In Grandma’s drive you pointed up
and counted: one, two, three.
There’s the belt.
The great Betelgeuse.
Follow the handle
down to the brightest star
there is the North.
But I couldn’t see the gourd.
I felt for the moss on the trees instead.
We always tried to chase the Northern lights
only to imagine them between wakings.
O, Cassieopea, Queen of the Night.
I wanted your beauty most of all.
Star-gazers of the summer
catching fireflies between palms.
We never cared how our universe
flurried amongst us
Or how we
could capture it between
A Preemptive Obituary
When I go to science museums with my sister
She likes to tell me how we will die.
She points to the enlarged heart and says
“That’s it. That’s how we’ll go.”
The words tangle between names of family members
And medical tests and medicine bottles
For heart disease and blood pressure
And anger issues and too much salt.
I stare down at the too-large-heart and place my hand over my own
Remembering the time Mom asked why I cared so much
As I cradled mine, beating, bandaged,
Passed its sides between palms as they seeped past tape.
I’m back to drawing my own breath into the too-large-heart
A fog now on display glass, holding the picture of my sister and me
Together with eyes set on our future folly
Of kindness and too high cholesterol.
The two daughters who worked for hours
Hand drawing greeting cards
Cooking dinners on over-worked days
Giving cookies to the neighbors on rained out nights
She continues to compare ratios
And the size of the veins
Saying “three times the size”
And “we could try a stent”
It’s sweet, almost, how she knows that we’ll go the same way
Two same-sized-hearts held between
With strings in knots and veins at sight,
I can read it now: Here lie two girls of too-big-hearts.
One thinking of chapter seven in her sophomore year anatomy class
The other counting the beats against her neck
Begging her heart to stay small forever.
Sometimes I see my past self slip through my seams.
Does it catch fire and simmer into a pile of particles
gray from consumption? A fruit fly,
drowned from poor depth perception?
I am transfixed by misconception: I see the mirror
and choose to respond to the window.
My younger self tried to place her hands
around the mass of her imagination without realizing
that the imagination roamed inside, shapeless, holdless.
I hear stories of my great grandfather’s glass eye;
It became a kaleidoscope to him: a view
of the world he could turn and tease
transformed from an object of truth to one of beauty.
We place ourselves in locations that emulate love
we feel within our imaginings, not our stories.
Poor dry ash.
I cried once in my father’s arms in the lobby of a lighthouse. Cried because there was a ghost upstairs. Because we were warned something might return uninvited. Something could perform the unexpectedly normal in its old inhabitance: a spoon shifting closer to a china bowl, a gold-rimmed glass tipping over, a milk-glass lamp clicking on. Lace curtains shifting without wind, crocheted blankets falling off the bed, shoelaces untying themselves, all of it the unscheduled ordinary, just as the lake lapped back against the shore: a return to thought. Someone’s old habit refusing to let go; I was afraid of the harmless. I was the intruder, he was the homebody attempting to reach for his daily schedule of eating dinners and warning ships. And despite my tears and shaken thoughts, his light beamed on.
The Great Cowboy of the Midwest
The hook tied to the end
of his yellow line
the summer’s sun.
The Great Cowboy of the Midwest
takes out his lasso
twirls it through the air
that floats down the river of woods
twisting his shoulders
As his voice hums along
To a phantom clip-clop
And he falls into routine
Back, forth, back, forth
His dance blocks the sun
from exiting the trees.
against the wind
and sliding its graze
across the branches.
He perfects his form
swaying back and forth
The crowd staring past
at the two dogs
sniffing around his ankles.
The line has been thrown
to the trees
time and again,
the only ritual he practices.
Summers were made for practice.
He completes his grand finale,
This rodeo’s conclusion.
Branches bow to tease his line
He hopes to catch nothing.
Have the flowers not returned yet? I’ve felt the sun but never the summer. Except in those short grasping moments—a petal falls, a sparrow’s cry. Or was it just a glimmer of my imagination?
Staring out the window asking Mom what the birds with the smooth purple-green feathers were. “Blackbirds.” I never saw prettier creatures. “Will they be in Heaven?” She would not answer.
A small island of yellow wings sunning on the beach. A treasure. Mom leaning close to them, slow, wind-bent statue. My fingers grasping my toy-red camera, the wings flutter in the flash. Smoke twists off the wick.
The wind, I think, has knocked at our windows all day. I can see its face, clearly irritated that I have chosen to ignore the powerful source for more visible attributes: a dog cry, a phone call, garbage day. I do not know how to answer it but we continue to keep each other’s company. I listen as it whistles beneath the doorways and clangs against the chimes: its soft-beating forms a heartbeat within the walls. I am here, I am here, I am here. An uninvited lullaby, though it will do for the night.
Blues Song to the Moon
It’s always that same smirk
The one that shows how much you know
And how little I’ve learned
And how much you know how little I’ve learned
I saw you last night in that same spot
Just above the telephone lines where your smile
Beamed down to my wrinkled stare
But the anger I slingshot at you doesn’t change a damn thing
I thought it would at least make you frown but
I still hope to know
How many lullabies,
How many prayers,
How many people
Have you found staring back
Round-eyed and jealous
Of your glowing presence?
Did you know, on the nights when you disappear
I leave my questions to the stars?
But they wink and fade and don’t smile back
And that too-close intimacy I find with you
Doesn’t seem quite there
You, who have seen
Me on all my last minutes
My forgotten dates, missing words
I heard your laughter trailing down to me
As I threw all my intuitions into the well.
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman Poems
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