My Mother Ironed
Both hands slid the Proctor-Silex
with a devotion some people have
when they whittle wood or knit.
The perfume of heavy starch.
A hiss of steam on wet linen.
Shirts swung on satin hangers
in a neat row beneath the padded board.
Even bed sheets flattened, obedient
to her press. Tablecloths were her specialty,
and she could iron all day,
especially if WQXR played Baroque.
Now that she’s gone, I walk,
wrinkled, out into the world.
My father hollered at my mother,
and raised his fist.
Frances, find the child a karate class!
Karate would have made me
strong and unafraid: able to fend off
my tormentors with a kick—
girls who blocked the fourth-grade classroom door,
and spat my last name on playground asphalt.
At nine, my father gave me
his secondhand Uncle Henry,
when a band of older boys, throwing rocks,
started to follow me home after school.
He didn’t show me how to use it
and I didn’t dare take it out.
The boys could have turned the knife on me.
There were no karate lessons,
but in time I came to know
that my father was a bully, too,
and he had been bullied, in turn.
His father used the belt
if he dared expel an asthmatic wheeze.
Bullies hate themselves, but I would have loved
for my father to show up,
and bellow: That’s ENOUGH!
He would have made those boys disappear.
Hotel by a Railroad
painting by Edward Hopper, 1952
We never speak anymore
except as necessary
and that is fine.
Our easy silence
passes the days.
We are content.
We are company.
No need at this age
to dress in shadow,
or undress, as if either would
make any difference.
Neither of us
could ever explain
why we now are traveling
and no one will ask.
How do we find ourselves
here, in a room almost on the tracks,
thinking about things we cannot remember?
What if we were young?
What if we had our wits about us?
Hymns We Forgot the Words To
vintages have ripened;
the corn was good.
into the next day;
girls turned into women
and crows feet
around the eyes.
All the golden corn
rots too soon
on its stalks
and returns to the earth.
The excess of wine in our glasses
is poured down the sink.
Blink and you will miss
the mist that hovers
on leaves before the sun rises,
your lover’s impression in the bed,
the smile of dogs
and your own uneven breath,
on every frozen cold
night like this.
Say the train you’re on
is the wrong one
and all the stations look the same
after dusk anyway.
You go home
with a woman
who looks like your wife
in a car that smells of new Naugahyde
and stalls in a familiar way
at the curb.
She puts her key in the lock
of a door much like
every other door on the block;
yells, “You’re not listening to me!”
and you’ve heard this before.
You eat a dinner microwaved
lukewarm and then collapse
into bed where she gives you
her back and a sigh.
These are the rhythms
and patterns you know and
you give her back what you know:
your back and a sigh.
“The Borrowed World” in Journal of New Jersey Poets
“Shell” in Clementine Unbound
“Mechanics of the Sun” in The Cortland Review
“Trying on Dresses” in Whale Road Review
“Advantages of Smoking at Night” in The Pedestal Magazine
“House Cat’s Ode” in Clementine Unbound