the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




FOUR WORKS
BY FRANCES MCCONNEL

GIRL MEETS BOY

It was girl meets boy. It was that male/female thing. It was reciprocal confusion
I read him like a novel. He read me like the back of a cereal box. I read him like the palm of a hand. He read me like a traffic control signal. I read him like a weather map. He read me like the TV GUIDE.
It was Kismet. It was meant to be. It was the doom of somebody or other.
He played me like a video game. I played him like a crossword puzzle. He played me like a rainbow trout. I played him like chopsticks on a toy piano.
I recited the Rules of Monopoly to him. He recited Grace. I recited "The House that Jack Built." He recited "To Be or Not To Be."
I read him the Song of Solomon. He read me Exodus. I read him his rights. He read me the fine print.
I promised an unlimited warranty. He promised twelve months or five thousand miles, whichever came first.
I wrote him a love letter. He wrote me a grocery list.
I wrote myself a parking ticket. He wrote himself an itinerary.
We wrote each other an apology. Then we wrote it off for time served
He sang me Mick Jagger. I sang him Patsy Cline. He sang me Peter Pan in Never-Never Land. I sang him Dorothy in Oz. I sang "Careless love, what have you done?" He sang "Goodbye, Old Paint."
I hollered, "But what about me?" and he hollered, "I Yam what I Yam."
So I played him reveille while he played me taps. And we soft-shoed across the stage, him with his hands on my shoulders for the dog-trot; me twirling his top hat with my cane and tossing it into the crowd. Then we galloped in opposite directions off the wings, throwing ourselves into the arms of the waiting stagehands.

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THE DARK STORMS RIP

The dark storm rips the railing from the shore.
Fierce Nature sucks up beach and blows back grime.
Her kiss of fate, our doom, her kiss that floors.

A forest falls; but no one hears its roar.
A planet turns to gray; all's paved in time.
The dark storm rips the railing from the shore.

And what we grasp at crumbles fast, before
The acid rain, the air, the sunlight's grim
And blushing kiss of doom. The floor

Of Eden's bulldozed flat. On Ararat the condos soar
And Noah's death ship fills, one at a time.
So let the dark storms rip. Across the rail, the shore

Of galaxies grows dim; we pull our single oar
In tightening circles. We're evolution's climb
To Fate's last kiss-that doom that floors

Grand Nature's schemes. Is this the end in store?
Drought, plagues, kids' sores-the Old Book's crimes--
And storms that rip the railings from the shore,
And Fate-our kiss of doom, a kiss that floors.

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UNCLE MERRITT AND I EXCHANGE VIEWS ABOUT TWIN TOES

for Merritt Ruhlen: 1910-1997

You bend down and start unlacing your shoe
and opposite me is your wispy white hair
I'm too shy to pet, though I want to,
and your papery, pale brow with the two dents
where they drilled holes to relieve the pressure
after you tumbled down the stairs to the rec-room.

"My new grandson has twin toes,"
I've just said. "The Ruhlen twin toes,
remember? You told me Dad had them too,
you know, your older brother, Harold."

You say: "Harold was a fatty,
but he knew how to make you laugh.
A big kid would be sitting on his belly
ready to slug him and Harold would just start
kidding around. Pretty soon the boy
would fall right off, laughing."

I've heard it often before, but I laugh too,
picturing my father as Oliver Hardy.
I'm barefoot, sitting at your table
after breakfast. Aunt Fluff has gotten up
to put the dishes in the dishwasher.
She scarcely lets me do a thing
but hand her dishes. I'm like
a college girl home for Thanksgiving.

You take off your sock: pale, hairy toes
with their horny, gnarled nails.
And why is it civilization
can make of our feet something so mythically
misshapened, like the hooves
of beasts cramped into iron?

"Twin toes?" you say, stretching out your foot
next to mine. "That's right," I answer.
"The second and third toe. And they're webbed, too."

I ask if it was Grandma or Grandpa Ruhlen
who passed on the twin toes
and you shake your head: "My memory's lousy."
But you're pleased, pulling up your sock,
as you're always pleased to press
a wobbly piece back into the whole picture.
It's like what I'm there for, to catch
that slight twitch of your beaky lower lip
when you're about to kid me,
like the twitch of my father's mouth
which I myself will have lost the gift to recall
long before my plane touches down at LAX.

================

VALEDICTORY

For Tom: Poet, University Cop, Marathon Runner

On the back steps of Padelford Hall
we run into each other. He says
it's been over two years and he's lost
his red headed wife and he's run
in the Boston Marathon. I say
I've finished my dissertation.

Looking me over, he adds that I ought
to take up Serious Running.
(He still speaks in all caps
like a psych major.)

Am I in such bad shape? I laugh,
feeling my breath sag
under the weight of a box
of schoolbooks-the shelves
in my ex-office bare.

He says he's found it Good Karma
to run out the Ends of Relationships.
Is that what I've had with the U-
an affair of the heart?

"You bet." He opens the book on top:
"And the subject is?"
Tragic Irony. Then I laugh.
"At least you don't moan," he says,
taking my burden up,
my Renaissance texts.

At least I don't moan.

Tom tells me the field
is Wide Open to Women.
"And you know their endurance.
Except for my wife." He smiles wryly.
"And your…?" Follies.

"I'm not going to ask." He bumps
my hip with his own. "You're built
for it-running. But you have to start
slowly at first, or dump toxins
into your blood stream."

No cramming, you mean?
No all-nighters under the thumb
of professorial studies?

"And no irony. Just straight-forward
faith." He tells me how last year in Boston
a woman who suffered from diarrhea
came in stinking and brown and
wrapped in a towel and first.
She had run out all poisons.

I say I could do that.

As he lugs the crate to my car,
he pretends not to see how I lag
like a lover forsaken
by light-dappled rooms, smelling
of chalk-dust, by old ironies
in love poems, splendid and cruel,

and in notes from professors,
witty and scolding and sad. Only
this slightly-absurd, helpful man
and his: "Well, come on, then."

Giving in to the world coming on,
I find myself circling Green Lake
as I've seen him some mist-writhing
mornings, his soft wheeze as he comes
anguishing over the bike path, his hands
grabbing and flinging the air.

Battering the hours, I round
the last bend beside him, numbed,
grown-up, Equal to Any Distance,
my life lengthening before me.