Poetry

Carapace

Whose fault is it
I struggle
to rip out
the metal cage
of childhood fear
that grew around
my hopeful heart

Its metal mail
nearly absorbed
cripples the pump
capacity to my brain
and crumbled
rusty habits of feeling
battle to remain

I falter
rushing ahead
when talking
corrosion disconnects
gray matter
from my ever
too quick tongue

Skin transformed
to armor
crushes my backbone
with perambulation
clearly unpredictable
I list a little
when walking

The doctors say
I need more iron
But that is suicide
My heart still loves
inside its prison
“Its inside is bigger
than its outside”

 

Edited Carrie, Grandma & Me

(Top photo of eastern box turtle by Casey Greider; bottom photo of my sister and me with my grandmother in front of the county children’s home)

 

Standard
Poetry

Iris

(i)

One winter evening
San Diego at dusk
after pacing the cold
linoleum floor for hours
My mother weirdly
stuffs me and my sister
into woolen coats
itchy hats and mittens
Drags us into the raw wind
to the nearest bus stop
When safely perched
behind the driver
I get up on my knees
and put my mouth against
her perfumed silky scarf
I breathe into her ear
“Where are we going?”
She puts her soft
tobacco scented finger
to my mouth
“Shhh…” she whispers
and mutters something goofy
I get scared
My stomach hurts

…This reminds me of the time
we walked circles in
a little grocery store
but couldn’t buy stuff
We stayed until dark
way past closing
The owner had to put us out
He asked if there was
anyone he could call
Mom was so afraid
to walk past the church
on the way home
A monstrous cathedral
Thought the devil was going to
jump out and grab her
An excommunicated Catholic
since being divorced…

Two hours later
it’s completely dark
and we’re still riding
the same bus
Susie and me jump across
to the opposite seat
As the bus empties
every few stops
we hop back and forth
not even annoying Mom
She looks very far away
Mostly we stare at
passing cars
neon bar signs
and closing shops
Entranced by
red tail lights in the
lucky cars ahead of us
My little sister whines
“I gotta potty!”
Mom blurts out even louder
“Let’s go to Auntie Bev’s!”
Her sister is newly wed
to Uncle Carlo
They live in the old
Little Italy
Grandpa calls him a
“wop lawyer”

(ii)

Carlo welcomes us into suffocating
warmth and aromas
Marinara and Italian sausage
simmering on his mother’s stove
She lives upstairs
“Beverly isn’t here. She and
Joanne are out bar hopping
and trying all the Big Boys
for the perfect strawberry pie.
It’s the new craze.”
He has a high nasal voice
I stare at black curly hair
smiling dark brown eyes
and heavy five o’clock shadow
Carlo’s rolling up his sleeves
a now wrinkled white dress shirt
Mom was clearly agitated
Entered then quickly emerged
from the hall closet
with her coat still on and buttoned
“Hitler’s in there with Stalin.
They told me to kill
the Negro Communists upstairs.”
I watch her for a long time
Search Carlo’s face
wondering how he’ll help her
But he’s waiting for my aunties
to provide a distraction

So in they burst all smiles
and tipsy laughter
From one hand
Bev drops jangling car keys
into her new jacket pocket
In the other
she balances her treasure
for Carlo
A perfect slice of pretty pie
Giant sliced strawberries in a
red gelatin glaze topped with
a dollop of whipped cream
still neatly peaked on top
“Jo, why don’t you take the kids
to watch television.”

Soon there’s a commotion
So I peek out the living room door
Two men in white coats
wrestling with my
betrayed mother
struggling to put her
into a straitjacket
Then without looking back
she leaves us again
I already know
we’re headed for
the children’s home
or some new foster parents
“The girls can stay here tonight.”
Carlo insists but Bev counters
“Just tonight.
We haven’t the room.”
I wanted to grow up fast right then
and take Mom to my own house

(iii)

Carlo’s father was first generation
Sicilian-American with a
shiny new taxicab
and paper bags of numbers
to send his son to law school
Carlo worked for free
or took fresh produce
brake jobs or new tires as payment
He defended Mom in court when
she slapped a kid tormenting Susie
Whenever he saw Mom
smiling and sane or
sick and mumbling
walking downtown
He’d yell, “Hey Iris!
How about a cup of coffee?”
We never could keep track of her
Always picking up and packing off
to only God knew where
We wondered why He
didn’t change her
She needed to take care
of Susie and me

At night Carlo drove downtown
to pick up racing forms
After I graduated we went
to Del Mar track
to play the horses
He also played poker
One cigar reeking night
lost the deed to their
new house in the suburbs
Later won it back
That house with the big bathroom
Smelled like gold Dial soap
And the summer I lived there
each morning over the sink
I very quietly stirred
baking soda in a glass
Trying not to clink
the metal spoon
Drank it quickly
to stop my morning sickness
before I told my boyfriend
I was pregnant

(iv)

Carlo got involved in politics
and Auntie Bev divorced him
But it was his own friends
who set him up and
took him down
Legally of course
Then diabetes, heart attack
and coma
But at the very end
before he slipped into
final dreams
I sent him a Thank You card
“For all your many kindnesses”
A few months later
Iris bolted and barred the door
to her room in the boarding house
She set out her
uncashed welfare checks
Pointed the new rifle she bought
and blew up her own heart
Next morning when
she didn’t show
the young caretaker couple
noticed her missing and worried
Because Iris was always
the first one to wake up
and make coffee
for everyone

strawberry-pie-slice-whipped-cream-picture

Both photos in the public domain

Standard
Poetry

Consider the Lilies

Autumn

Barn swallows
puff up
and huddle
atop our cottage roof
sated with a summer
feast of mosquitoes
Cool morning mists
shroud their migration

Grapevines bare
their sleeping limbs
and russet colored
leaves fall beneath
a harvest moon
But scattered among
that leafy blanket
frosted purple grapes
burst and weep perfume

Winter

A solitary blue jay
that squawking sentinel
guards the snow-laden
gates to the woods
A brilliant cardinal  
pauses
garment aflame
Then flits over cedars
where tiny sparrows
shelter from the wind

Spring

Melodious
in the pond
thawing frogs
croak frantically
Look skyward
calling down the night
and sing to Orion
on his ever silent crossing

One night we ran
with the mayfly hatch
frenzied and free
dodging trees
And just before dawn
three lonely loons
called for each other
across twin lakes

Summer

Seven golden ones
honey combed
and milky breasted
Seven children
made a home
a sacred garden
Laughing little gods
on their greenest beds

At twilight
fireflies darted
their farewell flicker
among the leaves of the
black maple tree
Tiny stars
and dancing children
together beneath
an end-of-summer moon

Barn-Swallows-a-Tree-Swallow-1024x768

Both photos in the public domain, no attributions found

 

Standard
Poetry

Crucible

What scene did she make?
The one we can’t
cut her out of
but not
It’s a Wonderful Life
a story written by
others
An orphan
she married the musician
artist and writer
Escaped into his script

He took work in the foundry
Forged a family
Kissed her with
factory blistered lips
Caressed her
with calloused hands
Sang her songs
Wrote her poems
After their day jobs
had captive all-nighter
utopian longings

Two roads converged
Their children grew confused
ignored
and tossed between
his creative soaring heart
and smouldering rage
against The Man
Unpublished work
engraved his closed walls
His genius wrapped in a shroud
of secrets and poverty
She began plying peace
at any price
Weary of schemes

Then left
and she could breathe
Found the right words
Heard
her children’s dreams
Saw their gold
cast pure and radiant
Told her amazed
new literary friends
who asked her
What scene did you make?
Being no martyr no hero
in that bed she’d made
simply said
I should have made one

 

children waves

Photos courtesy Flickr Creative Commons (top by Lance Cheung, bottom by Giuseppe Tripodi)

Standard
Poetry

Poiesis: The Words

Always chasing them
On and off the clock
at work
Notebook in my pocket
on the park bench
Or in the kitchen
waiting for water to boil
stirring in the pasta
My daughter says
‘Mom, you’re not listening
You have that faraway look’
They collaborate
behind my eyes
At night whispered
into my husband’s ear
He says
‘I love their sound
Lull me to sleep
Keep talking’
But they ambush me
I’m wide awake

Standard