This Bountiful Weaning
for Lisa Gionis 1960-2008
A baby can cry, all night, her mother
saying she must learn not to want so much.
Tiny arms flailing, like a hungry bird
she longs for the one who deprives her.
Years later, summer night, how boys watch
girls, their eyes, how they always fall
upon the center of a circle. She says
look what I can do as she contorts
her arms, shoulder blades poking
as if she had wings. They laugh,
mouths to ears, the whoosh of air
when a secret is passed. Tell me she cries,
as they tie her to a tree so she can’t fly away.
How does one say, enough?
Marriage, its blind bargain, all the men
and little children, they must be fed.
And that morning, the barnyard smell
of uneaten eggs. The lack of small
gestures, except for the man smiling
as he fills her bright red gasoline can.
And on bended knees, as she drenches
her body and strikes the match,
as angels lift shovels and skin
sizzles upon the ground,
all she can see is her mother’s
back, the closing door.
What We Can’t Tell the Children
for Jennifer Hawke-Petit,1958 -2007
There are Big Bad Wolves outside
the woods, witches with girls
on their breath and a sky
falling again and again.
How it’s night, forever the night of beasts in your bedroom.
How the men’s fingers tied plastic
tight around your ankles, drew
pillowcases over your fragrant heads.
Those same hands that once stroked
their mama’s bellies from inside.
How the sound of suffering is thud thud thud.
There is a point of giving in
then giving up and it will smell
sweet like gasoline, like dead life
drawn from the earth’s black blood.
Your mind will never lower its blindfold.
How at the end, the cries, crushing
of breath, yes, this is leaving when
your heart swells like the gum bump
of a first tooth, ripples of white
silkening the backs of your eyes.
Where monsters come from.
For you, there is nothing we cannot endure.
Where the Sea is Called the Sound
for Janet Shaner 1953-2001
In the open door, a hunched shadow swings
from a lily-white loop as if to say spinster
as if to say swan. The call to repent
starts with guilt, concrete poured
down the throat of the hidden world.
There’s a price to being civilized.
How a woman has the decency
to shield our eyes as she strips the bed
and the swan, beak bowed, neck curled
round, sings back towards itself.
And when finally, no one is watching
or whispering, how the song runs
an octave up her throat as she ripped
the sheets, practicing her grandfather’s knot
until she gets it right.
Artwork by: Jeremy Bishop