At 39 Mermaid Place
the old whore
in bed with another
young husband she
loans her detective-story
to the teenage girl
from next door
so shyly at them
in the bed
and wonders how
such a fat ugly
can get such
husband as this
all the way down
to his waist
where the sheet
as he turns
and looks at her
distance of his eyes
as she backs out the door.
(first pub. in Rattlesnake Review, Dec. 2004)
I’M TIRED I’M UGLY I’M ALONE
Yesterday’s pretty face
is gone today.
My eyes have a grayness
at their deepest place.
I look at how
a sadness droops me down.
I fascinate myself.
How dull I
THE SEASHORE IDYL
(after “Seashore Idyll” by Heinrich Kley)
On that god-forsaken, barren length of beach,
there was nothing left to do but make the best of
things. He was ugly, but maybe she could make him
beautiful, for she believed in lies and spells.
“If I love you, will you become beautiful for
me?” she would ask each time he came ashore. And
he would say he would. She was happy after that,
and each day at the same hour she would lean against
her lonely sea-rock, and scan the gray length of the
sea from one end to the other, and wait for him to
come out of the water.
And he would lumber out and sit on the sand in
all his grossness and sing to her with his loud and
mournful voice which carried so far away it broke
beyond their hearing. The sky would churn with stormy
echoes then settle back to the flat and desolate gray
monotony of this place. And he would droop his head
again upon his chest in some old melancholy.
She would listen until he was through, then ask,
“How can you be so sad when I love you—you who are
so beautiful to me?” And she would turn aside and
weep at her own boredom and sadness.
But he would sit on the sand in all his ugliness,
and he could not lift to her his heavy arms or his
massive head, and he would sigh from his heavy heart
and tell her that she must come with him, then, into
the weightless sea, if she must have an answer they
could both believe.
And she would lean against her old sea-rock and
think of this and wonder how it would be if she followed
him into the wide gray unknown water. Until the sun
went down she would think of this, while he would bask in
the low cold western light and make his impression in the
sand for her, which she would later curl into and sleep.
(first pub. in Parting Gifts, 1998)
(after “Riptide” by Heidy Steidmeyer)
All that is grim, caught here on this long and shining beach in
the warping moonlight—vague things gleaming in the distance;
a bird wing caught in the sand; the small look of something
made of string; the curve of the wet land where it goes on
and on past the following night; the old deliberate way you
glide along the water’s edge until you feel yourself disappear;
and why does it always seem at once so far away and so near—
as if time and distance can be traveled simultaneously.
THE UNCOMELY CHILD
(after Soutine's "A Little Girl", 1920)
Oh, you who are yet a child, though dated by an old dead calendar,
your future cruelty already forming on your face, your hands
clenched together as if to trap yourself somewhere out of reach;
your eyes are the eyes of the oldest anger. The shadows behind you
press forward in a churn of discontent. The hour is sickly green;
it darkens down and wears the light out and grows too heavy for you.
For now you are grimly obedient, letting some brief eternity
name you important. But Soutine has found you out. He makes
the paint thicker, denser. You are stuck there forever; your face
in a pout, your orange dress wrinkled and soiled and your hair a mess.
Your angry mouth looks like it was just washed out with soap.
What ever did you say to make everyone so mad?
These tight veins.
These bumps and protrusions.
Come hold me while I tell you
how it was.
There were confusions
There were stolen destinies.
I had to get even.
See this swollen body
that was beautiful.
I was never a child.
I was always an old remembrance.
No one loved me.
Why do you love me now?
I am cruel.
I am bitten through with
Keep the one you choose.
Now you must live with
Be its carrier.
Take it with you everywhere
even to the mirrors.
Come, let us touch our
frozen souls together
for all there is
to weep about.
(first pub. in Calliope, 1989)
FOR EVERY PERSON I SEE
I should write love poems
for every person I see.
Even those frowning,
at the other end of the room
who quarrel with everybody
hard, unhappy faces.
They are hurting themselves.
They are so desperate
(first pub. in Simbolica)
UGLY, I SAY
Truth and I
confront each other
in the glass.
“Ugly,” I say.
(first pub. in Portland Oregonian, 1971)
Our thanks to Joyce Odam for today's tasty breakfast, her riffs on our Seed of the Week: The Troll Who Lives Under My Desk. Our new SOW is for the season: Fathers—good, bad, short, tall, rich, poor—send your poetic or visual thoughts about them to firstname.lastname@example.org/. No deadline on SOWs, though.