[Section 5 ]
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46 John J. Percivalle Walmart Parking Lot Christmas
48 Pit Menousek Pinegar Cleaning the Basement with my Daughter
49 Charles Rafferty West Virginia
51 Jody Reed Holes
53 Russell Rowland My Daughter the Napkin
54 Danielle Sellers Counting Mississippi
55 Dana Sonnenschien Aunt Fern’s Birds
58 John Terenzi Ariadne Dreams VI
The Back Garden
59 Richard Tietjen Independence Day 1959
Wal-Mart Parking Lot, Christmas
The glint of the box cutter drew my eye,
then her voice: Doesn’t fucking deserve it.
At first I thought she was securing the tree
to the car top, but an angry slash at the twine
told otherwise. Fucking two-timer.
Before I could help, the tree was down with a thud
and propped against a carriage rack,
garlands of twine in manic loops.
You want it, take it. Won’t do me no good.
When she jumped in the car
I braced for back-up lights
and a tortured tire squeal,
but she emerged trailing a store receipt
that she impaled on the tree.
Then she cleared out
as quickly as her exhaust ghost.
In thick pencil strokes the receipt read,
Don’t come home!
exclamation point slashed clear through.
Boyfriend I was sure,
would be back shortly
finishing up the cigarette he shared
with the young cashier out back,
but I couldn’t wait.
Days later I returned
to pick up what I neglected that afternoon.
There stood the tree, a kind of roadside memorial
to holidays gone bad, I suppose.
Many pilgrims had come
bearing store receipt ribbons,
six-pack ring icicles
and plastic shopping bags,
balled and looped over branches.
A greasy red scarf coiled from the top,
ended at the note, its frayed edge like fingers reaching.
As I walked into the store
I remembered a story I had heard after 9/11
of a woman who couldn’t bear to reclaim
her dead husband’s car from the train station.
For weeks it sat, covered in candles,
letters and photographs,
yellow ribbons and palm crosses.
They towed it away just before Christmas.
Cleaning the Basement with my Daughter
Hey, I shout through dust and the clatter of a lifetime,
I found a box of your father’sletters.
I know, she says, I’ve read them.They’re pretty boring.
I thought they’d belove letters.
We weren’t a couple yet, I say. I don’t think they’re boring.
I guess it’s all in what you expect, she says.
I was expecting romance. I want to tell her that came later,
lasted a long time, might have lasted forever,
though it didn’t. I want to tell her everything I know
about romance, about love: that after the first
adventures and leaps of faith, it all comes down to curiosity
and kindness. Curiosities satisfied and satisfied,
and in their place, always something new to wonder about:
why the hair on only one forearm whorls,
the depth and shadows of old sorrow, what he’ll say about
this movie, that book, what that will tell me
about who he is, what new unknown will come from that.
And kindness: determined refusal to use anything
you discover to cop an advantage—the ultimate kindness,
it’s failure deadly.
So what do I do with this history? I ask my daughter.
Give it back to him, she says. Those letters
are who he was. They don’t have much to do with you.
I wonder if she’s found the love letters
in the attic and what she’d suggest I do with them.
That’s where we tumbled from the hotel bar
to see a comet overhead
like a chip of fog in the sequined dark.
Our first comet. But where was the tail?
The wagging flames? What future
could this inspire? It was hard to see
how it could frighten a continent
or be blamed for any of history.
Somewhere within a block’s radius
a magnolia tree was blooming,
the unmistakable stink of beauty.
We finished our drinks and kissed our way
to bed. Early the next day, we headed back
for Connecticut—the sun unrisen,
the magnolia scent still splashing
the air like a recently ripped-up skunk.
The comet stayed with us for weeks
slowly brightening as it climbed
into the horizon. Strange how it never
exceeded the grandeur
of that first night in West Virginia,
however paltry it might have then seemed.
It is the same with love and death, I think—
the powerful talisman
of the first nude woman or the first empty bed,
how we can’t stop sleeping with either.
After the birth of our first daughter
my friends called from the top of Colorado.
Two time zones away, it was still light
on Mt. Elbert—the only storm
still distant, the temperature holding.
They said they might have an hour
before things got dangerous. They were
giddy. They said their view wasn’t possible
back east. (Someone was opening wine
in the background.) They said they would
climb back down, that they would hunker
in tents where the trees began again.
It was dark outside my own window,
the blaze of autumn maples invisible,
the baby crying from another room
for my wife’s delicious body. I was straddled
by small mountains. My friends
had no children of their own, and didn’t
understand how hard I took their call.
A job that didn’t love me waited
at the end of the driveway—pinned
on the slope of something
that seemed to have no summit.
A peep hole in a blue front door
in Swiss cheese and my right shoe
holes in socks
and my favorite jeans warm from the dryer
the hole in a ring or link of chain
In a shirt—
fifty-nine percent cotton
forty percent rayon
one percent hole
Holes in ears, eyebrows
belly buttons and tongues
Holes in my grandmother’s orange afghan
a loop hole a hole in an alibi
the black hole a hole in the ozone layer
in a family one in the ground
A cow a mud puddle
three in a notebook
a hole in one
one in my homework
In the little framed rectangle
of old 45’s played backwards
where ski slope orange
slides over lifts of red and yellow
where eyes stare into eyes
a car wreck—in my steel box
Where objects may appear closer then what they are
it’s a doorway to closed infant lids and open mouths
or the agent who found criminal fingerprints
two blue lines
It’s the place where fog hits when breath makes contact with glass
and on rainy nights
bright lights will follow close behind
It’s distance equals rate multiplied by time
but not speed equaling distance over time
It’s the noise of trains falling off tracks
when wheels forget to roll
and steel is slammed shut
all mirror images seem to disappear
My Daughter, the Napkin
Colleen is cast, in Beauty and the Beast
at the University, as A Napkin.
With other Napkins, she explores
her motivation for the dinner scene.
Is it not to guard a ladylike bodice,
a gentlemanly codpiece, from
any slip of spoon or sharper utensil
that’s consequence of Original Sin?
Or, simple payback for many years
growing up at our table, her damask
on the floor, my reproachful eyes
downcast? Become what was spurned.
Onstage, she will signify everything
gracious and of good report: Gardens
of Versailles, Couperin sonatas
de chiesa, the complete Voltaire;
all who cast down cloaks before queens,
who appreciate excellence as of old:
ballerina’s ankles, castles built to last,
dishes washed and dried, Dad’s poetry.
I peeked around the doorframe. My grandma was still,
slouched in the same position for one whole day now.
Over the phone, the nurse asked me to count
the seconds between her breaths. She said
the pauses would lengthen, the measures grow faint, then stop.
At first, there were ten Mississippis between each breath,
then twelve, then nine. It was late. I wouldn’t sleep.
I laid on the couch in the living room, staring
at the Memphis news, then Leno’s muted chuckles,
I learned how to patch a roof, the history
of beer. Infomercials from the 80s—
I’d seen them all before. Those Friday nights,
some fancy torte of hers would keep me up
shaking my foot and tossing my long hair,
I’d listen to her sleeping next to me.
After Dynasty, after Falcon’s Crest,
Miami’s news, the Johnny Carson show,
the ads began: the clapper, chia pets
and hover rounds. The late-night crowd is old,
they want to stay around. Some twenty years
since then, in Oxford, Mississippi now,
I listened to her breath catch, thought it might be
the last a hundred times. I wanted sleep.
I thought of that weenie roast at her house
in 1987, playing hide and seek
with my Biloxi cousins—we wore masks—
Fat even then, I was Cat-girl sans the tights.
I hid in the foyer behind the gold lamé
mirror and no one found me. I peed myself.
She gave me clean underwear, black panty hose.
I was through with counting states, alone. At dawn
she was taking forty seconds between breaths.
Two days since her last response. I lost count,
had to wait for her to inhale again.
She wore her rattiest gown. My mother cried.
Grandma’s breath became a rattled, bubbly snore.
I laid down on the bed with her. Her hand
already cold. She was technical,
administered to. The nurse slipped morphine between
her pallid gums, she was dead weight wheezing--
I counted fifty-three. She gasped three times
in short succession and no more.
Aunt Fern’s Birds
She called the neighborhood
magpies and scrub jays “dirty birds,”
but she liked the factory porcelain,
hand-painted artifacts her sister,
my mother, does not wish to dust.
So I inherit dozens of hummingbirds,
bluebirds, robins, chickadees, cardinals,
finches, orioles, even blue jays
that meant we don’t know what
to a working-class woman who spent
her entire life in one city—
perhaps that she could buy anything
she wanted, perhaps that her husband
loved her this much. I still flip past
those ads in magazines, the monthly
installments, shipping, handling,
birds on branches where they
would never be seen, the scale off,
a swan in spring with her cygnets,
forced lilies, autumn-dark cattails—
at her feet, bright moss instead of mud,
a world without dirt or all the labor
that pays for these petrified dreams.
The stories I could tell you
about Trailways, the old man said.
Pecos is the most beautiful place,
I had my grandson buried there.
Year-round is water in streams
and ditches, agua linda.
Winters there, en invierno, I'd open
the doors to the patio, hang chamois
on the trees: my garden was a tent.
One day I came out, and the Father,
Padre Loco, was sitting on my bench,
feeding a rabbit. So still he sat,
holding a leaf in his hand, quieto,
like the creature. He’d been sick.
For two years the Father couldn't
say Mass, but this he knew. I said,
Padre, we don’t go to hospitals
when we’re sick. We have no money.
Where do you go?
To the healing church at Chimayo,
San Juan de la Porta. It’s not so far.
Take me there.
Spain sent her priests to our mountains
for hundreds of years,
but a prayer in Chimayo is enough,
I know. We were a long time
in the church, then Padre Loco
touched my arm to ask for subrogato,
someone to speak for him;
this person has to be pure in faith.
So I went out and found a woman
hanging the wash in her yard;
I gave her thirty-five dollars,
all I had. She brought out her boy,
a little niño, and I said,
The Father has lost his faith,
he cannot ask for himself,
can you pray for him?
The boy nodded, he said he did this
for his friends at school, and, once,
for a logger, pinned under a tree
and drunk on the mescal.
The father cried out: Your hand burns me.
All night on the bus,
the old man talked of missions, mesas,
and piñon trees, the land-grant wars,
the station wagon Padre Loco drove
too fast for an ambulance.
Once he winked, smiled, and said,
Why, I’m half-darkie myself.
I thought of heat, how the sun
burns out even the red offerings
of plastic roses, and the body drops
away from wounds, and the mind
leaves flesh to itself to heal,
to scar. He turned a phrase
in Spanish, in English,
as if that music could change our past.
But who can ask for herself?
Who can speak for another?
Dusty, down at heel,
and far from his blessed Pecos,
he leaned across the aisle, touched
a palm against my forehead.
Be well, he said.
V. The Back Garden
It was the plants in the back of the garden
That interested her—the few only the gods saw.
When they strolled there, hand in hand
They traded secrets: how deep
To bury the roots, how to train the vines,
Where to prune, when to harvest.
Gods and priestesses. A god
And priestess. They laughed
At the dinners they could create—the meals
Until dawn, the plants for drinking.
Of course, up front were the grapes
As everyone has come to expect
But here, behind the gates
Were the plants from the other gods:
Barley, rye, the agave plant.
Ariadne’s dreams were vivid that evening—
The sensations inched down her spine,
Lingered: this island would be home.
Brusing sensations against a placid heart:
She imagined then sending Theseus away,
Clouding his mind, darkening his sails.
Independence Day, 1959
Time is a lie. It happens when we're sleeping.
They were always mending things
Partly thrift. But more
The story was Aunt Peggy
They put us kids in the parade.
Evidently I got old.