Unbuttoned - Top
The nape of her neck lures me; fine blonde down
soft wisps, barely visible along the narrow curve of vertebrae
rising from India-ink-blue rayon shirt, buttons up the back,
soft flesh emerging above scoop of collar. Has she forgotten
to button the top and middle buttons, or maybe
they have come undone from too much tugging
on a blouse no longer the proper fit.
Her flesh and random freckles, where the strand of sea pearls sits,
keep me transfixed on the white marble color and
lotion-smooth texture of her skin.
Further down, her bra strap appears where the shirt, open
like a garden gate into some other world, yet to be seen,
invites whomever happens to notice, in. That horizontal stretch
of strap, keeping her breasts up and in place, playing hide and seek,
depending on her stance, arm over the chairís back, arms crossed,
or straightening her posture permitting the shirt to fall, falsely closed.
Her feather haircut, clear nail polish, pumps, and
businesswomanís watch speak one language, but
when her wrist appears, flesh the hue of neck and back, I revisit
sea pearls and freckles, and know Iím captured, provoked.
Has it been her intention, this invitation? To whom?
What drives me is not really her body, choice of blouse,
unflinching attention to tonightís invited readers, or navy jacket
arranged in repose, now being lifted and placed over her shoulders,
(has she felt my penetrating gaze) but her ability to sit so unaware of
herself becoming undressed in public.
City Island Seafood - Top
this is for you, with your toothless smile
sucking-in oysters, clams, mussels;
cracking claws of unfortunate lobsters,
shells for the screaming bi-lingual sea gulls, who
know how to attack the inside of a mollusk
the way a flamenco dancer knows how to strike
his or her shoe against the yielding planks.
this is for you in a house-dress, a garment youíd never
be caught dead in around the house, or anywhere else
and yet, youíre here wearing it outside on an icey January day
because nothing else is comfortable, everything hurts, except
the Latino kids screaming to our left and their granny
in turquoise hair rollers wearing her house-dress
being wheeled around in her wheel chair (like you, only
without rollers, too much of your hair has fallen out, or
been torn from its root).
this is for you, this drive from Jerome Avenue, away
from the elevated trains, out through the Bronx to
City Island, almost an oasis, if you donít look too close,
but you canít--what with how your eyes have failed--
the diabetes and all--the all being having to see
for so long. Who wouldnít pray for clouded vision?
this is for you, this approach down the pot-hole drag, past
Italian restaurants, ship yards, crumbling Victorian homes,
condominiums going up
on yet another spit of "waterfront property."
My husband is a saint. There are many things heís not, but
saint is not one of them. He will chauffer you anywhere:
the cemetery to visit your family, shopping, for an ice-cream;
he will talk to you at any pitch to assure you hear,
he will take you to whatever restaurant, wearing whatever
we happen to get you to put on. I am not a saint.
You would like Lutece, le Cirque; we go to City Island,
a perfect place, and considering the fog in your head,
the haze over your eyes, this could be Spain, or
a Caribbean island you knew so well,
at another time, saronged in silk,
hiked up revealing calves, thighs
that always sent your husband reeling, or
snapping yet more photos.
this is for you, in diapers, black hair pulled back
in a cheap pearl barrette, (I wear while washing dishes)
stretch slippers, their gold thread comforting swollen feet, and
god help us, that dress, so ordinary, so un-you.
But itís your birthday and despite the condition youíre in
or how theyíve screwed up your medicines or all the neglect
which no one will admit to--or take responsibility for,
you were happy and most important, alive
sitting in the front seat of the car excited, really excited, about
seafood and the illusion of luxury at the beach in the Bronx,
so far from Philadelphia, so far from lunches at Nan Duskin
(wearing well-tailored gray and plum)
eating Poire Belle Helene or supine in a nightie on the couch
downing escargot at midnight watching Johnny Carson.
this is for you, we told the young man behind the counter
(the one with the tattoos and piercings) that it was your 70th
and could he make a really special dish, even though
none of the plates included every species from scallop
to shrimp; we didnít say you probably wouldnít live to eat dessert,
and well, despite the restaurant being a sort of seafood Taco Bell,
he had a heart or maybe a mother and said sure, why not,
heíd do it for the extra money.
Money, was never a problem--and always a problem
and with it one could get and do anything, the same as without it.
Thatís what you and he taught us, and oh yes
how to really suck out the insides of a lobster, until
not even the gulls can find what had been the essence
of a creature who lives without yielding, until
yielding is not a question; an organism no different from
any one of us because we are all stomping, click-clacking our heels
dancers proud and strong and really, just sucking on each other,
releasing one another and ourselves from pain,
trying to miss the potholes, to see how long we can keep
from leaning (against our wills) until finally, we must yield--
to a stranger, a friend, a French fry fork full of cole-slaw
from a paper plate in winter.
this is for you, to that long descent
which was the end
of pain, but possibly, hopefully, lulled
filled with sea soaked penetrating pleasure.
(Barrow St. Vol. 2; #1, Fall 1999)
All Over the World - Top
They do it for themselves
these women wearing sheer stockings,
of rubble that had been
their stoves, bookshelves, booties
crocheted for the first, second
in rubble they walk through,
these women in shoes dusted off
and stockings, carrying their lives
in sheets they once pressed crisp,
flung across a wedding bed,
memories of their first night still bright
in their minds
they cling to like scalloped sheets
in their hands;
cling to a community of souls, each
in a way they never knew
was in them, could never know
was possible, like
their universe gone in a gulp, but
not the bedís memories or
laughter over tables set with "good china,"
filled with hot bread, lentil soup, garlic like
a sweet drug, strong
but not strong enough.
These women walk, have been walking
through centuries through streets
over mountains across deserts, hiding, while
feeding infants from breasts
in name only; these women remember
giddy gossip, remember
where they hid
birthday cakes to surprise the innocent.
They are walking still
caring for their last pair of stockings, as
one covets a scrap of love letter, the rest
lost in a fire or flood or who knows where.
They covet this luxury not out of vanity, but
of the lost, for sanity, for hope
no matter how sheer, sheerer even
than the air they now breathe.
These stockings, not good for anything, really,
not good to hold water or bolster
a sinking roof or heart.
Still, these women, with
faces no longer pink, but
gray with shadow
dust off their shoes
slip on their stockings.
New York City, September, 2001
Take Out - Top
My name's Whip
Miguel gave it to me
'cause I'm so fast with the mayo and American
slapped like a gimme five handshake
between two white slices.
"Honky bread," yells James from the back
flippin' sunny sides up
fast as the English somersault out
to be buttered.
Tony fills cups with ice, soda
snaps lids on, adds a straw
and passes the whole business down the line
to my man Miguel the bagger
on to sweet Louise workin' the register
playin' with our hearts between orders.
Knot - Top
how, in the burnt rose light, between dawn
and sunrise we rotated our bodies
from the foot of the bed, back
to where the pillows cradled our two heads
side by side, wanting sleep, yet
not wanting to sleep, not wishing to be still;
how you put your arm beneath my neck,
how I lie there looking at the dark smooth hair
like fine fur over your tanned skin,
so simple, such pleasure, for my shoulders;
I watched your face, the weekend’s whiskers,
your black eyebrows, your eyelashes
so long, sweeping your cheeks,
your mouth, lips as pink, as thin as
the rim of an oyster shell,
the Picasso cut you give yourself;
how our legs entwined and entwined again,
how you put your fingertips to my lips,
how looking for a comfortable spot, that knot
that works, we eventually settled together.
Isn’t that what we all desire,
that knot that breathes, opens when we open, closes
with an inaudible sigh, pulling us in.