Mary Biddinger (Akron, Ohio, USA): Three Poems

ENLIGHTENMENT

One day you’re busy peeling the leaves
from a stalk of broccoli, then the next
slicing your garments with a jackknife,
as if you could choose another place
to wear a halo. Every new loaf of bread
is as unsatisfying as the last, pocked
with holes that collapse as soon as you
insert your fingers. Sometimes I wonder
why I wonder. It’s easy to close your eyes
and relive the disappointment all over
again, the last gift unwrapped and it’s not
the shotgun you asked for, but instead

a quivering garden rake painted green
to match someone else’s eyes. It’s isn’t
the collected works of George Herbert,
two rusty harmonicas, or just enough
Quickrete to make a summer in rural
Oklahoma magical. She promised you
in her particleboard cubicle that smelled
like lemon air freshener: Every day
is a gift
. There was no way that you

could have foreseen my steel-toe boot
and a handful of her teeth waging war
like those movies other people’s fathers
watched with the blinds drawn. Really,
you are happy I know my way around
a baseball bat. This is what you have
always loved about me the most. Not
the way I hate scones, or see in the dark.
You will not have to worry about
leeches when you sink to the bottom
of this river. Every windmill you ever
wanted to burn to the ground is here.


WHERE WE WENT FROM HERE


You tried to wear it like a beard
that didn’t fit. You ransacked the pastry

case, said you were picking out a new
whore, even if she was ringed in almonds

and drunker than a ladyfinger could be.
We were under unusual circumstances.

The floors were never quite strong enough
to hold us, but we used them anyway.

It sounded like you said, Put your harm
around me, baby
. That was before

our pinstripes outgrew us, trailed off onto
the bedspread and out the window.

It’s nothing that either of us predicted.
I could count all the times it didn’t

happen, like retention ponds you speed
past on the highway, knowing you’ll never

dive in, or fill your thermos with the murk.
How can you count what isn’t in pieces?

You asked for the key to my pajamas
so you could lose it, and beg for another.


HALF KEROSENE, HALF HAMMER


He can drive a hatchback straight
through a blizzard, wears wool
like a farm kid, even if his mother

never stitched him into underwear
in November. He’ll unbutton
your shirt while he levels the wet

plaster on your dining room wall,
slip his tongue into your mouth
while talking on the phone, not

missing a word. The kind of man
who’ll tarp your car before
the sleet starts, wake at midnight

to plug the engine block heater in,
surprise you with cold fingers.
The man you’d always recognize

from across a field, even at dusk,
or through a blindfold. Your hand
is half the size of his. He’s half

kerosene, half hammer. Tore a room
to bare studs when he was fourteen,
same day he tasted his first Budweiser.

His favorite animal was always
predatory and quick, even if he
was never the first out of the gate.

You expect him to rise out of every
snow bank, bet twenty dollars he’ll
push your Volvo all the way home.


© Mary Biddinger 2008

Tony Trigilio (Chicago, USA): Two Poems

SEEING THE DEAD


The oldest son of the family that lived next to the farm in Harborcreek, from the diabetes or the drinking. My mother’s next-door-neighbor Natasia -- whom we all called “Nastazeet” because that’s the only way my grandmother could pronounce it -- some infection Nasta picked up in the hospital. The obituaries were boring but my parents went to wakes, diligent and regular like installment payments. The surprise heart attack, the brother-in-law of someone who worked with my dad at the factory. I knew that guy from the shop; I have to see him. The cancer of the second cousin of my father’s first wife, the long illness of the woman who managed the supermarket where my mother worked before I was born -- she didn’t move from her couch those last couple years -- the quiet in-his-sleep of my parents’ former across-the-street neighbor when they lived on West 25th before their house burned down and they moved where I was born. I asked my father why he paid attention. You get older and the people you know -- you want to see them one last time. All the time, these wakes, the berserk obituary pages, drafty spars blowing through the window when the days got shorter. My father coming into the living room wearing a suit, sometimes a fedora -- really the only times I ever saw him wearing a tie -- the business in his eyes. We’ll be back in a couple hours. Your mother and I are going to see the dead. His gray knuckles readjust his tie.



FIRST SHIFT, CONTINENTAL RUBBER WORKS


He came home slick with it,
back from work before his English
lessons. A squall in the kitchen,
something seared. Knowledge of stink
even when the window was cracked.
Smokestack couple blocks away
going all the time, an angel chewing
its own folly, rock-hard in the cold,
oiled and ripened too long in the sun.
Rubber hoses, bicycle and car tires,
skinny ones on Model-Ts sticking
the mud until they knobbed
something solid. Rubber insulation

for Samuel Morse’s submarine cable,
New York Harbor, between the Battery
and Governor’s Island. Cracks
in the wire he patched with rubber,
Morse rowing along the channel --
the word slung into dashes and dots
from potter’s clay, black dust, and spittle.
Damp stagecoach passengers needed
waterproof clothing, their hands reached
for gloves: Samuel Morse unsealed the jar,
anointed himself. A one-eyed Jack
in a lightning storm, his glass insulators
along the railroad line to Baltimore.
He tapped the words What hath God
wrought!
along a wire wrapped in cloth
protected by two flat glass plates
rattled like saucepans in the wind,

pickling the air. He hung his clothes
in cellarways, my grandfather,
had to wear them again tomorrow.
His tantrum of rubber,
sap spinning the spokes of his eyes.
A wounded tree secretes it like butter.



© Tony Trigilio 2008

Rosanna Lee (NYC, USA): Two Poems

SHOOT THE FREAK

The Cyclone rattled its last rat a tat tat
Roller coaster shudder two decades ago.
The skeleton still stands as testament to a bygone
Jewish, New York era.
The construction crane demolished the
The last, wiry matchstick remains.
Because at night, it swayed and made
A sing song noise that made them
Think it would crash one night and kill someone.
The last ligaments brushed away!

Today no one goes to see the freak show. The bearded lady
and somnambulist have shaved and awoken.
The Siamese twins are severed and killed.
Cut the baby in half and the real parent will speak up.
The Wisdom of Solomon is the new freak show.
It's the real parents screaming cut them, kill one, and leave
Me a normal baby for chistsakes!

Even the circus died. No one's amazed anymore.
The Norwegian trapeze artists and gypsies keep
up this desperate legacy of their sad parents.
The ringmaster parodies himself in mocking bravado.
The elephants stink and are crusty and march in unending circles
with beautiful, glittering ladies who do not seem to exist
even though they're straddling beasts.
Professor Sascha talks to the animals with a long whip, magic!
But the white horses leaping really are so beautiful, tame and wild.
The big tent droops; the crystal ball dulls to wood.

One night a child goes to the circus carnival for the last time.
He fingers the illusion and all the players congeal into waxy ice.
Feather Woman in mid-flip above the net, tiger tamer with his head
in the mad kitty's jaws, the clown mid-tumble with his
Shiny shoes on the dusty ground.


BOBBY

they lined the bridges for you,

the rusty depots, the
parched earth – they stood
packed together, lining
the locomotives parallel tracks

they stood stalwart for you
awed, stupefied, not
too many tears in the
dust, there was just
too much dust

and your train chugged without a sound
to what sane and sacred end was left
one day we'll grow up, Bobby.

Is it as the Buddhists say, Bobby? And bits
of you are dispersed in sunflower seeds
and dandelion roots – or are you
with the Christians and St. Peter?

We laid lilacs for Lincoln and
for you Bobby, we laid down
everything and just never
picked it back up.


© Rosanna Lee 2008

Mary Walker Graham (Boston, USA): Three Poems

[THE STORY’S IN THE BROKEN SHELLS]


The story's in the broken shells, the fissures
of the rocks. The water left those cracks.
And it was the sea that rocked; that sang
its story of self or selves. I said,
You see me? And it did:
the sea saw.

I'm lying. It was a river
that ran nearest us, and all that night
I dreamt of alkali, dissolve.
That's why I say the sea, I like the salt.


THEN & NOW


I couldn't be more or less than I was then,
could I? But like a person, thought I could.

Standing beside the picnic table—
beside myself—mimicked hands, hello, and mouth.

Said yessir, pleasesir, thankyou—I watched
the boats go south. I waved goodbye, dutifully. I bore

the empty wine bottle to the basket, shoo-ing flies.
But all day he'd been leaning—mast and pole—

he had us cleaning the underside of the belly,
all along the bulwark and the bow. I had tools then,

didn't I? Steel wool, toothbrush, tar. Once
I tarred a roof, rewired a house. I was small;

I could fit into crevices. But only like a person.
I was a child: rest and enervation. I could as easily

lie down now in rows of soybeans, as against
the plaid flannel of your shirt, smelling of gasoline.


ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER IN WINTER


So many Marys grieving by the river
that I have to cover my ears
to shut out the sobbing and hear,

as if for the first time,
the long low sound of the water
and the train just beginning

to round the bend and blow
its way through the dark tunnel.
How many times I've sat

in summer: considered the chicory,
drawn the blue bridge flung
from bank to bank, or wondered

the names of the red flowers,
their throats like trumpets.
How many times I've not

given in to the weeping:
I can almost see her—the one
who lifts the Potomac mud

to her face and smears,
as if it were a balm and not
the original problem,

or the one with the bucket of fish:
she should return them but that would mean
letting them slip, silver and whole,

finally cast out. I'd rather
let them wander in the maples,
cold and insistent and crying.

I should swim somehow—wait
for spring; I've been waving
to that other a long time,

the one who wears the red
and not the blue scarf.


© Mary Walker Graham 2008

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