Sixfold poetry winter 20.., p.2
Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016, p.2Sixfold
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
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
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
piece by piece
so that they
wrist or sternum
left by water
a last impression
of a passing life
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
than the hymns and churchly rigmarole
were Gilbert & Sullivan shows. He let
me tag along—Mikado
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.
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
Sixfold Poetry Winter 2016 by Sixfold / History & Fiction have rating 2.9 out of 5 / Based on32 votes