Memory and Closets

 

Memory and Closets

1

She came with the house.
A skull, spinal column, ribcage, tibia,

scapula – the list goes on, not quite to 206,
even including an extra lumbar vertebra.

Edna (long story) attended Halloween parties
and convivial gatherings, dressed in finery.

Silk suited her best, with linen falling just
behind. And hats! That green fedora,

like a parrot perched on a smiling egg,
never spoke, but stirred the conversation.

2

Old boots, worn left heel explaining the damaged meniscus.
Portable record player. Scratched vinyl.
Shopping bag of VHS tapes. Two empty scotch bottles.
The 30-year old suit that hasn’t been worn in 28 years.
Yellowed newspaper clippings of diet recipes.
The lost carton of wrapping paper.
A cheap guitar case, sans guitar.

3

If memory could speak, what would it not say?

Who else has rubbed this dust across his skin?

Only death is irrevocable.

In this darkness I find you.

Fearing withdrawal, we grow closer.

Things, and more things.

Everything we need travels with us.

Always.

 

* * *

This was originally drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and subsequently published in The Quiet Letter in April 2017. It’s original title, sponsored by Darryl Williams, was “Cleaning Out Closets in Anticipation of Moving Closer to Children.”

You can find The Quiet Letter’s 2018 interview with me here.

Forgotten

 

Forgotten

Is it simply forgotten
or not remembered?

My father coughs
through his days,

asking for answers
only his brother knows.

Some books are better
read from the end,

he says. I don’t know
what to do.

He tries to spell his name
but the letters elude him,

teetering between symbol
and thought and choice.

The chair tips over
when I lean too far back,

replacing memories
with hardwood

and a new bruise
coloring my thoughts.

This word, that one.
A face, the date.

Last Tuesday’s crumb.
The floor accepts us all.

 

* * *

“Forgotten” first appeared in ISACOUSTIC* in January 2018.

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local

 

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local
(A collaborative poem written with Stephanie L. Harper)

Having plucked the disheveled
petals from the core,
she waits
for the dead to speak
of last week’s sweetness—

of damp upholstery
and worn-out shoes,
of locked chests
and the faint honey
of unrealized hope.

Magnetized,
I twist the stem;
I quarter the seeds and
blemish the plate.
Which north rings true?

Which faded-red
bridge reveals the lost
inner compass?
Our ice cubes clink
no answers, as the essences

of hibiscus, lavender,
and mint slip over my tongue,
concealing the cool
tang of her demurring
ghosts…

But when she says whisper,
touching her lips
with an index finger,
I hear distant trains
baying like wolves,

and smell the char of nights
trailing the undiminished
river, its waters flowing
in every possible
direction, away.

 

* * *

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local” first appeared in Formidable Woman Sanctuary in November 2018. For the story behind the poem, click on the link.

Recording of “The Body Gives”

 

The Body Gives

Sometimes the body gives too much.
A tendon frays, the heart mumbles
and no one sees the damaged parts.

Ignoring pain, we continue climbing ladders,
sandpaper breath rasping the morning light.

Little bits of us crumble all the time,
yet we stumble on, pretending.

Then the body kills us with its enthusiasm.

Cells duplicate wildly, plaque explodes.
This enmity within? Defensive maneuvers.

Working alone, I wonder where I might end.

On the floor. In a field. Atop the bed.
Under the surface of a rippling pond
or drifting with smoke

through a snow-clad afternoon
at eight thousand feet. Among
the grocery’s tomatoes and squash
approaching the end of a long list.

At the bar, glass in hand, or in a truck
at a four-way stop, the radio blaring.

Time enough for speculation, they say.
But I wonder: when I jump,

does the earth always rise to greet me?

 

* * * *

“The Body Gives” first appeared in The New Reader Magazine, in March 2018.

 

Chilled Soba

Chilled Soba

I am not
philosophical
today,

but hunger
concerns me.
Oh, not

real hunger
but a desire
to consume.

Afternoon
chews morning.
Evening

swallows afternoon.
Morning digests
night. And I,

slurping chilled
soba with
pickled ginger

and scallion,
wonder which verb
my days will choose.

 

 

“Chilled Soba,” first appeared in Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature in November 2018. I am grateful to the editors for accepting my poem.

 

 

Bread

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Bread

That year we learned the true language of fear.
I baked boule and you haunted medical sites.

You said to arrive I must first depart
or be willing to suffer self-awareness. Let’s not

mention our pact just yet. My basic boule requires a
Dutch oven, 20 ounces of flour, water, yeast and salt.

At twenty I learned the finer points
of sausage-making, how to butcher chicken, and

that your hair smelled like dawn’s last flower.
Back then we owned the night. Now I harvest

wild yeast and sharpen pencils, make to-do lists,
pour Chianti, run numbers. I agreed

to your proposal. It would be a kindness, you said.
The pancreas produces hormones

and aids digestion. I chopped off my left thumbtip
and a year later the abscission point

still felt numb. After rolling the dough
into a ball, let it proof for an hour in an oiled bowl.

We shared a taste for sharp cheese
but never agreed on pillows. You loved

down comforters and found vultures fascinating.
Years together honed our lives

but we never considered what that meant. Score
the dough, bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on,

remove the lid and bake for another 15.
Kneading resembles breathing: in,

out. Rise, fall. Bright lights made your eyes water,
so I kept them dimmed. You swallowed

and said “Tell me how to knead bread.”
With the heel of your right hand, push down

and forward, applying steady pressure.
The dough should move under your hand.

Within minutes it will transform.

 

* * *

“Bread” was first published in Extract(s) in April 2015.

pillows