Sixfold poetry winter 20.., p.2
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       Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016, p.2

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  with her hands on her ribs

  so that her fingers fit

  into the shallow grooves

  and would rise and

  fall with her breath.

  That she’d always felt

  there was an

  old and low music

  within her

  and this was the proof


  pulled breath carving the tide

  into her body


  In the car with my mother

  we speed along the straightest road

  I have ever seen

  the thin thread of asphalt

  never wavering from its route

  to the end of the earth.

  Here in western Kansas we feel alone.

  This is where my mother’s love of vast space

  was planted

  and so sifted down to me

  we are both unable to breathe

  in the density of forest.

  A few cups of

  bitter gas station coffee

  later and we’ve arrived

  at the farm house with its

  whitewashed walls and

  powder blue bathtub

  and the oak that coats the porch with shadow.

  It’s empty now

  the house where my grandmother lived

  and lost her own mother.

  Trailing my fingers along the kitchen counter

  I wonder if the dust still has a lingering particle

  of these women

  I watch my mother

  climb into the blue bathtub

  and rest her head on its cracked edge.


  If I could


  your bones pick

  them up

  piece by piece

  so that they

  became not

  wrist or sternum

  but driftwood


  left by water

  a last impression

  of a passing life

  Debbie Hall

  She Walks Into Starbucks Carrying a 2 x 4,

  her frayed wool greatcoat

  scented with mold, white hair swirling

  about her face as she scans the room

  and shuffles to the counter

  for a free coffee sample and cup of water.

  Without warning, she lifts her 2 x 4

  and swings at the air behind her,

  sends the other patrons fleeing

  like a small burst of quail startled

  from their bushes.

  Let this serve as a warning,

  she shouts to the air above her.

  Perhaps there are malevolent spirits

  that hover above her,

  follow her wherever she goes,

  or perhaps she is simply announcing

  herself, claiming her right

  to walk on this small patch

  of real estate, to step across the thin line

  separating us from her.

  The Geese at Camp Fallujah

  Next to the city of mosques stretching

  across arid land, a compound

  of tents and concrete buildings

  stood next to a water supply—The Pond.

  In a landscape where Humvees roared in,

  kicking up great clouds of sand,

  and Howitzers fired into air

  electric with conflict, the geese

  presented their newborn

  balls of fuzz with orange beaks

  to a city of Marines in camouflage.

  Each night after dropping

  75-pound packs onto hard earth,

  the men checked on the downy goslings,

  keeping count of each one

  until the babies grew plump and tall,

  ambled down the road with their flock

  past sandbagged bunkers

  in the rising light of dawn.

  Why Stray Cats Loiter Around The Duarte Family Mausoleum

  That day the sky was brushed with a wash of cirri

  at the Recoleta Cemetery. The Argentinian workers

  wove their way through thick clots of tourists choking

  the gateway. Twelve stray cats emerged from the dark

  of the tombs and began a procession past the doorways

  of deceased notables. A one-eyed tomcat sniffed the marble

  statuary lining the lanes and lifted his tail

  to spray the slumbering boy angel before nibbling

  the crumbs of empanadas. He stopped to rub against

  the doorway to Evita’s final home, shining the bronze

  with his whiskers before hissing at a groundskeeper

  who kicked him away like a wad of trash. The Lady of Hope

  kept a silent watch over this bit of cruelty, but stray cats

  know that Little Eva will take care of them. Yesterday

  they saw her in the eyes of a dowager offering small morsels

  of herring and biscuits. Today she inhabits a spray of water

  washing the dust from their thin, matted coats. Tomorrow

  they will hear her voice call to them from deep in her vault,

  once more inviting them into the shadows, safely home,

  away from our indifferent cameras, our transient curiosity.

  I saw how they ignored me and expected nothing else.


  As a teen, rules and responsibility were never your strong suit.

  At least you shrugged them off quietly—

  no grand displays of defiance or bravado, no swearing

  or railing at the unfairness of it all. You never labored

  over explanations or rationalizations, much preferring

  the comfortable mantle of passivity. You were sympathetic

  to others’ frustrations with you—your wasted intellect,

  lack of application, no concern for your future. You joined your family

  in throwing up hands of exasperation over you.

  Years of therapy chipped away at the early traumas: Dad—drunk,

  hands in the wrong places on your sister. On you.

  You shrugged that off too. Asked about your feelings, you let

  your sister speak for you, let her pain describe yours, watched her

  work through the hard stuff. You played a supporting role.

  When I saw you years later, you wore a uniform of pressed navy,

  crisp white and confidence. You shared your plans for the future

  as though they’d been in your head all along. Imagine my shock,

  then, when I heard about your car, abandoned at the top

  of the Mason Street Bridge, no note in sight. I read

  the tributes to you on our hospital’s website, details about your

  funeral. Front and center, your picture, your grin—now gone.

  Missing Jayden

  Here in front of me—in my memory—

  stands a small boy,

  his nose almost touching mine,

  his sloe-eyed gaze an invitation.

  He is talking with great intensity

  about vacuum cleaners.

  Hoover is his favorite brand.

  He wants to know mine

  and how many do I own right now.

  Apparently he is a hellion

  in his kindergarten classroom.

  His principal and teacher assert

  that he has little respect

  for authority, as he routinely

  fails to follow instructions

  and interrupts them constantly,

  sharing facts about vacuums

  and their accessories.

  His grandmother cares for him

  while his mother marks time with heroin

  and his father does time upstate.

  She loves him but is plumb out of ideas

  and bone-tired. Jayden enjoys our testing

  sessions, es
pecially before and after,

  when we extend our dialogue

  about vacuum cleaners. He would like

  a new one, but cannot afford it.

  When I tell his grandmother

  that Jayden is a bright boy with autism,

  her eyes fill up with liquid relief.

  Jayden’s school does not take as kindly

  to this news, certain that he is just

  a smart boy behaving badly

  and has us conned. It took two weeks

  to spring Jayden from the special school

  for behavior problems, two months

  to finish talking about his time-outs

  in the isolation room. At our last session

  together, Jayden held a photo in front

  of my face, almost touching my nose.

  In it, he stood next to his new blue Hoover,

  its extra-long hose wrapped around his waist.

  Michael Fleming

  The Signalman’s Story

  December 7, 1941

  What do you do with the news? When the call

  comes in from Honolulu—Sunday morning,

  the San Francisco coast is clear, all

  the other men asleep—nobody warned

  you, just a kid from St. Cloud, that today

  you would handle history’s lightning bolt,

  you would be the first to know. Do you pray?

  No one even knows the words: Midway, Gold

  Star Mothers, Guadalcanal, Saipan, loose

  lips, Hiroshima. Right now it belongs

  to you, alone at the teletype. Refuse

  to believe, as if you could choose? Not wrong,

  not right. What do you do with the news?

  You do your duty: you pass it along.

  Alcova, 1971

  Thirteen, so I knew all about it—how

  to tack, how to jibe, how to sail it flat

  on a broad reach or close-hauled, with the prow

  pointed home, the foam boiling astern, cat’s-

  paws ghosting the water, the telltale clues

  to the fickle mind of the wind—yes, I

  knew all that, I’d read not one book, but two,

  so all those words were mine. He let me buy

  it: bright yellow Sunfish, thirteen feet, used,

  let me launch it just two weeks after ice-

  out on a raw, squally spring morning, too

  soon but I couldn’t wait, wouldn’t wait, I

  said I was ready and hoisted the sail,

  cleated the halyard, ducked the boom that missed

  my head by inches, inducted myself

  into the Order of the Orange Life-Vest—

  he cinched me in tight. I clambered aboard,

  took up the tiller, fumbled for the sheet,

  squinted into the wind like Nelson, Hornblower,

  Jones. I said I was ready. He

  pushed out the prow, reconsidered, then stepped

  a big step, unexpected, irretrievable—

  barely onboard as the boat leapt

  ahead, already planing, the wind heaved

  its shoulder full force into the sail’s belly,

  and I hadn’t thought of any of this—

  how it would really feel, surging pell-mell

  into the lake, hearing the frantic hiss

  of cold water gurgling beneath us, how

  the sheet would cut into my untested

  right hand, or how the hull would buck and jounce

  while my left fought a phantom that arm-wrestled

  me for the tiller. I hadn’t dreamed

  of fear, of being overmastered—my

  command redoubled. We beat a hard beam

  reach, downwind fifty yards, no more, and I

  shouldn’t have fought the gust that turtled us,

  should have dropped the tiller, let the sheet slip

  harmless from my stubborn fist, should have trusted

  the old adage—just let go, the ship

  will find its own level—but no, I held

  on tight and over we went, first a shock

  knocked me breathless, electric ice, the shell

  of the hull rolled belly up and it rocked

  away from my groping, squirted away

  slick, ungrabbable, the daggerboard streaming

  snotbrown water, and then—what? I may

  have lunged for his flailing hands, may have screamed

  Dad!—may even have seen him go down, slip

  silently down while I bobbed above, useless

  as a newborn in the bright orange grip

  of the vest—I may have watched myself lose

  him, may have seen what I had to unsee,

  to make unhappen: his face disappearing

  into the deep beneath. Some fury

  of refusal possessed me—no, not here,

  no, not now, no, no—possessed me to poke

  my frozen fingers at the frozen buckles

  savagely till they gave, the vest broke

  away like a parachute and I ducked

  myself madly ass over end, kicked, felt

  the burden of my clothes, my shoes, the skull-

  crushing cold, I came to him, saw him still

  sinking, still, like a statue in the dull

  filtered light, a waxen head with arms raised

  as if in blessing, or forgiveness, or

  surrender, blank bewilderment, a dazed

  emptiness, limply sinking. I lunged for

  his wrist, latched on, kicked hard, up, clumsily

  tugged him up toward the light, up, I clawed

  for the light, lungs heaving, up, suddenly

  broke the surface, gasping violently—by God

  he breathed too, coughed up water, breathed again.

  Dad! I sputtered. Are you okay! He nodded

  dully, eyes half shut, lay shivering when

  I draped his arms across the gently bobbing

  hull, hooked the frozen claws of his hands

  on the upended chine just as the roar

  of a motor approaching fast, a friend

  appeared (the man who ran the music store

  in town), he’d seen it all, revved his ski-boat,

  rescued us. I don’t seem to recall how

  we ever managed to get warm, how we got home—

  another thing we never talked about.

  The Brace

  I was afraid to look at it, afraid

  to touch it. The cold steel plate that mapped

  the curve of his torso, the canvas straps,

  buckles—when it was invoked, I obeyed.

  It scared me more than the scar itself, neck

  to tailbone, the incision and the sutures,

  a faint pink highway of pain. I knew

  the story: Montana, a horse, the wreck.

  He never complained—not to me. He’d say,

  “Maybe you can help me . . .” and Mom would add,

  “Or does your dad have to put on the brace?”

  As soon as he died she threw it away.


  A music man, my father—always whistling,

  singing, mastering the flute. He did

  it all, loved it all, called it his ministry

  —a true amateur, even amidst

  his gleaming instruments and X-rays—dentist

  was just his day job.

                                    Evenings were

  for practice—lessons, band—and Sundays meant

  mass, incense and bells, and God must have heard

  what all of us heard: he sang for his soul

  in a thunderous baritone.

                                             Even better

  than the hymns and churchly rigmarole

  were Gilbert & Sullivan shows. He let

  me tag along—Mikado
, Ruddigore,

  Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Pinafore.

  His favorite? Hard to say. He cut a dapper

  figure as a commodore, was paired

  with the handsomest matrons, doffed a cap

  like he did it every day.

                                         In the glare

  of the footlights he found reality

  in make-believe, his face behind the makeup.

  When they did The Mikado he’d be

  Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, never break

  character, ever so pompous, so stern,

  so silly. He had it all in him.


  bellied and berobed, he took his turn

  with eyes painted Japanese, high plains style.

  He sang while assuming a sumo stance,

  and brought down the house with his Pooh-Bah dance.

  I saw all the Patience rehearsals, sat

  in the back of a drab, musty old gym

  while the prairie howled outside.

                                                          Maybe that’s

  when the notion first took root, in the dim

  confines of adolescence, childhood’s winter,

  that poetry is ridiculous. Night

  after night I took it all in: the thin,

  simpering figures of poets, their tight

  velvet knee britches, their lavender-scented

  hankies, their frilly cuffs. No one laughed

  harder than I did—I got what it meant.

  But my dad was a dragoon, a man after

  all, and that’s how I learned that men wear swords—

  something to sing is the whole point of words.

  for my father

  Jim Pascual Agustin

  Sheet and Exposed Feet

  My mother thinks little of ironing

  clothes. They gather wrinkles

  as soon as you put them on,

  she says. Even the collar made stiff

  with starch will get creased

  in no time. She knows we all die

  crumpled and naked in God’s

  eyes. You don’t get to choose

  the surface your skin must finally

  press against as it bears the weight

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