sheets on summer nights,
bites the paper and swallows.

published in At the Balmar, December 2003

1/26/02

 

Raven's Woman

climbs through a hole in his head,
dances a polonaise
in brown boots, wears
pearls coiled through ropey hair.
She mends his numb tongue
with three snapped strings.

Crows sit, black stops on power lines,
shriek while his woman plays Suite in D.
She stitches the bow back and forth
like needles tick a knitted whisper
just for Raven's ear. He holds
her under his wing,
pulls her stays, mirrors night
in his white eyes. One two three.

She keeps a candle at his back's bridge,
holds his hands when they beat.
Her stick clicks up a picket fence, cellos
cry white sky white sky white sky.

published in Avatar Review, Issue 4, Summer 2002

11/2001

 

Approaching the Infant

She nuzzles a blanket
in her content, roots
at thumb–adamant mother
presses her nose, fills her horizon.
I need to gather roundness
back to pale water, scoop
out belly and cheeks,
swallow the nape of her neck,
eat her back to a seed.
She will be quiet
under my caftan, sprout
a hand which opens
in husked anticipation.
She should be discernible
against pastel, not pale, but solid
like fieldstone edging
the pooled green of new wheat.
She is a sheaf waiting,
a vermilion knot.

10/2001

 

Unstopped

A man walks across grass,
his heart in his hands.
I seize it, crouch
at the base of a dead pine, harbor
the heart with brown needles.

Leaves blanket flowers,
sun calls summer corn.
A surgeon unburies song
with tangents sliced from skull;
ascending y unfolds a tulip arc
across his brow. He drinks
willow bark tea to find
the black-maned horse on the hill.

Under the pine,
wildflowers stir,
I pull petals one-by-one
from dark eyes.
The flowers are heart-shaped
and I am hungry.

5/25/2001

  Hardwood

Two elephants hold the poetry
on my shelf. They strain
against the weight of words.
Round, burnished, heavy–
they were my father's and his father's
and always I see him in half-light
holding their teak heft.
Huge hands trace the curve of spine
and sinuosity of curled trunk, grain-wood
gold as Ballantine's and branch water.
Legs thrust under mad-eyed skulls.
Ivory tusks hook at slim books; what goad
tore their ears, urged them to it?

At night, I wake heart-stopped,
hear heavy breathing, see black eyes
and stubbled hide rising and falling,
the weight crushing me into the sheets.

4/2001

  Raving Man

His words won't grind out, toothless gears
match hat with spoon. He tries to backstroke
thick murk, wade ashore–
only balloons tied to his limp
hand hold him afloat.
He hears fish sing copper eyes, it's all
a bent stick stirring water.
He stares at ceiling and walls,
looks for the gate lined with yellow roses.
I wipe his chin, ask
the orderly to shave him again.

3/2001
  After

Round-heels, you rest at last. You seem asleep,
legs primly pressed together. Stanley's gold
bracelet paid the rent; some other man bought
booze and bread, motel keys rattled in the sack.
You smoked Camels, drank bad gin, got laid
in the loft of Bethel Baptist after dark.
Here's a cigar box filled with secrets. I
need to pry it open, find a churchkey,
have a beer. Think of the cage kept for the finch
who died in July. Think of old pictures
pungent with acid; shutter and eye pressed
into flat memory– two people lean
against a Packard, embrace. Cloche hat,
blonde curls under the edge; hand rests on hip–
fanned finger tips. You laugh at the camera;
he, a soldier in khaki, looks away.

2/2001
 

Zarafa
.........."In October 1826 a ship arrived at Marseille
.............carrying the first giraffe ever seen in France...
"
........................................Michael Allin, Zarafa

I am a head thrust
through planks, nothing elegant,
the body hidden in the hold
of I Due Fratelli. Blue plains
roll against hull; overhead, no shade
but canvas; tongue laps milk
from a pail, forgets thorn bush–
Mongibello sends volcanic plume
trailing out to sea. I burn away dark,
I burn away mamba, the rumble
of elephants along the river. I burn.

Mirage of grass and acacia-
memory, polished smooth by sleeting sand,
finds savannah all outstretched in dreams,
drinks heat, breathes wadi and green
vine in half-light of washboard air,
dark furnace stoked with unknowns.
Under the arching blue, lions roar,
Nchi ya nani, yangu, yangu, yangu.*
No longer, no longer, no longer.

What hadj this, this France?
Unwilling mendicants -two antelope, three cows,
and a giraffe dressed in checkered jacket.
In the Wadi Dra, unstitched hide
fit like dappled light. Come ashore
I stretch before burning eyes.
It is enough to lip fresh hay.

This place is lavender; this place
is a quilt of fields. Slow increments
of latitude bring mist. Great cold
devours. Weaver birds cry,
the giraffe is eaten by whispering night.
Lean against my chest,
hear the drum beat echo.

*Swahili - Whose land is this– mine, mine, mine.

1/2001

 

At the Fishkills, 1664
(Fishkill, rewritten)

It is a long way from Texel
and I tighten
the knot in my shawl
against unseasonable chill.
We bide
beside a dull river and placid mountains,
more than hills but worn
out, gap-toothed like seawives.

No round-haunched Flanders mares
wait: the Patroon's lady struts
in brocade and lace
along Fishkill rush,
a lily among thorns.
I miss my mother's merry laugh.
We sprout from hard soil,
we plant deep,
ask oak and pine to cradle
those small seeds which withered soon. I obey
the Dominie: Dutch comforter, he;
the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit palls.

Esopus pass like wraiths
through the green wall,
their fate bound to the wolf's head mete.
Sloops travel down from Fort Orange,
heavy with news, piled high with beaver.
I sit on the bank, smoke tobac,
gossip of birthing stool and bridal crown.


12/2000

 

Solving Saint Perpetua
       a mystery of faith and prophecy

I.
A scent of frying bacon, light tunnels down 
and angels fill stilled angstroms 
                   with the thunder of cracked ions.
Immanence by fortune and grace 
                       of docosahexaenoic acid 
resides behind the crescent of Saint Perpetua's brow. 
No FedEx or cable, it's a call over crackling wires
as Job's shaking darkness drags her into prophecy.

                                   Hallelujah!
Perpetua rises on the head of a snake,
mounts a ladder leading to heaven, iron things 
eat tender flesh. Truth. 
Truth. On hot sand, 
                   Perpetua's throat 
drips red as from a toppled jug.

II.
Ascetics check out attics and basements
looking for the low rent deal 
where streets are paved with gold
bricks. Mapless skies lie to priests unveiling heaven,
Madame Ida tries tea leaves, amber truth in cheap
cups, 4 for a dollar, sheep guts now out of style.

III.
The Queen of Termites sits in my temporal lobe,
sighs, laughs, rattles heaven's long chains
knit there by fat white bellies.
Angels shake my roof with trumpet notes
and, if I turn my head just so, 
someone's shadow halos too gold light.
It's a lie. I know it for a lie.
The shadow smiles at me.

IV.
This is how my grandmother 
holds her hands steepled at bedside. 
                    Sticks of light trail 
across the ceiling, flicker like candles.
She is a pale block in the dusk
I am a child. 
I see that she is luminous and serene.
12/2000
 

Lot's Wife

Feet on cold dull stone
harness like an old bathrobe
the wonder more than the waking,
the rising more than I can bear
how did I come here–
salt crystals like tree vines
knowledge binds, a shroud
redeem me

The waking and sea taste
more than the salt weight of it
uneased by stretch or flex
where thin weals rise, salt lines rub
starched white gloves on numb hands
one glance and now it coils around
cracked at knees and elbows
redeem me

I make coffee in a chenille kettle
anger more than hot steam rising
look back, wonder how I came to be here
that I slice oranges with sharp murder
peel my life away
a waking, my salt dough like some coiling snake
cut off its flat brown head and toast it,
from the salt char, ashes ashes all gone away
redeem me

More than the waking
I would undo the one glance back,
leave blood and teeth, ragged dreams
caught on thin screams
beat the corners with stiff brooms
to chase them, just one look back to see
redeem me

12/2000

 

Still Life with Rat

three pears on a plate
petaled surface– the usual
but by slight refraction bend
beyond the frame
see a girl core apples
remove pits; nothing to it–
flat planes, a geometry of matte and light
girl in the dark, slight hint of rat
cast in umber shadow
bulge of blue where hilum snaps
an illumination, a shucking
nothing to it

12/2000

 

Temple Square

The crow emerges from under my scapula:
an itch, a knot beyond finger tips.
He crawls up to perch on my shoulder–
hum black joy into my ear.
I keep telling him to shut up
but he chuckles and caws,
pours oil onto my tongue–
a mechanic easing rachets
lifting words out of my gut.
I want to shake him off, see a rain
of feathers drift down as he coils higher.
I want to see that wing darken with angels.

We pass the Square riding the 8th East bus.
I lean against the window,
he's the faucet drip rusting the tub.
I twist to watch two women
holding hands,
but he draws a cowl over my eyes,
licks my lips; it is a dark shroud
stitched with gray lines. He comes
from a place that knows nothing of sin,
ignores how pleasure curls at my throat
sings on the backs of my calves.

11/2000

 

Lady Magpie–

steal silver spoon and baby rattle,
go light-fingered through my dreams,
hide them next to your skin.
Black eyes slide past my shoulder,
inventory bright things.
My dull love despairs in shadow.
I won't let you in.
I'll watch you through the peephole–
light bending around your head
in a halo.

2000

 

River Boy
KNM-WT 15000, h. erectus, 1.53 mya

I will go to cool water along the river's edge.
I will sleep in tall reeds, waiting.
Eland will dance down to water, cool water,
past shallows where I lie.
Dusk, like rising smoke, will shroud me.
I will make a sound like wind whispering
and rise past startled crows
into the sky.

In dawn, hippopotami will walk
through reeds, giraffe will drink long.
I will not be here.

2000

 

For the Flint-knapper's Wife
H. erectus, 1.4 mya

I will bring obsidian and chert
from tiger-ridden hills.
I will make beautiful burins
to fit your hand.
I will flake delicate blades
to ease the work of your fingers.
I will lay them at your slender feet,
here, by the swift stream.

We will follow herds
through the northern isthmus.
We will follow aurochs,
elephant and gazelle.
We will travel this path
until my speechless tongue
grows wit enough to say
everything my silent flints do.

2000

 

Olduvai Mud

I rise,
go to the hearth
gather grubs and frogs
shake the heavy heads of grain
into my basket
like manna,
hail raining into my basket.
Speechless and deaf
to the clamor rising from the horizon,
I am mud woman,
I live in myself.
I drink from cupped hand.
Water sifts and braids
through thin fingers.
An owl's cry impales night,
unbuilds dark and time.
I shiver under the moon.
Insistent and angry,
mud drags at my heels,
grabs my ankles.
Look past
the bend in the night.

What hawk hovers on the horizon?
A low-lying darkness
slips over the plains
to rest at my side.
I am earth wearing a plaited hat.
Cain is buried deep in my womb.
Mud sticks to my knees,
coats my thighs,
paints pendulous breasts.
The caves dance
with bulls and stars.

2000

 

Forma Urbis Romae

This stone map should ring
of chisels, count surveyors, masons, sculptors.
It should enunciate the names
of ancient streets with such precision
that subtle striata then articulate
a maze of courtyards, palaces, attics
silent for a thousand years
under the foot of Holy Rome.
Mute fragments should expiate old sins,
claim old sorrows, slide like centuries
under hand and, where matched aspects meet,
reveal a map of departures and arrivals
fluent with age and grief.

How shall you speak of chariots,
tongueless marble, if you only mirror me?

2000

  Barren in Zion

This is my cradle,
this great basin kingdom,
bound by black mountains
slabbed white with spring snow.
Gulls soar dizzy and harsh over the great lake
stretched like a mirror meeting the sky.
Pray God will rebuke contrary winds
which whip my skirts until they snap and crack
like sheets on laundry day.

Here, our new wheat resurrects,
a mist of green along the ground;
here, the orchard where he kissed me,
where bees assault new blossoms in spring light,
the yellow sword of forsythia faded now away.
Here, my tulips edge out of the ground
like thin-necked truth–

and I am chastised:
thrice my belly round as a harvest melon
and all for nothing but graves on the hill.

The drays have turned down the lane,
steam rising from their flanks in the crisp morning air;
hooves the size of our good Sunday platters
beat like drums on judgment day.
He tied red ribbons on their bridles
and grinned like a simpleton when I stared.
He dressed in his best coat, shined his shoes,
and trimmed his beard - nor spared the pomade
I wrung from the orchard.
He has a rare glow.

And here stepping down from the wagon–
pale girl-child, slender, young–
my new sister-wife.
Spring light slices through me like knives
as I lean forward
with the kiss of peace.

1999
 

Boneshadow

There's something of the grave
in the way you walk;
the slide of hollow shadows
along the ground too much
like the sharp edge of night.
Anchorites chaste as convent veils
could never prune such flesh away.
I can run my thumbs beneath your spine,
illusion makes a chalice of your ribs.
How can you draw breath?
Gauze skin would tear,
you would trickle out like sacramental wine.
It grieves me that you should carve life away,
you, who hung at my breast.
What mercy in the motherbone
ties you to me, heart wrung at wraith child,
dark-eyed at daughter pared to shade.

1999

  Soddy

Pa's breaking plow slices the hard skin open.
Everyone smiles, putting large hopes in little seeds.
The sky is high and wide. Voices are lost in distance.
Arrowheads and buffalo bones ride the plow's wake.

We kneel in dust praying for rain while
hot winds shrivel wheat.
Standing above the potato patch,
Pa watches the red horizon all night long.
Our soddy's another wave on a buffalo grass sea.

Angry rattlers twist away from empty feed bins.
Mice whisper of brick houses, rock candy, lace.
Pa teases that corn husks are poor shoes for an Irish mule;
Ma just leans into the traces and pulls hard.
A prairie grave cradles the new baby's head.

In spring, we ride down to town.
Ma wraps her arms around a scrawny cottonwood and cries.
Pa looks away.

?1997/8

  Late Harvest 

I, last wife to John Reynolds, would 
lief sleep in straw than be roomed in my own home.

Here's my corner, with my borrowed chair, 

next to the hearth I tended forty years and more,

where she, all kindness, lets me sit.

(Doubtless, she witched my idiot son with shopworn wares.)

Now I, portioned least and only with my dower, 
must truckle, mouse-meek, to a strumpet.

I've the use of the wagon one day a month,

the side-saddle my father willed to me,

a skein of geese, raucous on the pond, and

income from the four-mile field.

(Where I caught them shamelessly kissing.)

Light-skirted wench, (fit mate for my least-loved one),
measures me for shroud through slitted eyes -

plucks the down from my geese - reaps my field.

There's a hex drawn under my bed, but I'm not dead yet.

(I slipped three rotten eggs into the larder.)

See the Jezebel shuttling my loom with tetchy airs. 
Don't think I'm too deaf to hear the bedstead creaking. 

Such a lady we now have gracing the family pew! 

(Looking for your good tortoise comb? 

Somehow it's gone astray under my seat cushion.)

Look ahead, wench, your future's plain to see. 

(Beware of Peter's shackles; in the end, they gall.) 

Childbed and spinning wheel; 

Invisible yoke and mourning bands; 

A lonely bed.   

?1997

 

Minotaur 

I eat steak and potatoes,   
he serves up bones and char 
while I dish out dead words 
and swallow hard.  In my dreams, 
this maze baffles me. 
My string's all knotted.  
Deep in the shadows, 
I hear the bull man's bellow. 
My quilt's a futile shield. 
Dust-tongued, I offer dry love 
at his four-posted altar.  Waking, I ease out 
from the dead weight of him, 
slip into the bathroom, 
stare hard.  This morning, 
he sips blood-hot coffee 
with indifference, 
while I make toast and ashes. 
He eats bat's wing and bacon, 
as I shovel scrambled eggs and hate 
onto his plate.

Mid 1980s

 

Baucis Telling Bonsai

In this Aegean morning,
as every morning,
our limbs twist

against the greening dawn.

Locked
in the slow sculpture of our joining,
entwined forever in this shallow dish,
our heartwood circles
condignly grow
in an infinite embracing 8,
where our raveled barks
kiss endlessly.

Old lump-face,
your spider-fingered beard
is dangling on my galled head-
again.

mid 1980s

   
   
  Copyright 2002 Carol Van Tine Yocom
cyocom@ earthlink.net