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




FIVE WORKS
BY MIRIAM SAGAN

Joshua Tree
twisting, half moon in the blue
daytime sky--
I limp along
on my arthritic hip

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

I WENT LOOKING FOR MYSELF SOMEPLACE ELSE

The large photograph on the museum wall
Shows the widows of Mozambique
Heads thrown back, arms outstretched
Refugees preparing to return.
Widows, the caption says, who must
Exorsize their husbands' ghosts
Soldiers who fell in battle--
Tribal, intersticine,
People who will kill
For the wrong language, phrase, a turn
Of custom, or the name of God.

These widows burn the small houses
They've lived in for years
To show they are leaving, once and for all,
This land of exile.
Certainly they'll take their children
Their pots and pans
Home, but leave
The spirits of the devisive dead behind.

I read about Afganistan--
The widow who will drop
A grenade on the Taliban
From the flat roof of her adobe compound.
Who among us
Doesn't want some kind of revenge?
Although you'd think I'd be over it
By now, years after your death.
Still I go seeking
For comparisons extreme and violent
To what I felt
I also would have liked
To drop a grenade,
Burn a house,
Deride death--that vehicle
Of loss.

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NUDE WITH A GAS MASK

After September 11, my friends began shopping
For gas masks, toilet paper, cipro.
When I was a child, my mother used to take me to the Cloisters
By Spiten Dyvell, past Yonkers, across from the Palisades.
We both loved the treasury the best
Monkey cup enameled with dozens of tiny
Monkeys among vines. I like St. Anthony’s Cross
With a compartment for an allopathic herbal dose
Against ergot madness.
That is when I first became afraid
Of Medieval Rye madness that makes one hallucinate
?Despite the fact
It is not found in New Jersey
In this century. But I still
Won’t drink from an open can of coca cola
In case it has LSD in it.
After September 11 my friends began planning
How to evacuate Manhattan in case of disaster.
If the bridges were sealed
There was no way out.
They began shopping for life jackets and flotation devices
So they could swim the East River
Land in a terrifying no-man’s land
Of drug dealers and gangsters on the other side.
At the Cloisters my mother explained to me
How the stone effigies of knights on tombs
How the legs crossed if he’d been in the crusades.
And the unicorn, did I mention that white beast
Trapped not by lances but a pure virgin
And forced into a paradise of flowers?

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BATHING SUIT

I bought a bathing suit
My mother didn't approve of--
Forget that I was middle-aged,
She did not approve anyway.
It was black, with pink flowers appliqued
Low over the family bosom.
Worst of all, thin strapped,
Two ribbons really
That tied behind the neck.

She said nothing--
Though I could see it was an effort
But we waded in companionably
To stand waist deep in Atlantic
Thats when the next
Big wave hit
Stripped that bathing suit
To my waist, left my breasts naked
For the whole beach to see
With a salty maternal slap.

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

CORNER OF THE EYE

I sometimes pass
Those funerals
At the corner of Alicia and Hickox Street
New Mexican families before St. Anne’s church
Dressed in black suits, or sometimes cowboy boots.
I can tell from the expressions
Who has died--often
A very old person, I assume.
The middle-aged cousins look serious but not stricken
And chat, glad to see each other.
Then there are those other clusters
Of the shell-shocked--
Men supporting a woman
Someone’s mother or wife
As the cops turn on their headlights
Lead the procession of hired cars
To Rosario Cemetery.

My daughter told me recently
That when she was very little
She didn’t realize clouds could move.
Above the pre-school playground
The turquoise shy seemed fixed,
A fluff of cloud
Eternally painted on the mountain.
Then, one day, out of the corner of her eye
She saw a cloud move
Looked up, and saw them rushing high
Cloud horses, cloud riders, in the wind.
So we’ve glimpsed changed
From where we stand
Or even merely
Passing by.