SUNDAY AFTERNOON OUTSIDE
Rain zithering off the rooftops of cars,
azaleas ablaze on the porch are hot-pink zealots
against the leaden drear of March.
The five-year-old across the street is screaming
I’ll kill you, waving a broom at a lumpish kid
on the sidewalk, her mother staring blankly.
I’ll kill you, again, softly, diamond-clear, you can see
the fine mist on her skin. This kid leaks pure rage;
it slips out of her through the gloom
of this wet, no-birdsong day, unfathomable,
uncontrolled, a splendid fury she may lose,
and not wrangle it back until she’s forty.
All day there’s a table saw chewing wood next door
that occasionally grazes something metal and shrieks,
as if meeting its own demons face-to-face
and not prepared for them.
That original box of eight, so neatly lined;
posture correct, paper garments zipped tight
to the chin, taut paper hugging the curves,
and the round, flat feet all in line, noses aloft;
held, oh woe; no dappled gray, no liver chestnut,
no dark bay, neither a Hereford’s coppery rust,
nor a single rabbit-ear pink, no watercress wet,
dark green, nor any August corn-silk pale gold.
Can’t find Ma’s luminous pearls, nor our Pa’s
sad leather shoes. No dusk. Not a misty, mauvy
dawn to behold. But, God thanks, no hollering
from the kitchen, no slaps, and not a single shade
of endless retribution. Though nothing of starlight,
out there, waiting to be loved and wished upon.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH
Best mother insists, when you fall off a horse
get your butt back on, get on with business
Good enough teacher hisses, learn it
by heart, thumping her scrawny, echoey chest
The scary aunt, sniffing the air around you,
announces that your aura is muddy
Good dog sleeps on your bed, pleased for company
best cat hovers, plots, fulfilling a destiny
Okay pal says, it’s cancer, join the crowd,
what’s new, have you written anything good
Best father teaches you how to shoot the .22
and make the marinade for venison
Best husband hides not just the handgun, its clip
but also the key to unlock the safety
Beloved grandmother raises her binocs to look
for a bunting, saying, I never wanted kids
Good enough pal says the poem is awful,
really, how could you, this is garbage
Best horse leans his face down,
sniffs, nibbles, still wants to climb onto our laps.
We nailed his pelt to the pine tree, the skin of his limbs
stretched tight, each separate hair of his beautiful fur lifting,
falling in the breeze, and his smell, first raw, then gamey,
then rank as the day heated up. Below him five dogs
in agony for what they couldn’t have. How they hollered,
poor things, you’d think they’d die if they couldn’t
kill and devour him, no matter he was already shot dead
and nailed up, his little paws splayed out, his odor traveling
away from the farm, toward town. Later, the cold, white pour
of moonlight—we’d come out and it chilled us—couldn’t stifle
the odor of the dead past harm, defeat, the odor of dogs
who knew what they wanted, the tall pine holding it from them.
Old and walking to the car, leaves a’rustling,
birds all atwitter, you fall down, you fall down
again in the street, yes, a year later, again
that slow curling onto the pavement, moaning
about how alone you are, slow trickle of blood
from ankle and elbow, the glasses scratched
and bent, wasn’t there a Van Gogh painting,
no, wait, that was just of two old boots, but yes,
more like Tom Courtenay’s poor twisted specs
in Zhivago, that movie of long ago, Pasternak’s
war huge and real, and this here’s not dying
from bullets fired into strangers by haters,
merely the everyday getting on with it, aging
grumpily without grace in a city far from home.
Helen Wickes is the author of four books of poetry: In Search of Landscape, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2007; Moon over Zabriskie and Dowser’s Apprentice, both from Glass Lyre Press, 2014; World as You Left It, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2015. All six poems published in this article are from an unpublished manuscript titled “Transit of Mercury”. She grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, has lived in Oakland, California for many years, and used to work as a psychotherapist. She is a member of Sixteen Rivers Press, which has recently released the anthology America, I Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience.