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[THE KITCHEN IS A SAUNA]

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or cornmeal—whiting,

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men often say, with a laugh,

that they don’t trust anything

that bleeds for five days

& doesn’t die,

but what about the one

who puts her hand

into boiling grease

& survives without burns?

is she saint or devil?

in our language,

we still cannot decide.


 

THE WOMAN AT THE BUS STOP IS NOT MY MOTHER

Don’t you wish that person were here now
so you could touch their feet and whisper, “You are my god”?

– David Kirby (from “Get Up, Please”)

Even though I recognize the bags stretched
with groceries, library books, and magazines

even though I recognize her burgundy knit hat
and her glove tucked into her dull leather purse

even though I pick up her stray glove and
swat away its stray leaves and lint

even though I quickly search her hands
for pale palms and long fingernails,

the woman at the bus stop is not my mother.

I am afraid that the driver, the other passengers
are all aware of my sorrow showing,

that it spills out uncontrolled until I am reduced
to poor girl, pitiful creature.

I am in Baltimore, in Newark, in Lakewood,
in Santo Domingo, in Paris, in Richmond.

In Santo Domingo, she balances a basket over her pin curls,
on the back of a motorcycle with two other women.

Some days, she walks shoeless and sells flowers to tourists.
Some days, she wipes tables at the resort restaurant.

She wears stockings even in the June sun. She is still a lady.
In Paris, she works in Montmartre, in a hair store lined

with bottles of S-curl and aisles of pink and blond weave,
her impatient accent, Qu’est-ce qu’il te faut? In Baltimore,

I avoid her gaze through thick-rimmed glasses, but in Philadelphia,
I must try not to kneel at her feet and beg for forgiveness.

I will not hold her glove hostage and ask Why?
She is not my god, this woman, this stranger.


 

TIME TRAVEL: OR I GO BACK TO JUNE 1982

after Sharon Olds

I see them:

At the public pool, my father is tanned,
bored atop the lifeguard chair.

My mother swats sunshine from her eyes,
leading in a group of children,

I see him watching her long hair
braided into a loose rope. Hair that
begged to be unraveled into waves,
Her thin girl body, her face dewy
with the day’s humidity.

Later, she hoists skirt above thighs
and sneaks through a window.
Down the street, she mounts his black
motorcycle, pats the curls escaped
from his helmet, folds herself around his waist.

They push the heat of summer
into each other’s bodies, tube socks
shimmy to his ankles, her t-shirt around her hips—
fingers slick across each other’s skin.

I want to tell her that her two children
will be of his legacy, but the only bastards among six.
The family court workers will memorize
her fast gait, her white streaks of hair, her name.

I want to go up to her before her belly rises
months later, before the skin stretches
into webs, and tell her to run. But I don’t.
I want my brother, wrinkled high-yellow with his clubfeet.
I want myself to live.  So I turn away, pretend
that I don’t see their desperate lovemaking,
their desire so apparent. I cry, do what you will,
and I will live with it.


SALVATION, OR TUPAC IS ALIVE IN JERSEY CITY, NEW ZEALAND

of vegetable oil & cast iron

skillets, the stove greasy

& slick. women have

trained themselves to hear

even the faintest crash

of toys or bodies, or the

sounds of crying,

over popping

& splattering, to discipline

children from even rooms

away. they’ve learned

to fish into pans without

gloves or spatula or tongs,

turning over whatever

can be hidden in flour

or cornmeal—whiting,

pork chops, plantains.

men often say, with a laugh,

that they don’t trust anything

that bleeds for five days

& doesn’t die,

but what about the one

who puts her hand

into boiling grease

& survives without burns?

is she saint or devil?

in our language,

we still cannot decide.