Joy

He hiccups a laugh like

a schoolchild on the monkey bars

when his eyes find a wingspan

as far-reaching as his smile.

He can’t help but marvel,

this boy, who catches my gaze before it returns

to a more dangerous playground–my mind,

where worries climb and what ifs clutch the chains,

swinging erratic and wild.

But he points at the slender beak of a hawk flying low,

and my wrinkled brow smooths over.

His wonder salves every burn, and calms the beating in my temples.

With him I dangle free, legs kicking towards the otherside

and my insides tickle with a different kind of spasm–joy.

The Biter

I remember Meghan was a biter. I’d come home from an afternoon of playing at her house with indentations, like little bridges all over my arms and face. My mom would ask, “Does Meghan bite you?” and I’d only nod back and forth sheepishly, covering the marks with my chubby pink fingers.

I remember one particular play-date with Meghan vividly. After preschool, I crossed the street to her house, hand in hand with my mother. We walked through Meghan’s front yard overgrown with sticker bushes and up the buckling front steps of the soggy porch. My mom rang the doorbell and we waited through the bustling of children and barking dogs for Meghan’s mom, Sandy, to open the door.

“Hi,” she said and without seeming to take a breath, she screamed back to Meghan that I had arrived. Our mothers exchanged pleasantries as I listened for Meghan’s footsteps, fast and light, down the staircase. She arrived flushed and feisty, squirming her way around her mother’s knees and grabbing my hand. “Let’s go upstairs!” she said, and we scampered off together, the matted, dingy rug burning my bare feet.

 

Her bedroom door, covered in Lisa Frank stickers, was ajar, revealing a flash of flowery walls. Meghan was one of three girls, so it was natural that she and her sisters should have a huge amount of clothes, makeup and dolls strewn about their room. I remember I always felt overwhelmed, being an only child with a sparsely furnished room all to myself, by the shear amount of pink sparkly clutter that obscured the floor.

“I’ll play mommy and you play daddy,” Meghan said, picking up one of her American girl dolls and shoving it into my hands. I complied as I always did with bossy girls, and cradled Felicity like a baby. We spent a minute sitting cross-legged on her floor when she said, “Okay, let’s go home, “ her curt blonde bob bouncing as she jumped up to go downstairs.

Once I’d made it to their den, I saw how she had padded the tiny closet under the stairs with pillows, sleeping bags, and the cushions from their dark green couch. Smiling in pride, she pushed me inside our “house!” and warned me to “be careful of Felicity’s head.“ She followed me in and then shut the door, like the front of a white kitchen cabinet, behind us.

“Okay. Now that we’re home, we can make babies.” I was taken aback. I had very little notion of where babies came from at the age of five, but I suspected that such a goal would be quite unworkable in the present situation.  As well, I knew that this mystery was one people didn’t like us kids to talk about. But she insisted, “I know where they come from. I’ll show you.” That she was so adamantly sure of herself, made me adamantly curious.

No sooner had I blinked then she took my arm and bit down, hard. Tears welled up in my eyes and bright red dashes arced up my forearm like a line of fire ants. “There,” she said, “It’ll be a girl.” Then, mouth agape, she went for my other arm. “Ouch!” I whined, using my legs to push away from her. I refused to accept that this was how I came to be born. But maybe it was? Like a snake she lunged at me, insisting that this was what her sister called “sex.”

At last, as she grabbed my long braid in her hands and put it in her mouth, I screamed. Her mother opened the door of the little closet, letting a swatch of light shaped like home plate on a baseball field. I squirmed away, arms dotted with tooth marks and face splotchy with tears. “What happened?” Sandy inquired, touching my head in a gentle way. All I could say was, “home!” as Meghan snarled that I had “no idea how to play daddy!”

Five minutes later the doorbell rang. Behind Meghan’s sticky, scratched front door, stood my mother. Seeing me upset, she knelt and held me close. I buried my face in the locks that curled softly around her temples.  Then, with a look of consternation, I lifted up the slippery sleeves of her raincoat, and examined her smooth, perfect arms.

keeps me alight

We lie face to face,

the contours of our bodies inked in counterpoint.

Each of us one curve of a candle’s flame,

holding close, between us just the vapor of sighs.

Thrills fill my veins with kerosene,

that mass of beating muscle ignites,

and my cheeks burn magenta.

His breath whistles while he sleeps,

a crackling campfire against my ear,

and my chest boils over

with a sweetness bright enough

to take away        shadows.

When I flicker, he steadies me,

and when I’m nothing but embers,

he keeps me alight in his arms.

Shirley Temple (revised)

Months since I’ve seen you, on an entirely flat day,

a waitress sets a Shirley Temple in front of me,

with that plump stemmed ruby on the top,

and my thoughts automatically bob back

to your glinting tongue, a Maraschino cherry,

and your sugar laugh that had stirred me

pink, bubbly, and

ecstatic.

My cheek clanking against my palm,

I had sipped every ounce of you in

savoring your effervescence,

my flouncing heartbeat, our warming cheeks,

until the waitress’s eyes had plead for a picture.

We had reached across the wooden chaperone,

frozen our grenadine grins and

waited.

Both of us paralyzed

by the first swallow of a sweet

that could hardly last the night.

drown again

remind me again

 

of that look in your eye

that panic from asphyxiation

then the joy

of inhaling epiphany instead,

 

show me how

your hands outstretch, and

how you gesture at the sky

for clarity

 

let me watch you struggle

and when you bob back up

don’t hide the gasp in your eye,

the greed for more

 

drown again

let it happen

 

but this time pull me under too

grab my hand,

steal my air

and I’ll search with you

 

for the only thing that

trumps these uncertain depths,

is being      without you

at the surface

A Mother’s Eulogy (A Persona Poem)

Straps sliding down my slender arms

unveil collarbones like kindling,

revealing me like the bare neckline of a Duchess.

I touch my hair, hard and oily like wax

and then put the pen to paper,

thinking of Peter, and the incomplete circles

he drew for wings on his Sunday school angels.

I smirk at the uncanny likeness between

Peter and these celestials,

bright beacons, arriving unpredictably,

Couriers with notes of love and gentleness,

just for my eyes.

My thoughts wander from the page to the window,

remembering the embers of hope that burned

when Peter was in my belly,

and how he emerged like a candlewick,

searing a hole in me that never healed,

and was never meant to.

Today the sidewalks bleed rain,

and hooded people pass in droves,

their dark shadows sending me searching.

Looking for light.

Looking for you, Peter.