Before the Funeral
The orange juice is grey. My father keeps
calling me Mary. (His youngest sister’s name.)
Every five minutes the newsprint swirls
beneath his eyes. We look away, out
the kitchen windows to the aftertaste
of snow along the sidewalk. Gravel, rock
salt, and the rust-edged grass between the cracks
like stubble. My brother slurps the purpled milk
left on his cereal spoon. Nobody tells him
to stop. My mother moves between us,
fastening. I reach down and touch the place
where the nail polish has hardened to my leg,
to stop the run. I have been caressing it—
for how long now? My fingertip is numb.
Mornings of rocks thrown at the sea.
The rib-ache reaches toward ridge
of shoulder blade, burrows under
collar bone, curls down arm
hinge-honing, leaving only the heft
of denser stone, damp of salt-gnawed palms.
Men arrive with the tide, tilting
under poles and buckets, staking rod-holders
in the sand at sensible distances;
they linger, guarded over rig-tying,
stitch hooks through clam bellies,
crouched before the prayer of first cast.
Grains that glisten in the lifelines
and cling, even plunged clean.
I’m tired of you people saying I don’t know what I’m doing.
Now it’s not just the ones who were never gonna learn,
it’s some of the rest. I told you I know what it’s like,
I know you need to sleep at night, you need
to buy things for your family. I’m keeping that open.
You understand it’s a turmoil here, we’re in a struggle.
You know, it’s a tug of war. Like the carnival,
and we’ve gotta keep the candy corn stocked. I mean,
you go expecting cotton candy, right? What happens
if someone turns mean on one of your kids?
You run him out of town. We’ve got an understanding.
Beans to bacon, I’m telling you. We’re not gonna rest
until everyone’s on the right side, till we’ve sorted it out.
If someone you knew got tangled up—
well what were they doing over there?
We want to give you the opportunity to stay
as close as you can. We want you to flourish, and flower,
and in kind for you and yours. It’s a proud thing, being a part.
What I’m missing is a voice for me.
To say what I think, what I disagree.
Also a box to stuff my disappointments and movie stubs.
I’m sure I flubbed it when I introduced myself—
Maybe the answer is stop eating butter.
That one thing and I’m sure I’d look leaner.
I’m seriously angry about the wars, etc.
But the TV never listens. Lying here
I can feel the smoothness of the bat
and me up there. Then I cream it, right
in the sweet spot, you know? And it drives
over their heads, the wall, the park, it just goes.
Bombs and black bombs at sunset,
at dawn. Your leader counted on
your distraction, and he was right.
Yes, he lied—who doesn’t?
I haven’t tried breathing in years.
My kids, they do it anyway,
They’re fearless with the street,
fire and car alarm and keening.
The three bones of their skull met in these sounds.
I make bread as usual
regardless of the curfew.
Someday, when all this is over, I’ll make you some.
It will be in a restaurant, of course.
You’ll smile and want to see into my soul.
You’ve told all your friends about this place.
Just sinking your fingers into it feels like atonement.
Woman at the Well
She’s holding up a piece of shiny plastic,
rasping “Where’s the bottle for this top?”
IMPATIENCE $10 A POT, replies the sign
outside the T. Red earmuffs over coffee,
Reverend Larry Love waits out April
jazzless. He has been the only clergy
in your life for quite some time now. Missing:
his powder blue band uniform, the tall
white marching hat with pom-pom and elastic
chinstrap, the roller skates that wheel in spring!
Everyone who drinks here will be thirsty again.
Valentines for John Berryman
Greedy I grabbed all the berries I could carry
and held them home till the stain wrote my palms.
To get hold of the best, you have to pinch
between the thorns and pull back.
Get deeper in, stabbed and stuck,
it’s punctured work the bloody berries.
Like the ones that thrive under the overpass,
shade-taught. Your ear cocked between each carload, gone.
“Don’t be too difficult at first.” Humble, mumble,
what’s the point?
You fisted it into a line, stuffed it in your grasp,
crunched, chomped like a bear. The roots come out
in your underwear.
Sledding, the pricker bush dove at my lip
and gave me my first virgin loss against the new snow wood.
Here you go, reenacting again. He falls for the—
how many times is it now? When will Veronica come?
Cherish is a word I use not lightly.
The best berries will prick you up before you get to them.
Upward stick ‘em!
Then there’s the odd one, waiting in the sun,
that no one noticed. Pick.
You don’t it won’t live longer.
Rather fall than be eaten, rather dive than be saved.
Dove, dove, the wood awaits.
*Artwork: Oil on canvas series, Tina Feingold