Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tuesday Poem: From The Notebook

 
Cinderella's Daughter

Nights, when the servants were
deeply asleep, my mother
traded her lace for homespun,
her crown safely
back in its lock box,
my father abed  and dreaming,
adrift on the ship of state.

I watched her in secret
as she danced with the broom,
bent and crooned to the dustpan,
fondled the stiff little bristles
on the idle head of the scrub brush.

Work called to her, it was
her secret, her benediction,
kneeling in the ashes,
sweeping the hearth
cleaner than it sometimes
already was, scrubbing
the stones in the hallways
till they sang a hushed
song of gratitude
beneath our feet.

All of life's ugly voices
gradually silenced by her hands,
rosy from running water,
dancing over every surface,
making me a tapestry
that told the complicated
story of her entry into Paradise.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Up From A Long Sleep

Conference 
While an older woman
lectures us on Habermas,
and epideictic writing, based in
citizen voice events, notions of
complication, and public
consequence, her ideas
hang like twigs in the tightly
constructed, multicolored rhetorical
nest she is weaving, though
we are somewhat distracted
by her younger co-presenter,
who is trying to hush her feisty
three year old, who sings
as he draws on the back of her
yet-to-be-presented paper,
by tearing a page away from the
three hundred twenty-eight others
in the conference program, and
folding it into an airplane, which
takes off from the table,
rising and falling at the
end of the little boy's arm,
until it comes crashing down,
like a baby bird, at the older
woman's feet, and slowly
she squats down to pick
it up, and put it back
on the table, never 
missing a single beat.








Thursday, August 29, 2013

Previously published by Philadelphia Stories in Fall of 2008


 

 

At The Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities


It’s a miracle we survive at all,
I say, as we walk the cases,
wincing at a colon as big as a stove pipe,
scowling at ribs deformed
by corsets, and spines collapsed
into little broken heaps, the horns
and warts and tumors
jutting out of waxen faces,
carbuncles and gouty toes,
a lady whose fat has turned her into soap.

But my brother, being a man, jokes on.
He sees a petrified penis and gasps,
I’ll never look at beef jerky the same way again,
as I giggle and cringe.

Until a whole wall of bloodless
babies in jars breaks over us like a wave,
all stages of fetal development,
followed by the terrible web of maladies;
so many damaged dolls,
each one a lesson in fragility.

He points to the anencephalic ones,
saying they look like trolls,
but then a lonely floater
in its little sea of tears
sends him into silence,
for we could be at the grave
of the little ghost he’s been
tethered to for seventeen years:
his first girl, all tangled in her cord,
born still and cold as snow.
I can’t bring myself
to tell him about the tiny
pearl of a zygote my heart tows.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tuesday Poem: an earlier version was published by The Paterson Literary Review in 2011


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milk Time


It was the sacred time: the little cartons
delivered in their plastic crate
by an eighth grade boy
who looked like Gulliver
for a moment, striding through
a cloud of Lilliputian first graders.
A quiet knock, then he’d come in
all hunch-shouldered, quick, and shy,
to set them down next to my desk.
And there they sat, piled in little hills,
like shanties after a cyclone.

How my head spun with the changes
from day to day: This school. No that school.
This classroom that ticks along like a clock,
that one that has no lesson plans, no paper.
This was Paterson, New Jersey.
I was twenty-one: a substitute
who knew nothing about the world
and how it worked.

In one school I nodded
in agreement as the Principal
told me, a red finger nail wagging,
that we must never, never, never
use corporal punishment, no matter
how rude the children might become.
In another I trembled at the Principal’s
booming voice as he hit one of the boys
in front of the class, a trouble maker,
he insisted I identify, and I suddenly
felt so exhausted I let them do whatever
it was they wanted for the rest of the afternoon.

But milk time. Milk time was sacred.
Each one of them carefully opening 
his or her own little house of goodness, 
stepping into a clean white space,
a silence punctuated by an occasional 
bubbling noise, as someone’s straw reached 
into a corner to grab the last few drops.

I didn’t know then that, for many of these
children, this was breakfast. For many of them
ten o’clock rang like an angelus putting an end 
to stomach growls and shaky hands 
that could barely hold a pencil.
All I knew was that at ten o’clock
they sat still. They were quiet, and
they were comforted. I was too.

Sitting at the big desk, in the front of the room, 
I felt like a little girl again, the one 
who stood against the wall in the playground,
watching her classmates ease into smiles 
and whispers, as they filed inside, sat 
at their desks, opened the cartons and savored.
A little girl on the margins, hungry for love.

And here it was: milk time again,
all of us in communion for the time it took,
to swallow that daily ration of decency,
that blessed little half pint that got us through.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Poem: an earlier version published by Umbrella in 2010


Frida Holds A White Rabbit


like a baby. She doesn't 
smile for the camera, 
as she cradles 
el conejo blanco,
como un bebe, in her arms,

the white rabbit of her longing
like the infant she never carried to term,

the fat white conejo of infidelity,
little effigy of Diego, its flat contented face
so much like his: the barren 
moonscape of his apology.

She looks tired.
She rests her head on her hand,
her mouth a small horizon in the shadows

She is thinking about the engorged 
conejo of his politics,
the fuzzy impersonality of his vision,
the little female comrades in his murals.

Where is her anger? 
Does it leap through the agave now
swift as the jackrabbit of Tehuantepec? 
Does it burn in the desert?

No because el fuego de Frida’s
resentment is gone for good.
No more galloping around here,
keeping up with the horses.
No more bites on the cheek
for you, you selfish rider!

Frida’s just plain worn out.
She’s taken el conejo back,
and she’s holding him like the baby he is.

Frida squeezes him so close
he’s short of breath. Come on,
smile for the camera, Frida. Smile,
as two crows fly above your eyes.

After the photograph: “Frida Kahlo With A White Rabbit,
Blue House, Coyoacan, Mexico City”
1949 by Hector Garcia

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday Poem: previously published online by Fox Chase Review in 2009


 
City Just Before Dusk  


In the turning down of the day
the light folds like clean white sheets,
swagging across whole groups of buildings,


so great sections of the city glow,
bright as a Pre-Raphaelite angel’s face,
as he announces another coming of twilight.

Then stringy clouds pull everything horizontal,
fill the sky, as if the atmosphere’s
stretching itself after a cat nap,

so whole neighborhoods rub their eyes in half
tones of charcoal blue, as Vincent’s views of rain,
through the window of a Saint Rémy asylum, do.

In all of this we see night awakening
like the baby newly baptized,
and called for the first time by name.

Close by, his parents watch him
wriggle in the arms of the priest,
both of their hearts aflame.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday Poem: previously published by Philadelphia Stories in Summer 2008


  Sunflowers


Vincent understood them: the way they yield
their darkling faces to the sun,
aflame for its arcing shimmer dance
across the day’s mysterious expanse,
how big they are, how weighty, over grown,
the way they lean together in the fields,
conspiring to hold each other up, creak and groan
as their heads reach critical mass, aswarm with too much seed.

He gathered them in vases, painted
their petaled fall from grace,
bunched together, shy, askew
and awkward, out of place,
caught their surprise at being indoors,
the droop and shrug of leaves,
the way they suddenly dropped,
losing all of their color.
Too painful to paint them
riotous at the roadside in full bloom:
signs of what we were before
the crows moved in to feed.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday Poem: An earlier version published by Philadelphia Stories in 2007



Philadelphia Fog

It gathers in puffs outside the windows,
until even the tallest buildings,
hunched as they are near the river,
slip away like memories do
when you get older,
so you’re not sure whether
they ever really happened.
Maybe you dreamed them.

The Ben Franklin Bridge,
with its big sweeps of light
and delicate spider web curves,
erased too, like chalk on a board,
or chalk effaced by a field of chalk.

The city becomes mythology then:
a story we all agree to believe,
a creature in metamorphosis,
that old ghost, we've seen
many times, both fearsome
and genial, haunting the waterfront.

We curl inside our prisons
surrounded by nothing other than white,
worried we too might soon disappear:
like herds of tiny ancient beasts,
or schools of fish being gobbled whole
by this great white hunger
as big as a snow’s.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tuesday Poem: previously published by Fox Chase Review in 2010


                                                                    Ghost Flock by Alasdair Wallace

Heart of Washington Square 

When the birds fall
out of the trees behind you,
light as a cloud, when they lift in an arc,
wheel and bank right over the man you love,
as he stubbornly sits on a bench in the sun,
reading his book, while you hunch on another one
in the shade, preferring to take
the dimmer view, until those tiny wings
take flight, and your spirits rise up when they do,
as you will soon, conceding to a clearly cosmic
connection, the sparrows, their sheer velocity,
like Cupid’s arrows shot between you,
affirming that incongruous as the two of you
may be: red dwarf, white giant, ashiver, ablaze,
written by light, gently bathed in ink,
you’re part  of the same constellation, linked.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday Poem: an earlier version appeared in Poems of Awakening, edited by Betsy Small in 2010



from Small Benedictions

Bless the torn
part of each day,
the ruptures in us
that caused it
to tear where it did.

Bless the green
heart of each rupture,
the small green
kernel of hope
saved for replanting.