Giving & Taking

I am writing a poem based on Louise Gluck’s line from “Nostos,” which is also the opening of my memoir I’m really making progress on. So here goes. Check out more poems at Real Toad’s Tuesday Platform.

 

“We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.”

 

 

A small chubby foot, bare on the splintered fence, a heave and hoist.

Then my curled fingers reach for the top wooden rung;

wobbling and steadying, I have climbed the outside

of my father’s fence,

the lush expanse of yard all for my eyes to see.

Like a bird.

I bet I see what the swallows and hummingbirds must see.

 

The flowering crab hangs its pink blossom-laden boughs

low to the earth. Its sweet honeysuckle fills me

and the petals tickle my bare shoulder as the breeze lazes in.

Through the menagerie of blush and branches I can make out

the white dirty hamper of a farmhouse, the purple

of the lilacs slipping in and out of view.

The dirt drive where my sister pedals the Big Wheel in jerky circles.

The screen tent where Little Great Grandma sips lemonade.

I like her. She gave me sour sugary sips out of her

real glass, the ice long melted. She wears a sunhat

with a scarf around the crown every afternoon.

From my perch on the yard’s perimeter I can hear the zip-zip

of the tent’s door as my little sister tumbles in to see her.

 

My father is somewhere. He is always here. It is the one solid thing–

an unquestionable fact. When we are here on the weekends,

he never leaves us. Read More

Rush

Thursday Poetry Challenge at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.  This poem is first draft, just going for it, inspired by the picture of an oil painting by Paul Whitener, “Unfinished Landscape” 1950

Paul’s paintings were started with an underpainting of warm or cool oil paint thinned with turpentine. Paul used both rose and brown pigment for the underpainting in the canvas above. The contrasting greens in the landscape will be made more vibrant by these warm tones which will peep through the final applications of paint…

 

I treasured his hands–those cracked, dry, cut

and dug-up hands with the bitten nails

and callouses and blackened gashes. I watched

him hook my line as if I were his little girl. I watched

him wipe the grease from the engine on mom’s

kitchen towels, cigarette stuck to his bottom lip,

squinting his left eye at the smoke,

“Yeah I think this’ll get ‘er runnin'” as he fixes

yet another one of my cars.

 

Every time I went to my mothers since I was twenty,

I spent my time in the garage with Dave.

“Husband number three.”

There was hope in this one,

which I waved back and forth

almost carelessly, because anything happens.

 

When my father died, I was twenty-one.

Panic attack on the bathroom tiles and then

Dave holding my shaking body

and hushing me like I was a kid,

just “shhhhhhh…poor baby, it’ll be ok…”

his hand rubbing hard circles on my back.

 

He broke a lot of things.

He fucked up a lot of things.

Like boats.

He sunk a boat.

He chain smoked like a mother fucker,

biceps like Popeye on his short frame, back when

he worked at the lumber yard, before he got injured.

That was our thing together back then, smoking

and coffee in the treasure trove garage

(he collected junk from the dump and yard sales–

“this is worth five fuckin’ dollars!”)

and he’d hold up circular metal spinny spindly things

with screws in it and various attachments he’d taken

off and I’d ask him what it was, how it worked,

and we smoked and sipped and talked. I could

listen to him for hours talk about tools and gadgets,

machinery and equipment; felt like I was with a dad.

 

“Yer ma, I tell ya, I dunno man, I love her but…

she makes me crazy!”

–“yeah, ma….”

“Hand me that so I can splice this–”

 

The painting by Paul Whitener.

“Unfinished Landscape.”

 

Makes my eyes sting,

makes my throat hurt a little.

I didn’t see landscape before or while

I saved the picture to write about it.

I saw blood and gray matter, a bleached out brain

washing out like Whitener’s oils with turpentine.

Dave skulking around those houses

we tell the girls to never walk by.

Dave driving on the wrong side of the road,

oblivious and half-eyed.

Dave disappearing.

Dave’s mind a soupy, rotting,

eaten mess similar to my father’s. But my father’s

made him only softer, farther away;

Dave’s made him mean to my mother.

 

But not to me.

I watched him disappear in those rounded

clouds of Whitener’s–purple, orange, red

a fire bloating what space was left, with the sinews

of greenish yellow dispatched and unattaching

from the helm.

 

Four days ago:

“It’s rehab with all of us behind you, right now, or you go.”

…tell me tell me he didn’t say he’s leaving

“Fine. There’s the door,” I had said simply.

I wanted to grab his leg and beg him to try.

I became my seven-year-old self in heels,

there in the garage, stone-face, sweaty hands.

The doctors and officers in agreement

that it was probably too late for rehab.

Words like severity. Deep-in. High levels. His age and conditions.

Dropping dead before he hits rock bottom, if this drug has a bottom.

 

Three days ago:

Cops can’t find him. Restraining Order out.

“Dave can you help me build Emma’s bookshelf?”

The meth houses aren’t giving him up.

Dave, wanna go fishing?”

 

Two days ago:

I have to keep my doors locked.

Yesterday I went into my mother’s garage

to get the mower. Knee deep in bikes and boxes

and a broken down car Dave had crashed months earlier;

dust and abandoned tools, half-finished

pallet projects–and there I was, trying

to screw the handle back in it,

taking in sharp, loud breaths as the tears came.

 

I can’t write how I’ve seen him die off. The rot there.

I can’t.

The painting can. That painting of Dave

thinning down his soul with

methamphetamine like Whitener thinning the oils

with turpentine, –“the effects will visibly peep through

during the final application...

 

The red clouds lined thinly in pink–they’re moving

away into the distance, almost behind

the painting; you can see them move

like you’re coming up with speed on a drop-off

and the sky rushes to your face

rushes to his veins

rushes to the wind up the base of the canvas

rushes into the yellow and green warning that curls

before the eruption of sky red, blood red, pink body insides explode

rushes over the dead-end and off the drop-off

rushes away and spreads thin and disappears.

 

Self-Exam

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cool eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about, and then each time I

closed them, I saw a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old stitches, and the new ones

blended so well in these new petals.

Read More

Human Cylinders in parts, Mina Loy

Human Cylinders

(my favorite parts of the mysterious poem anyway)

by Mina Loy

The human cylinders

Although born in England, Mina Loy worked as a poet and visual artist in Paris, Florence, and New York City, where her beauty and outlandish behavior shone at the center of several avant-garde circles. The eccentric vocabulary and syntax of Loy’s free-verse poems and their sardonic treatment of love can puzzle and offend, but no reader can question the work’s originality nor the poet’s fierce intelligence.
1882-1966–The Poetry Foundation

Revolving in the enervating dusk

That wraps each closer in the mystery
Of singularity
Among the litter of a sunless afternoon
Having eaten without tasting
Talked without communion
And at least two of us
Loved a very little
Without seeking
To know if our two miseries
In the lucid rush-together of automatons
Could form one opulent wellbeing ….
Simplifications of men
In the enervating dusk
Your indistinctness
Serves me the core of the kernel of you
When in the frenzied reaching out of intellect to intellect
Leaning brow to brow       communicative
Over the abyss of the potential
Concordance of respiration
Shames
Absence of corresponding between the verbal sensory
And reciprocity
Of conception
And expression
Where each extrudes beyond the tangible
One thin pale trail of speculation
From among us we have sent out
Into the enervating dusk ……
….The impartiality of the absolute
Routs      the polemic
Or which of us
Would not
Receiving the holy-ghost
Catch it      and caging
Lose it
Or in the problematic
Destroy the Universe
With a solution…
Mina Loy, “Human Cylinders” from The Last Lunar Baedeker

Silent Centers

My father arranged me to frame despair

in the shape of a shell–

he said it

would make me look pretty

as he dropped my gutted pearl

into the water,

closed me in his palm,

and took me home for dinner.

 

I’d curl up in my empty body late at night

when the heater kicked in

and line my dolls up on the smooth

belly of the shell,

sweating and organizing and kissing them,

trying to make room, trying to love

and a forgotten piece in me would move–

like an isolated bubble, a pressure in my chest rising

until it hardened into a globe of glass,

and I fingered the marble

in my pocket each time he made me nervous.

 

My skin hardened into porcelain.

My lips a painted curve.

The girl in the womb and the doll in the house

looked at each other in the mirror,

and I was the mirror

I was a million different faces;

this cannot be explained any other way.

 

I became the dolls on my bed and

in their small house in the corner

I became their holidays and patterned wallpaper;

I became the patterns of my behavior–

trained, obedient, good.

I became the shell at the dinner table,

sucking up silence like the ocean.

 

I told myself

if I had nothing,

that’s what would come back.

And getting nothing back

meant you didn’t have to love.

And what was love to that girl

with her marble

and no pearl.

The Hollows

for Real Toads “Tuesday Platform.”

This poem is based on a dream I had. I am both freaked out and excited, as a writer. 

The city in my brain when I sleep

has wide black-outs the size of

my fragmented memories. I pedal down

an alley where dirty wash buckets

get dumped out open windows above

the Section 8 apartments we

so frequently took shelter in.

These alleys are crowded and huddled—a

fictitious labyrinth but still I am fooled

into believing its constancy because of

the telephone wires and iron fire escapes.

A man at a crate, wearing overalls and a red

bandana smiles his drunken grin, scratching

his bulbous purple nose, whisking out a tissue

from a bony wrist, something familiar,

a vague scent of lilac. Something about the speed

in a humming bird’s wings, rust and oil

and tractor parts fill my head. Honeysuckle.

Yes; my father called him “Pa.”

I turn what must be southwest

judging by the sunlight glaring,

but I am not sure. Then a block down

and right—a Parisian-like corner where

the next alley intersects. Buckets

and barrels of flowers, palette displays

and chalked prices. I pedal slower.

Round soft women in purple and daffodil,

berry-stained lips and a lavender water

scent that makes me feel warm,

like the sound of my grandmother, how she

used to say I sang beautifully. She had shells

on her wallpaper in the bathroom.

Beautifully

Beautiful. In the recesses of my brain, that

specific word signals my amygdala to

get out the boxing gloves or take flight,

and then Paris disappears because of this warning,

the alley swallows me up in darkness

and into an end once the word “beautiful

grabs a hold of me, ringing in my ears

the way it did when he called me that

when I was a little girl. Not even in dreams

do we escape childhood.

This end is a brick wall, graffiti-filled and strewn

with Find Jesus and Bob Marley posters;

I turn my bike away, back toward light, an anxiety

starting to glow in my gut.

I hit a different center now, where four alleys meet,

these are all alleys now, and I choose—with “beautiful”

still hanging on my lips like a stale cigarette—to turn south.

Southeast. Cobblestone and puddles. This alley

is quiet and I feel the need to turn, but the walls

on the sides are narrowing.

My thighs just scuffing the plaster. I look ahead

because it’s too late to turn around—no room—and

I see the path before me going on and on like a tunnel

with shafts of light, then shadow, light, then shadow

where unnamed dead-end streets cross but I can’t

seem to get to them. A cracked hand

reaches out a glassless window and cold porcelain

knocks against my knuckle. I am picking up speed but

look back to see what it was, and when I turn forward

again, my bike wobbling, another white porcelain

girl. This one has a doll’s face that is white and cracked,

glued or fastened together, her head full of holes

where doll hair used to be, I back on the pedals Read More

I Know About Love

“I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone. Everything I believed in and everything I cared about I left for you because you were so wonderful and you loved me so much that love was all that mattered. Love was the greatest thing, wasn’t it? Love was what we had likeabossHemingwaythat no one else had or could ever have and you were a genius and I was your whole life. I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is just another dirty lie. Love is ergoapiol pills to make me come around because you were afraid to have a baby. Love is quinine and quinine and quinine until I’m deaf with it. Love is that dirty aborting horror that you took me to. Love is my insides all messed up. It’s half catheters and half whirling douches. I know about love. Love always hangs behind the bathroom door. It smells like Lysol. To hell with love. Love is you making me happy and then going off to sleep with your mouth open while I lie awake all night afraid to say my prayers even because I know I have no right to any more. Love is all the dirty little tricks you taught me that you probably got out of some book. All right. I’m through with you and I’m through with love. Your kind of pick-nose love. You writer.”

–from Hemingway for his first love; read by Derek Walcott at New York Public Library (“Hemingway and the Caribbean“)–well worth the listen. This part was my favorite thought. It sorta choked me up one winter morning when I was walking.

Flirt

Perfume Challenge for Thursday (I’m late) at Real Toads. Here goes:

It’s been a long time since I have taken in

the essential scent and essence of a man;

but I know

that I am short

and I would walk past him on tiptoes

at his back when I enter the room he’s in

for my first impression.

Oops!

I’ve dropped my notebook while reapplying lipstick I never wear

and as he bends down to get it for me (this man I’m thinking of,

I think he would do that) I lean too, towards him, and bend

perpendicular to my legs and I rotate my extending body

over his, a sort of horny swivel lamp,

just in time to catch the wind of him.

There would have to be oiled mahogany, a sort of

clean but painful polish smell,

that, as he stands back up again and I swivel away

just late enough to make him wonder; I also

catch lye. Or Lava.

he works with his hands, my eyes like violets as I see ink stains

on toughened skin, a few scars, dirt that wouldn’t come off

but clean nails.

you have a sliver I see

and I feel all yellow and then like bourbon

splashed and soaking into some kind of workbench

lemme see

tucking my notebook in my arm I take his hand,

turning him a bit into me as I bring it close

and inspect with my nails a defined splinter

I could care less about

I am touching him.

His pointer and middle finger are stained black, and an

acrid paper steamed with punched ink from the press,

inky and I hear angry typewriter keys from Hemingway’s

handsome days in Cuba;

he looks closer at our hands.

Sweat. His sweat.

let’s see, turn it here,

this might hurt a little, there we go oh it’s in there

Reality has its own scent capped in a bottle:

it smells like the cheap musk perfume I bought

at Family Dollar, mixed with the stream of the towing trucks’ exhaust and

stale cigarettes in the parking lots of my youth:

“Can you please…not do that?”

1979

 

Bitter-fixed. The ones she helped damage aren’t crying for her.

Bitter-fixed. Depression and shame and fear fuel hate. To bury. To spit.

Bitter-fixed. Stabbing her finger into our chests to distort accountability.

 

The facts are:

she had a hand in most of what broke

 

1979, the brown Plymouth about to crash, her belly swollen and ready.

She sleeps as the first husband spends

her prenatal care on Pabst again,

and as the car flips into the ditch maybe

she was dreaming of a child, of how she was

going to feed her, how she would

hold her, what would her temperament be?

Will he love her?

 

The facts are:

she felt sorry for him;

she did not know how to love herself

–so young in a woman’s body;

her tenderness shrinking

as she sold her things to feed her children,

her tenderness hardening

as she cooked noodles and watered down

the milk, picking up beer cans and baby bottles.

 

And the facts are:

she is cold and hard because she is lonely

for herself, but

her heart will break with you

so you’re not alone;

her voice changes when you really need her,

dropping herself

because that’s how she loves.

 

In the dark polaroids of ‘65

she beams in every one.

“Cake” written beneath the scenes.

“Your mother was so sweet,” grandma used to say.

I look at her shiny apple cheeks, face tilted up—

that look in a child’s eye that reveals their temperament,

hers a rare sweetness my younger sister inherited.

 

I keep a photo of that young face

in my dresser drawer to remind myself

to love her, to remind myself that it wasn’t

her fault to hate me

when I had needed her, because

it wasn’t me she hated.

 

Looking at her last night, my throat hurt because I missed her.

And looking at her photo when I got home, my throat hurt

because maybe her pain is bigger than mine.

 

Her face last night, deeply lined and gray.

The apples of her cheeks a striated map of wear.

She hasn’t laughed much since Spring.

 

I called her this morning

fingering over my scars in the sunlight on the couch, telling her

in my own way that I am ok, that I love her,

that she is strong and life…life…is responsible…not us.

 

They said if she had been awake she probably wouldn’t have survived that crash.

And now she sleeps, breaking her own heart, because she did.