Monday, April 30, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Previously published in Claiming The Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry, ed. Marilyn Sewell, Beacon Press 1994

Painting by Jules Bastien-Lepage 1879

Jeanne d' Arc

The best thing
was when the voices told
her to dress like a boy,
and stepping out of

the homespun skirts, her long
hair in heaps on the floor,
she put on the armor and knew
it would protect her

from rough hands,
from then on becoming her
skin : silvery scales
hardened over her tenderest

places, and she would never have to
be tender again,
not even when the fire,
trying to consume her, curled

every cell black, sent them flying
up through the air, so many
butterflies she watched
circle away and come back

to enclose her again.
So be it, she said,
for eternity encrusted in angels
darkly whispering: Yes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Previously published in lingerings (online) in 1999

Hog Barn at the State Fair         
The next pig out of the chute
is mottled black over pink,
delicately etched, so it looks
like she’s wearing lace.

And she’s running as fast as she can
around the ring, trying to get away
from the man who wants to show her,
so he hits her harder and harder,
with the stick he's supposed to be using
to guide her toward the judges
who want to take a really good look
at the fruits of his husbandry.

Watch her shoot like a bullet on pointy legs,
wounding the audience, and the man too,
now red-faced, huffing after her, his stick
landing hard on her back. The crack of it
like thunder, making us cringe.

I want to squeal when he hits her.
But then someone nearby, whose favorite
food, like my father’s, is big thick pork chops,
might blow his stack. After all she has
too much mind of her own, that pig,
she lacks discipline -- she didn't turn 
when he tapped her gently, did she? 
No, she went the opposite way,
perverse little twit. She asked for it
by slobbering on his pants leg.

Sweet Jesus, when she’s back in the pen,
the applause is a cloudburst that tries to
wash everything clean. Give that man
a ribbon! Make it black and blue!
Quick as the wind, get the next pair
out and running around the ring!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Previously published in The Passaic County Community College Anthology in 1992

We Learn About Love 

from the stories our parents 
tell at the supper table,
like sober news commentators,
creating history, they always begin 
with an axiom: It doesn’t pay 
to be grabby, they say.  
Take Minnie around the corner.

Minnie ran the local grocery for her parents.
She was what we all called homely:
short and brown and thick as a little fireplug.

But Minnie had a beautiful husband,
her father had imported for her from Italy.
And she glowed when she had to talk for him
to the rest of us, which she did 
because he didn't speak English.

Day after day he went off to 
who knows what job or where,
with his black wavy hair, 
white teeth, and permanent tan.
But, let’s face it: what he 
said and did wasn't important.
What was, was that he was Minnie's, 
and that the women
said three Hail Mary’s 
whenever he passed them.

Until one summer this angel 
went up on the roof to fix it,
and in a grab at a sliding hammer 
plunged to the sidewalk 
and broke his neck.
Just like that! My mother 
snapped her fingers,
her whole life gone in a heartbeat!

Minnie must have been shattered,
but two days after the funeral 
she was back, shuffling around 
the store in her mules and peds,
using the claw to grab the heavy 
cans off the shelves, dropping them 
down and catching them in one hand,
like she’d always done. But it 
wasn’t the same. It used to be fun 
to go in there, to watch her dance
with the mop, or sing to 
the baskets of fava beans.
Now the store seemed more
like Pompeii,  what with 
Minnie buried alive 
every night in its ashes.

It's a shame, my mother sighed, 
as she got up to clear the table.
You go after too much, and you’re 
in for nothing but heartache.
Yeah, my father said, as he lit a cigarette,  
it doesn’t pay to kid yourself.

My brother and I swallowed, eyeing each
other through a growing cloud of smoke.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Poem: previously published by Salt Hill Journal in 1990 and Caprice in 1992

Cow Crossing

Each one is a black and white newsreel,
an ache of bones undulating,
a moan against gravity.

Big as cars, they
lurch across the road,
rumble and bellow, eyes bulging
at the boy who shoos them barnward,

as chased and clucked toward milking
they go, placing one dainty hoof
in front of another, careful as two
tightrope walkers, encased in a cow suit,
afraid of falling.

All go except the one
who turns her dark face away from the rest,
flicks her tail at the boy,
at his calls and whistles,
as if he were just a big fly.

She wants to stay lost
in the apples and timothy of the pasture forever.
She twitches and shoulders the air,
sweeping away the stone walls,
the stanchions and hungry machines,
with her slow head.

The stuff in her velvet bag
will clot and curdle
if he doesn't coax her out soon.

What can she do?
Caught, she lows to him softly.