. . . I bent over,/wanting to cry out
It’s my best friend,/ . . .the holy dwelling
Beneath the layers, mine were quiet eggs,
solitary bulbs keeping to themselves. Calls
echoed. Quests always missed. Desire,
a steamy, loamy hotbed, voyage after voyage,
found only slick and empty water. When the nest
had to go, I wished I wanted to keep it like a best
friend or think of it as a good leather purse
with a hanky inside, my nesting bowl, my hamper
where someone quickens. But it proved more
a betrayer, a drying pond, a miser in a tower room
counting. Only the hatchet man arrived
each month picking for cave crystals
and dodging fugitive fibroids that bloomed
false hopes, my only pang of something
extra. Every exam, the doctor re-adjusted
for tilt. Tampons came forth
crooked riders. In the final months,
clots flowered in the bowl like little hands
blurring. Risk is a black robe
and sickle. The lone boat loads.
My Mother’s White Lies
If you don’t fall asleep during your nap
by four o’clock, you’ll get polio.
Then you’ll have to live
in a big iron tank for the rest
of your short life.
If you giggle like that much longer,
you’ll get worms. They’ll crawl
all through your body and come out
at night to look at you while you sleep.
If you aren’t asleep when Santa comes,
he puts all of your presents back
in his bag and marks an X on the roof.
Then he never brings any more presents.
If you do that, it will upset your father,
and you know how weak his heart is.
I know you don’t want to break his heart.
If you keep digging deeper in that sandbox,
you could fall into China,
and we’ll never see you again.
Don’t you ever get up at night and wander
outside. The Boogey Man waits out there
for small children and eats their souls.
You can’t get into heaven without a soul.
See, every time you fall down like that,
it’s for something you did wrong—
like not telling me the truth. God punishes,
and he sees all those things
you aren’t telling me about.
If you go in the water sooner than an hour after you eat,
you’ll sink to the bottom and drown, and if you have on
one of those bikini tops, it will come loose,
and the lifeguard will find you half naked
when he brings you out, and everyone will see.
If you run through the house or climb
into that attic, the Big Bad Wolf
who ate Red Riding Hood’s Nonna
will come out from hiding in the rafters,
and you can figure out the rest.
Don’t ever let anybody touch you down there
until you’re married. No boy will want you
after that because you won’t be a virgin.
Boys only marry virgins. You’d have to wait
for a widower. They don’t care so much.
Don’t sit out there in the driveway after you
get home from a date. Remember, I’m watching
from the window, but the neighbors will see too.
It will ruin your reputation forever. They’ll tell everyone.
Delphia in 4th Grade
She skidded us off our feet in dodgeball,
sent Bobby Shad sliding across the circle,
sailed all kicked balls past reaching arms.
Six girls followed her around like good
Davidians armed with long nails.
First year of integration at Linwood.
Before, I had reigned as the outcast Italian
kicker. The day I called her Philadelphia,
she gored me with her eyes. As we sanded
blocks for the Fort Osage replica, Bobby said,
Philadelphia has good sanding rhythm. She
spun around, smacked his fingers with her block,
and snapped, Don’t call me Philadelphia. Bobby
crept to another table. He’s only being friendly,
I said. She was waiting after school.
Could’ve laid me out with one swing. Where
you going? Why’d you defend that little twerp?
She clicked her long red nails, hissed, At kickball,
you smacked a home run. Lucky, I shrugged. She
pinched my arm. Well, it’s my game. Six girls
moved in and narrowed their eyes. I raised
a hand. Delphia dug a pencil into my wrist
and scraped under my arm with her nails. Don’t
call me Philadelphia, and don’t kick like that
unless you’re on my team. They chuckled off, clicking
their weapons. My mother blotted me with iodine,
but the infection lasted through six weeks of penicillin.
After that, if we played kickball and I didn’t end up
on her team, I faked a twisted ankle, allergies,
some reason to go back to the classroom and read.