Laura Madeline Wiseman
You take one of your drift bottles to the glass arts class at the cat shelter, the place cats will never die and so linger on cat trees, windowsills, couch arms, napping. It’s only ten dollars, you say as we drive, pay to park, walk where no one walks. Ten dollars, you repeat, after we’re seated at a worktable and the cash bar is cheap. You drink from your twisty-top red wine. The owner said I could make a glass charm. Hmm, I said, Maybe. You glue slivers of glass, colors that promise to change with heat, to soften and melt into stars, waves, the body of a woman already gone. What’s your design called? I ask, pointing to the glittery surface. Our self-portrait, you say, turning to break glass into bits by pliers. I study your snug blue jeans, button-down, sneakers, fingertips and hands dusted in glass. Promise you won’t touch me until you wash your hands, I say, glancing at the table dusted with glass. Floor, shelves, tools, wine glasses, all sparkle with fragments. You wiggle your fingers at me, reach out in pretend, but it’s last call and you cry out, Ten dollars! with slightly drunk eyes. I shrug, wander off to stand before cat cages, look into what looks back.
Unlike their mostly extinct spineless kin, the mermaids lack an exoskeleton, pinchers, the shielded face of the trilobite. No skull like the dunkleosteus, no plated skin, no wing-like head. No crested horn of the pterosaurs. They can’t fly like the triassic lizard or glide like the draco. No bizarre beaks, bumps, knobs, or tusks. No, mermaids are just plain old mermaids, half-fish, half-man.
Household god, namesake, kitten from a stray
mother who arrived to give birth to a litter of two--
when I answered the ad, the young woman said
she would do a goodbye ceremony before I could come.
Five-weeks old, fierce, smaller than a deck of tarot cards,
I took you home and taught you to chase paper balls.
Sometimes you bring them back. Sometimes
you drag up my yoga mat from the basement.
You are rumpled, like the clothes of a college co-ed,
half-drunk with love in the morning, and intelligent,
know your name and will come trotting from anywhere
in the house or yard if I call. I do call you, Juno,
feed you the fat green bugs that nibble the broccoli,
watch you stalk the monarchs and grasshoppers,
and accept your offerings, delicate, soft, grey bodies
of young doves, necks snapped, blood at the throat.
I can’t look at a map to plan,
you can’t plan, but glance at a map
to take us to one place after another:
the tumultuous lakeshore north of Chicago,
Picasso’s sculpture and painting of his mistress,
the brewery district, the CN tower.
The baristas brew coffee, don’t mind
my counting each coin for the total.
Let’s live in this castle turret.
Have an apple, I brought three.
Look at that strange bird.
Is PDA a social faux pas here?
Then an arm on a shoulder.
Then a rebellious kiss.
The trolleys, the subways, the trains took us
where we wanted, Kensington market, the ROM,
Chinese restaurants where we watched the traffic--
cars, walkers, rickshaws, a group of Mennonites signing.
I carried a parasol, water, a hunger to see.
You held our book of maps, a compass, my hand.
While You're Away on Business, I Dream
Women’s dreams are fabulous and so are women’s thoughts.
We turn back—start
with the closing: a blue house,
two gardens, the desert behind us.
We go from desert back to prairie,
separate apartments, same-sex roommates,
Saturday nights bright with Smirnoff
a glitter of stars, the manicured glow
of campus, keep going through the vodka
martinis, the wedding reception
of yellow, red, and black light,
keep defying the clock, go back
to the initial night over coffee
and blueberry muffins, the smoke in the air,
to our knees under the table touching,
how mutinous the blue-eyed gaze, how free.
The Twenty-First Century Lot
Tiffs and Coos
Brainiac, you say like maybe I shouldn’t be, like maybe it’s better to be a bottle-blonde in cutoffs slung low below the soft navel mouth, a lean slab of youth, arms like pillars and a throat as warm as July. Or if not cliché, than normal, the bottled-Jones in silver SUVS, the family values of meatloaf, apple pie, and iceberg salad with talk of news, track practice, that summer vacation fishing. Eclectic, I say, kicking over empty bottles that roll towards the refrigerator because our foundation slants. Why didn’t we notice it before? Love letters, I say, I want you to write me one hundred love letters and toss them into the drink. If any come back, I’ll be yours forever. Though I’m not sure why, you pull out the kitchen chair, a note pad, and begin to write.
They’ve begun to overlap, those college apartments,
blending, growing taller, and strewn with baubles
like cherries of amore: snowdrifts to the windows,
boggy spring, or summer of bloodthirsty gnats.
Now the root extends into darkness, branches
clutch the sky, hard and frantic, as the core softens
(insects, disease, age) and rots. But that bedroom view
remains open and wide, braided sinuously
in the center of the body, some pulsing fold
that embraces want. Yes, it was cut down:
those petals of bark—brittle, fragile to the touch.
Ocean is Bluer
It’s everywhere. The mermaids breathe it. It presses in from all sides—jets of heat from the coasts, rivers of cold that drive from the currents, belts, undertows. It’s more dense than ice, why bergs float. It has no true color, like the wings of jays, the hue absorbs and reflects but does not broadcast. That’s why storytellers love it, all moods become it—whitecaps, storms, vortex, surf. Without it, the mermaids wouldn’t move—combers, rollers, breakers, surge—fish bodied and female with scales of blue-green. They need it, even if they sometimes wish for any other thing on which to sustain.
You might pay the girl across the street
or let it grow a little wild,
but most weeks you mowed unfailingly
like the others in the neighborhood,
passing the baton of noise
in a relay that ran all summer.
I folded the laundry or weeded
the garden as the engine advanced
and then receded, carving lanes
into the lawn, a million ribbons
that broke around you and fell
as you sweated and pushed on.
I watched with a kind of bemusement
this maintenance of sidewalks
and driveways in the winter,
the raking of leaves in the fall,
and the lawn mowers moving
like a masculine excuse
to soak up sun. Or prowess
as muscles flexed and gleamed.
Or a white noise to fantasize in
as the dog pranced and butterflies whirled.
After, you’d come in with shoes
flecked with green confetti,
perspiration on your brow,
and lean against the kitchen counter,
drinking ice water, letting some slide
down your neck. You’d say each time
in a voice never winded, but husky
and strong, a riot, a tease, It’s hot.
Lunch with Matilda's Ghost
Lincoln, Nebraska, February 2013
I smile across the table centered with placemats,
woven threads of red and gold, and set for the two of us--
big leafy salads, chicken, and black Russian bread.
Your chair remains empty, though I’ve swept away the dust.
I wait for the clink of your fork, the lift of water glass,
or homemade pesto spreading across a slice of bread.
Dead set in your ways, I think, but say, It’s warmer today.
You say nothing, not even a sigh, as the radio plays folk
ditties, ballads, and the news, but you don’t turn up
the volume on the story of where meteors fall. Outside
sparrows flit and branches sway under a sky of new snow.
Listen, I say, this research doesn’t prove you were real.
Matilda, prove to me you were—the wind presses
into the neighborhood trees, presses harder--alive.
Varnished to appear cherry, like teenagers
who bite their cuticles in the front row,
and with a face mottled and hidden under glass,
like the eyes of the far-sighted who see
what marches toward them through the hills,
but not what holds steady right before them,
the clock opens in the back to reveal
the brass cogs within and the rusted key
you placed there to wind the hands.
Sometimes it will count the seconds
until it stills into a distracted silence,
like all of us who try to measure the future,
unable to tell how little of it there is or how much.