Made in detroit poems, p.8

Made in Detroit: Poems, page 8


Made in Detroit: Poems

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  Some of us are selfconscious,

  wearing muumuus and sweat

  shirts or layer over layer. Others

  seek clothes that show you off.

  My identity contains a streak

  of you. But sometimes I feel

  as if I walk around behind you

  like a person behind a parade

  float, just tagging along.

  Words hard as stones

  All the words I never spoke in time

  in the flashing moments when they

  could have, might have but didn’t—

  they follow me like vultures circling

  so that I know something rotten

  lies in the field. The apologies

  never delivered age in the dead

  letter office of the brain, yellowing.

  But the promises’ broken bits

  have worked their way into

  the mattress and poke my sleep,

  words I should never have said.

  Gossip, curses, whispers behind

  closed doors, in bed; words

  hurled in argument, justification,

  the stinging gnats of lies:

  sticky words, overpoweringly

  fragrant like lilies in a closed room,

  rancid, spiky. Such are words made

  flesh, made bread, made dagger.

  Absence wears out the heart

  Missing can be seen as a hole

  in the heart, that imaginary

  valentine where we store

  our emotions.

  Absence of someone loved

  can be a presence, a lack

  that whispers, that raises

  hair on your neck

  with fear of no return.

  Final absence is a black

  hole sucking your whole

  life into it unless

  you thrust it from you

  again and again and

  again, supper with the plate

  solemn as a moon;

  two a.m. waking to empty-

  ness louder than a shout;

  a voice you hear, but

  no one is speaking, ever.

  A republic of cats

  Nobody rules. They all

  take turns. I can never

  tell who will chase who

  playing war over the couch

  and chairs, round and

  round again until suddenly

  they stop as if a whistle

  blew in their heads.

  Five of them, aged fifteen

  to two. Who will curl

  together making one cushion

  of patchwork fur? Who

  will painstakingly lick

  a friend, washing and

  cuddling. Who will growl

  at their friend of last hour?

  The one rule is where each

  sleeps at night, their spot

  in the bed and with whom?

  It is written in bone.

  What do they expect?

  What traces have I left

  on all the bodies I have held?

  Do they remember my mouth?

  Let them forget.

  Some come like cats howling

  in the night for sex withheld.

  Some have gone from my mind.

  Their scent has drifted off.

  Some I remember with anger

  but that too runs down the drain.

  Maybe the sink is still dirty.

  Maybe the water is clean.

  I dream of none of them.

  I dream of my mother and cats.

  I dream of danger and hunger.

  I dream my dying.

  What prints do we leave

  on old lovers? Do they wash

  off or wear down? Sometimes

  they turn up expecting

  that I will be that girl they

  bedded, maybe they still

  see her smooth and willing.

  They find only me

  like an old oak rooted deep,

  like a cat who has learned

  where to find her food

  and where she will only starve.

  Decades of intimacy creating

  What we weave, day into night into day

  now and again, I’m sure looks lumpy

  rough burlap from the outside, but

  in its house like an oriole’s nest

  hanging from our sugar maple, we curl

  and coil and feed and doze together.

  We exchange dreams in the thick

  night. We pass tasks between us.

  We polish each other’s noses

  like doorknobs. We crawl into

  each other turning round and round

  like a cat making a place to sleep.

  A long marriage is a quiet epic

  full of battles won and lost and ended

  by treaties and half forgotten,

  of full-throated songs and whispered

  treatises, of wispy and rocky promises,

  of friendships that dried up like old

  apples stored too long and friendships

  with cycles of famine and plenty. Cycles

  of discovery exploring new islands, cycles

  of retreat back into the couple exploring

  each other’s strange core and familiar

  skin, making it new again and again.

  We used to be close, I said

  I gripped you like a speckled serpent

  sinewy, twisting in my tiring arms,

  finally breaking free to bite me.

  I thought us more alike than we

  ever were. In part we invented

  each other in a clouded mirror.

  We talked, oh long into the night

  but did we ever listen? What

  did we hear but our wishes?

  I gave and you graciously

  accepted and then I resented.

  When is my turn that never came?

  The turning came: the scorpion end

  with the poison sting in its tail.

  The polychrome egg of our friend-

  ship broke open and the rot within

  dyed the air mustard yellow. How

  long ago that embryo must’ve died.

  A wind suddenly chills you

  Unless illness sticks a knife in you

  between the ribs like a mugger

  from behind, you never imagine

  your death until your friends

  begin to die. There you are

  in a field suddenly stripped bare

  with a north wind sandpapering

  your skin and when you look

  around, where have all the flowers

  and bushes and prancing hares

  gone? Where are the quick

  foxes, the wandering butterflies?

  Even your dog at heel has passed

  under the soil and rain pours

  through him. Then you feel the skull

  pressing through your cheeks

  as if eager to expose itself

  like a flasher in the park.

  All the friends, the lovers,

  the cats and dogs with whom

  you shared rooms and beds—

  their memories bloom like ghost

  flowers brighter, more vivid

  than the remaining weeds that grow.

  Why she frightens me

  My old cat Malkah howls at night

  waking me. Sometimes I’m

  kind, get up and bring her

  to bed, pet and cuddle.

  Sometimes I’m pissed off

  chase her from the bedroom

  shut the door tight. I wonder

  what she is wanting in darkness

  when we are all in bed, when

  even the other cats sleep.

  She is frail, gets two kinds

  of medicine daily.

  I am not so frisky myself—

  arthritis in my knees

  from a tr
eadmill accident

  in a run-down gym.

  I think her howling scares

  me because I hear in it

  the vault of loneliness old

  age threatens to us all.

  That I could face not so much

  death but years of getting up

  in a silent house, pottering

  around talking to myself

  because there is no one

  to care any longer what

  I say and so my words

  dry up and turn to dust.

  My sweetness, my desire

  Pumpkin I call you, sweet

  and spicy pie. Mango

  juicy. Scotch bonnet hot.

  Dark chocolate. Espresso.

  Fresh squeezed orange

  juice thick with pulp.

  You come through for

  me time after time and

  again. Reliable as Old

  Faithful. Solid as granite.

  You always give me

  the gift of laughter.

  Whatever I love you try

  to love. What threatens me

  you stand on guard. We

  talk and we talk but it

  never wears out. Together

  we lay out a feast of love.

  They come, they go in the space of a breath

  We are told on certain days and nights

  the dead are close to us. Yet I find

  Shalimar perfume, cinnamon, roasting

  chicken can summon them, so that

  my grandmother stands just behind me,

  my mother sits at my vanity staring

  into her vanished face.

  If like Orpheus I try to turn to them,

  seize their presence, shuffle unanswered

  questions before them, cards on a table

  faceup, they wisp away like the scent

  that brought them. If I think of them,

  remembering a dress, a laugh rising

  like smoke to the ceiling

  they stay away. They come when

  they choose and leave so quickly

  I wonder if it happened. Sometimes

  I hear my mother’s voice behind

  me, commenting on my cooking,

  my clothing. Grandma has come

  like Eliyahu on Pesach,

  stood for a moment over the laden

  table and left again. Two of my cats

  came back to visit, ever so briefly.

  What do they want, these dead

  ones that never linger? They tease,

  perhaps, or have only as much energy

  as a candle that burns itself out.

  In storms I can hear the surf a mile away

  You may love the ocean. Never boring,

  always in motion, sliding up the shingle

  then sucked back in, waves with manes

  of white lions’ lashing at the shore, waves

  standing like a bear tearing at the dunes.

  You may love the ocean, but it does

  not love you back. It would as soon eat

  you as keep you afloat. Perhaps it

  loves the great whales, perhaps it

  likes walruses, but it’s always hungry.

  You may love the ocean like my friend

  who at eighty will go far out twice

  a day if he can get a tourist to pay

  his gas. He likes to be out of sight

  of land. The sea lurks under his boat

  waiting. The ocean is always beautiful

  here in all weathers it churns up. It

  does not approve of land and wants to

  take it back. Someday it will. Even

  the hill I live on: sandy bottom.

  Tides will stir the ashes of my mother

  and the tiny bones of my cats. My grave

  will be home to crabs. Who is to say

  that is not just that the sea take into

  itself what long ago it gave us.


  “Made in Detroit,” Napalm Health Spa, 2012.

  “The frontroom,” Paterson Literary Review, Vol. 39, 2011–2012.

  “Detroit, February 1943,” Third Wednesday, Vol. 2, Issue 2, Spring 2010.

  “Things that will never happen here again,” Poet Lore, Vol. 108, No. 1/2, Spring/Summer 2013.

  “Detroit fauna,” Third Wednesday, Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2011.

  “Family vacation to Yellowstone,” “Remnants still visible,” “Hard rain and potent thunder,” Connotation Press, Congeries with John Hoppenthaler, Vol. II, Issue IV, December 2010.

  “The rented lakes of my childhood,” Third Wednesday, Vol. 5, Issue 3, Summer 2013.

  “Thirteen,” “By the river of Detroit,” Third Wednesday, Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2011.

  “She held forth,” Paterson Literary Review, Vol. 39, 2011–2012.

  “The scent of apple cake,” “Ashes in their places,” San Diego Poetry Annual, 2012–13.

  “City bleeding,” “My time in better dresses,” Third Wednesday, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Winter 2014.

  “Mehitabel & me” is forthcoming in Long Island Sounds Anthology.

  “The street that was,” Fifth Wednesday, Issue 12, Fall 2012.

  “What my mother gave me,” “Ashes in their places,” San Diego Poetry Annual, 2011–12.

  “Our neverending entanglement,” The Pinch, Spring 2012.

  “Ashes in their places,” San Diego Poetry Annual, 2011–12.

  “January orders,” “We have come through,” The Poetry Porch, Spring 2013.

  “How I gained respect for night herons,” Elohi Gadugi Journal, Summer 2013.

  “The constant exchange,” Cape Cod Poetry Review, Vol. II, Winter 2014.

  “May opens wide,”, 2012.

  “Wisteria can pull a house down,” “The suicide of dolphins,” Atlanta Review, Spring/Summer, Vol. XX, Issue 2.

  “June 15th, 8 p.m.,” San Pedro River Review, Special Issue: Harbors and Harbor Towns, Summer 2013.

  “Ignorance bigger than the moon,” “Even if we try not to let go,” Ibbetson Street Press, No. 4, December 2013.

  “Little house with no door,” Broadkill Review, Vol. 7, Issue 4, July/August 2013.

  “Why did the palace of excess have cockroaches?” Haibun Today, Vol. 7, No. 3, September 2013.

  “There were no mountains in Detroit,” Haibun Today, Vol. 7, No. 11, December 2014.

  “But soon there will be none,” Paterson Literary Review, Issue 42, 2014–15.

  “Missing, missed,” Haibun Today, Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2014.

  “Death’s charming face,” Spillway, Issue 19, Fall 2012.

  “The frost moon,” Ibbetson Street, No. 31, Summer 2012.

  “December arrives like an unpaid bill,” Red Thread, Gold Thread, Vol. 2, 2012.

  “The poor are no longer with us,” “These bills are long unpaid,” Monthly Review, Vol. 64, No. 1, May 2012.

  “Don’t send dead flowers,” Revolution House, Vol. 2.1, April 2012.

  “A hundred years since the Triangle Fire,” Monthly Review, Vol. 62, Issue 11, 2011.

  “Ethics for Republicans,” On the Issues Magazine, Winter 2012.

  “Another obituary,” Ms. Magazine, April 2012.

  “What it means,” Monthly Review, Vol. 64, No. 4, September 2012.

  “How have the mighty …” Tryst, October 2010.

  “We know,”, November 2013.

  “The passion of a fan,” Literary Arts Annual, 2013.

  “In pieces,” So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, 2013.

  “Ghosts,” Monthly Review, Vol. 65, March 2013.

  “One of the expendables,” Cape Cod Times, May 28, 2013.

  “Let’s meet in a restaurant,” Visions International, Winter 2014.

  “Come fly without me,” Ibbetson Street, No. 28, November 2010.

  “Hope is a long, slow thing,” The Progressive, Vol. 76, No. 12/1, December 2012
/January 2013.

  “The late year,” Midstream, September/October 2002.

  “Erev New Years,” Midstream, Summer 2011.

  “Head of the year,” The ’98 Lunar Calendar, September 1998.

  “Late that afternoon they come,” Midstream, Vol. 58, Summer 2012.

  “The wall of cold descends,” Spillway, Issue 19, Fall 2012.

  “How she learned,” Prism, Journal for Holocaust Educators, Vol. 3, Spring 2011.

  “Working at it,” Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Vol. 9, 2013.

  “The order of the seder,” Midstream, Vol. 50, No. 3, April 2004.

  “The two cities,” Tikkun, Israel at 60, May/June 2008.

  “Where silence waits,” Moment, 2011.

  “I say Kaddish but still mourn,” Poetica Magazine, Summer 2012.

  “Little diurnal tragedies,” Sugar Mule, Issue 39, November 2011.

  “The next evolutionary step,” New Guard Literary Review, Vol. III, 2014.

  “That was Cobb Farm,” december magazine, Vol. 25.2, Fall/Winter 2014.

  “They meet,” Third Wednesday, Winter 2013.

  “A cigarette left smoldering,” Potomac Review, 2013.

  “Discovery motion,” “Different voices, one sentence,” Softblow, January 2012.

  “Sun in January,” Muddy River Poetry Review, Fall 2013.

  “Little rabbit’s dream song,” “Cotton’s wife,” Ibbetson Street, No. 31, Summer 2012.

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