Ever so slightly, I press one foot upon the floor
setting my rocker in motion
back and forth
forward and back.
Hardwood floorboards creak their greeting.
Shaped like a human body at rest,
the rocking chair shores up arms, supports legs,
cradles my spine—
only my neck and head bend and release
imperceptibly to the rhythm.
My gaze unfocused, breath slow and subtle
as if the chair breathes for me.
My mind, like a fishing line,
casts forward, seeking what?
How clever of Thonet to reject wood’s rigidity,
unravel a way to bend beech—to mimic
a body’s curvature.
Water, heat, force,
time—the furniture maker’s agents
Renoir, with charcoal-stained fingers, sketches such a chair
—curlicues swirling beneath a reclining woman,
fully clothed, corset-tight.
Surely she needs the chair
to help her breathe. In repose, her eyes, like mine,
Science tells us motion is therapy—
how many psychologists have replaced their couches
with rocking chairs? Recalcitrant patients tip themselves
forward and back
back and forth—
feel no judgment
in arms’ smooth curves, find strength
in stretchers beneath their buttocks,
behind their backs, untangle
long-held secrets of shame
or, simply let their gaze ease—
blur surrounding walls, windows—
breathe in and out—
and in their rocking, create
a gentle stir of air—awaken
their subconscious to words
So, let us thank the timber, sawed and sanded
into spindles and splats, rockers and rails—
let us praise cherry and birch, steamed and bent—
applaud the stacks of cane, soaked and stripped,
woven thick into seats of thatch—
the rocking chair will bear any weight we bring.
O, to climb inside a clock!
To slip between the gears—
interrupt the click click ticking—
prevent my bones from grinding to dust.
Grandfather’s clock tocks in Sweden—
the rhythm of Viking oars,
like the clash of ancestor’s swords.
Standing watch, moon’s flat face turns,
turns its painted forehead of sky and stars—
cold metal eyes, blind to light and shade,
—never blink, encased in wormwood casket.
These regimented ticks taunt my sleep,
—my dreaming fingers claw at the case.
One day—time will swallow me
THE IMPERMANENCE OF SANDCASTLES
Perhaps a glint of sun blinds you,
Or we are laughing too hard
To notice that slim moment
Our convertible soars into a Dali landscape—
Caribbean-blue stretch of barren beach canvas.
My Hermes scarf catches in the draft,
Rises like a parachute. Bits of pink
Bermuda bijoux drift away on the wind.
In the distance, O’Keeffe paints purple iris centerfolds.
In the backseat, a blender whirs, mixing mango and rum.
I lick away the sticky sweetness. On the horizon
Dali’s brush bends our car—molten metal
Slung over a cloud—he signs his name, scrawls
In the grit: Monument To Reckless Abandon
THE HAUNTING OF ROOM 125 AT THE CAMPUS INN
I’ll climb out of the room when you stop obsessing over words—
your clattering keys disturbing my thoughts.
I’ll leave you alone, if you let loose your dead grandmother—
a sugar cube would never melt on her tongue, sweet
though, her Quaker prayers—choked from her throat
as Puritans strung her up. Overnight,
fireflies crawled over her open eyes, slipped up her nose.
I know these things, though I was never lynched.
If you sent her a postcard from the future,
would she care to know you? To see how her sacrifice
inspires your insipid verse? If you want to honor her, go
clean the scat atop her statue - near the State House steps—
Pigeons don’t care that she died for a cause.
Yet, here you are, searching for lost words
of vanished souls. Tapping, typing, printing, writing—
You risk my wrath if you persist.
You risk your very life, for I could smother you now
with the breath of the dead. You may seek the spotlight
to shine on your ancestor’s martyrdom, but what I want
is a good night’s rest. Even the dead desire peace and quiet—
so stop typing. Close your eyes, I will climb off the bed
and leave you to rest, let you escape my anger, my black revenge
in the dead of night. You may think my visit a miracle;
I tell you it is a warning. There are others, outside—
together, yet alone, each wanting nothing more
than for your lips to close, your hands to fold, your mind to cease,
to sleep. You may think that picking up that pen
to handwrite your pestering poetry will fool me into leaving—
bring my haunting to an end—
You are the fool. Even swallows know, safe refuge
in a sooty chimney eventually gives way
to their overwhelming desire to fly.
You are my prey, I am your threat.
I will devour your face if you don’t let me rest.
SOMETIMES, WILD PLUM TREES WEEP
After Kelly O'Dell's 2017 art installation Remain(S)*
My father’s first grocery shop, where once
he’d stacked bushels of sweet summer corn,
rows of watermelon, and peaches by the peck
outside the shop door, with the bell that rang
crisp and pure as a prayer.
My childhood home, where once
blue hydrangeas and white honeysuckle
spread their roots beneath our front porch, and
dripping swimsuits hung along the rail.
Spiders knit lacey webs that lasted all summer.
My elementary school building, where once
Peg Leg Bates tap danced across our creaky
gym floor, a wooden stump strapped to his thigh.
And when he jumped!—arms and legs straight out,
he looked like a starfish shooting for the moon.
There, still standing in a distant corner
of the schoolyard, the small copse of wild plum trees
where once, I’d slipped between the trunks, into their
shady circle to steer a pirate ship, fly a rocket
or let down my hair from the castle turret, calling
to my friends, "Let's pretend...."
Overgrown, my once secret space gives me no entrance.
Along the tree trunks, glinting in the August sunlight,
amber tear drops cascade down the bark. I study
the bits of black, flecks of brown inside each drop, looking
for shapes of my past—a bell, a web, a starfish—
for something of me that remains.
* Museum of Northwest Art, 2017
Remember when we skipped everywhere?
Arms moving like counterpoint melodies,
knees rising, pedaling air,
ponytails swinging, whipping our backs,
slapping our faces.
Bouncing along concrete squares
cautious to never land on a crack
(even on days we cared little for mother).
Skipping swiftly, our bodies lifting from earth,
repeating that singular sensation, that beat of a second
when we were suspended in space —
no longer rising, not yet falling.
So light, so light.
STAR 82 REVIEW
ISBN/EAN 13: 1499371276 / 9781499371277
MOJAVE RIVER REVIEW
HOW TO TALK YOUR WAY OUT OF A TRAFFIC TICKET IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
And Officer, it was as if the tree reached out from the woods,
just there — do you see the slick of leaves and snapped branches?
And the rain beat down so hard the wipers wept
and my eyes stung with smoky mascara. Sir,
the mascara — it’s not supposed to run. Why does everything run?
And that pine fence blew loose, blocking my path.
And the funeral, it’s started by now, and I’m not there, sir.
Lo siento, sir. It’s getting cold. You have snow on your mustache,
sir. Yes, so easy to brush away — still, snow can smother a boy.
Lo siento, sir. My papers must be here, buried in my bag.
Do you have children, sir? Niños? You’re lucky. Perhaps
it was the mailbox I passed — with its latch undone. And I was wondering,
will the casket be open? Do they do that here? I was wondering,
will my son’s blue eyes still shimmer beneath his brittle lids?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TWO APRONS
She hangs the gingham apron loose around her neck. Frayed grosgrain ribbons edge three pockets. Sewn in her youth and stored in her hope chest, the apron hangs low over breasts heavy as breadfruit. She pulls wooden clothespins from a pocket. Bites them between her teeth. It is laundry day on the prairie. She hangs her man’s clothes — lets them stiffen on the line. An errant rooster feather clings to his shirt snapping in the wind. She plucks it off and tucks the bit of red in her pocket. She will tickle him with it later.
She pulls the butcher’s apron over her head. Wraps the ties twice around her waist. Her white sheath catches drips of red as she lifts a tray of beef scraps. It is hamburger-grinding day. She pushes twenty pounds of cow through churning metal teeth, blends it into strings of red meat. Smeared with blood by the end of her shift, she flicks errant bits of gristle from her chest, wipes the knives clean against her white thighs. She will cash her check at the corner bar — lick white foam from atop a stream of beers and kiss any man with clean nails.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Father’s thick fingers bait our hooks and cast our lines,
sending shimmying circles across the lake. When
the ripples smooth to nothing, I sigh, as if with them. I am five.
Dragonflies helicopter overhead. My line jerks with my first fish —
too small to keep. Father releases it — it’s mother-of-pearl scales glimmering
in the morning light, cold body undulating deeper until it disappears.
Shrimp carapace scattered on a white plate. I am twenty-five.
The difference between the wind in my hair and the wind on the waves —
nothing more than quarks in motion here or there.
Buttery fingers wiped on white linen leave the DNA
of ancient crustaceans. On the table, a splayed lobster tail,
crab shells sucked dry and the diamond ring I’ve cast aside.
I slip from the room while this man who once seemed so alluring
takes a call. Survival is a question of instinct, moving this way
rather than that. Seeing the bait bag for what it is — an illusion.
Naming an Heir, a Parent
When I am four
the universe is me and its name is Merna.
Father’s sister behaves as if she too is Merna.
Calls herself, Big Merna, says I’m Little Merna.
I call her Aunt Me-Me. There should be no doubt.
When I am ten
I add my middle name, Louise, to my camp clothes labels.
When I say it aloud—it flows and feels soft as cloud names: Nimbus,
Cumulus, Cirrus, Louise. One afternoon, laying on the grass,
I search the shifting cloud shapes for Clara Louise, my father’s
mother, sent to heaven during a great flu epidemic. Dad was my age.
I think I understand since I too feel motherless at camp.
When I am sixteen
I audition new signatures, cursively slanting letters forward,
leaning letters back, always disappointed with the lack
of flourishing lines. The loop of the “y” in Dyer longs for a companion.
Like the actress Myrna Loy, I want two y’s that swoop and sway.
If Clara Louise were alive, I’d whine in my best teenaged voice—
Why did you name your daughter Merna and delete the stylish “y?”
She (and I) are too glamorous for a pedestrian “e.” Why, why?
When I am twenty-seven
my universe becomes my firstborn child. I take care to
properly spell his Gaelic name S-E-A-N. No phonetics
to assist the uninformed. How do I fail to see the irony? The ancestral
burden given me now goes to him:
Hi, my name is – No, spelled with an “e,” please.
SILVER BIRCH PRESS
"ALL ABOUT MY NAME" POETRY SERIES
THE SQUAW VALLEY REVIEW
SOUTHERN BOUND WHITE GIRL
Traveling slow as heat along the Dixie Highway
we pass bare bottom brown boys digging in dirt.
An old woman sits outside her one-room shack
fanning her skin, creased as dried mud.
Further on, a khaki-covered white man
sits atop a horse — rifle in hand.
Bound ankles shuffle, chains clink a dusty song
and twenty sweat-soaked black backs
bend, digging a ditch already dug. Across the field
a bright Georgia road sign promises
Peaches Grits Biscuits Just Ahead
White Only Colored
I am six — sunburned pink
I follow the arrow for Colored
SILVER BIRCH PRESS "ME AS A CHILD" POETRY SERIES