Made in Detroit: Poems, page 8
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
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
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,” Poetsusa.com, 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,” Eco-Poetry.org, 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
“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.
Other author's books:
- Made in Detroit: PoemsGone to Soldiers: A NovelThe Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010Woman on the Edge of TimeSleeping With CatsThe Longings of WomenThe Cost of Lunch, Etc.: Short StoriesCircles on the Water
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