Wake

for John Chir

The last woman at your empty grave
is grounding rosaries into the wind, is
stitching a history onto rice paper leaves, is
repeating your name and repeating
your name, is waiting for an echo.
The last woman at your empty
grave is interviewing the dark,
is carving memories between falling
stars, is clawing and re-clawing
the dirt, is searching the trees for
a witness. When the breeze traps
itself in the burrows of her scars,
the last woman at your empty grave
hears only carousel music. When
the marble ribbon of your name
unfurls itself, she shakes like a flame.
The rest of us are wearing party
hats, crouched in a darkened room
waiting to yell surprise for you
when you finally arrive. You are not
with the last woman at your empty
grave. You are in the room with us
wearing a hat. You are huddled
in the smallest corner, reaching out
and losing your hand in the dark.

Published in Open Thread 2010.

Legacy

I know how to disappear.
I learned it from my mother
who learned it from her mother
and my great grandmother
who went poof! one night
right in the middle of dinner.
After that, my grandmother went,
in between white sheets hanging
on a line in the yard, poof!
Then my mother as she held me
in the hospital, leaving me squirming
on her flattened gown. Even as a baby,
I could see how it was done.
At home, I would catch the men
standing outside at night with their palms
turned upwards. Once a cousin brought home
a magic kit and everyone howled for days.
When I left, they watched me with binoculars,
the horizon dotted with reflecting eyes.
Here, no one believes me. They laugh
at me at dinner parties, spilling their drinks.
They tell me to prove it, and I would.
But it’s the kind of trick you can only do once.

Published in Open Thread 2009.

The One-Way Swing

The one-way swing looked like any other. That was half the problem. Not one batted eye until the children started disappearing. We shook down the alley cats first, as they see everything. The calicos were uncooperative, but the solids all suggested the witch. We stopped inviting her to barbeques, not wanting to be too harsh on just hearsay. When nothing came of it we upturned her geraniums and found sapphires and bottle caps fused to the roots. It was something, but it wouldn’t hold up in court. The marching committee suggested a march. The flyering committee suggested more flyering. The committee committee suggested fewer committees and more searching as we’d lost five children during the meeting. Now robbed of his one true calling, the treasurer of the arithmetic committee sulked towards the playground to count abandoned gloves. The head of the marching committee followed and since he possessed a walk of such distinct authority, the town hall fell in step behind him. (He’d been asked weeks ago by the mayor to only walk at night as the constant spontaneous parades he trailed in his wake were causing quite a traffic problem.) We came upon the dejected treasurer mid-swing. We were already too late. Some say they saw a flash of light. Some say they saw him sprout wings from the pleats of his seersucker and take to the skies. One woman says she saw Jesus, but she’s been injecting deities into recounted events for years so no one pays her much mind. The crowd fell into a hush when he disappeared, the seat of the swing jangling wildly from its chains. Someone called for a ladder and the fire truck came blasting through. After an hour of fruitlessly stirring the clouds, we went home. A week later, the committee for yellow tape (which now met secretly in the storm drains like all the others) wove a web around the swing set. Days passed, weeks. The children never returned. Word circulated that the treasurer had been spotted in Tucson counting sugar packets in a retro-themed diner but it turned out to be a dead end. A film was screened in the elementary school health class denouncing the swing in the hopes of sparing more innocents. It was a success, for the most part. Now we only lose one or two a year, usually middle aged men with a penchant for building model planes or young girls in white dresses who don’t seemed thrilled by anything at all.

Published in Gigantic Sequins 2010.

After Hours

I watched the peaks of your egg-carton spine
writhe against the loose blue hospital knot
at your neck where the cotton fell away
after everyone else had gone.
I pressed my purpled feet, with yours,
against that ancient wooden bed frame.
Above us, in muted ecstasy
the history channel’s Indian women danced.
I envied their clasped gold-dusted hands,
remembering the pastor who hours before
had appeared at your bedside, Bible gleaming,
with that assured smile all believers own.
I wished for a painted elephant or glowing saint
to process through that stagnant and weary room;
to drape your shrunken neck with flowers and turn
your restless ageless moans to hymns.
We played the tape your father had left;
listened to man-made rain and unnamed birds.
Behind the thunder, I started to cry
realizing we’d have the charge
of manufacturing our own happiness
from now on.

Published in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette 2006.

Not in a Ha-Ha Way

If you wake up late for your job at the mill
screaming until you wake the house, tell
my sister that you need your time card
need your hard hat, need the number of
that electrician and then next week you
are in Korea, having downed your plane
and are screaming about bananas, seeing
them again for the first time as they grow,
upside down and then you are in a prison,
your leg caught on the bars of your bed,
calling my mother a bastard, calling my father
a bastard, asking where the other bastards are
so you can call them too, saying you were never
any good or I’ve never seen you before or you bitch
you bitch you’re trying to kill me, then one day you are
at the table eating a grilled cheese and when we ask what it is
if you say a desk, then I am sorry but we laugh.

 

Published in OH NO 2011.

Why You Haven’t Seen Me in Awhile

After you left, I crawled deep under my bed down the hidden cavern to where I keep my devious contraptions. Unscrewing a stalactite, I unearthed the secret photographs I’d taken with my eye machine of you, sleeping or sweating and always very naked. I donned the special coat I only wear for scheming and slunk down an alley, knocking on a certain door that trembled like a mouth in the rain. I knew a guy. He’d deposed royalty with a single lock of hair, but as he stooped over your photos, shuffling, a new smile squirmed onto his face. They were too good, is what he said, and we chartered a boat to the coast of Crete where he knew a guy, he said, who’d be better at dealing this particular hand. Oh, how it grew away from me, the whole broiling plot. We rose from bending back alleys to galleries by the sea. How they swooned over you, ancient art collectors with their hands still warm from fingering Epimetheus. One by one, my photographs were auctioned away. Some made to hang in ornate frames in salt buffeted bedrooms. Some locked away in cabinets full of crystal. They heaped gold upon me, decorating me like the sole medium to a god. Their ardor grew to a fever pitch. Enlarging some photos, the townspeople built giant floats for parades or carried you to sea like a saint set adrift in a halo of bindweeds. Rudely copied versions of you appeared on t-shirts, candles, even scapulars which tourists snatched up with wild abandon. I’d meant to disgrace you, you see, to your friends and neighbors but here I am, so far away from you and everyone, and it’s gotten away from me too. Even now, I can hear them outside my tiny apartment raising a call for you. I can’t move under my many jeweled hats, but I can hear them, can hear their passion pulsing through the cold clay of my bedroom walls. They are in love with you, every one of them, and it is my fault. I should have never let anyone see you through my eyes.

Published in Gigantic Sequins 2010.