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




11 WORKS
BY SUSAN PILEWSKI

BONES

                I would expect to find them more in a desert town,
                        laid bare. Left to bleach on the side of the road.
                
                       Stripped of the body that cradled them once.
                This one, perhaps a deer? A dog? Half
                        carcasses are everywhere
                
                       Out of place in the suburban town
                        my parents have chosen to call home
                        in their last years.
                
                         I would think the stench would have caused a stir,
                        fresh wounds gathering flies.
                
                         The weight of rot heavy among
                        well tended plots of sage and oleander.
                
                          Or the mounds of teeth, clavicles, ribs at the curb
                        An encumbrance to some early morning jogger?
                            Any mother with her child walking here.
                
                          I am beginning to think that it's just me-
                        who would find them,
                lovely and camouflaged in their stillness.
                
                         In the wake of each un-dug grave,
                doves release their wings in the reddening dust.
                        
                

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

COMPANY

Leaving my home one morning
and returning at dusk
I found the turtle I had "saved" from the roadside,
the one I thought was injured,
had shredded through a layer
of plush seafoam saxony
to lay her eggs in a carefully crafted circle
in the middle of my living room.
It astonished me
because everything else seemed perfectly normal
not like the time I was robbed:
books torn from the shelves, broken glass, the expensive pillow cases gone.
Here, I still have my VCR
and fourteen potential guests to the left of the coffee table.
I spring into action, researching first
reading about how most terrapins are able to hatch on land,
so I construct a pen around them
made of thick pine dowels and chicken wire,
strong enough to deter the cat crouched nearby
in a hopeful loaf.
What I do not know is how long it will take them to hatch
having been unable to match their mother's visage
with the small black and white pictures
in my North American Field Guide.
Weeks pass.
I have begun to chart the days
marking them off in red on the calendar.
My mother arrives for a surprise visit
she remarks how hot the house seems for early spring.
I tell her to watch her step as she enters through the hall.
After a while I don't get much company
and sleep less
though I don't mind,
preferring to sit and watch the circle
hoping they will emerge soon.
And when they do
I plan to remove the pen
allowing them to roam along the farthest corners of the room.

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

NURSE DAWN DRIVES HOME FROM WORK

                        Thinking of Florida.
                        Named so, because it was warm there in wintertime,
                        but really nothing more
                        than a rusted heating grate out behind Delaney Gym.
                        At 15 she sat cross-legged with her older brothers in shirtsleeves,
                        wool coats spread out before them
                        like beach blankets,
                        the sharp smell of chlorine pervading their senses.
                        There they emptied bottles of Boone's Farm apple wine-
                        still unable to abandon the sweeter palate of childhood
                        then stumbled home, arms linked, steam rising from their skin
                        as their bodies came in contact with the frigid air.
                        
This afternoon on the screen porch, next to her patient
                        they both drank from the bottle of cheap apple wine
                        he'd won last month, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
                        And as she tilted it to his lips
                        she told him the story of how sometimes
                        she found leaves in her sheets the next morning,
                        from having to pee in the bushes,
                        and about the waffle marks on the back of her legs
                        that took days to disappear.

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

REVIVING THE LOST ART OF CHAIR DANCING

For the Jens
                        

Self-expression for the uncontrollably lazy
                           where you can do a modified Froog
                              complete with closed eyes and attitude.
                        Or if you choose, stomp and twist
                           with Hokey Pokey hand movements
                                          to choral music or The Gipsy Kings.
                        Shimmy all night in front of your plate of ziti pizza
                           like Elvis on the Sullivan Show
                              safe from the waist up.
                        Thrust your body weight down, down,
                           down like you mean it
                              down through the pores of your prosthetic oak limbs,
                        forming a brand new Super Nova crack
                           in the braided, pale Venetian tile.
                        It has everything to do with not caring,
   knowing you're too old for this shit:
      two three-cha cha cha
Partners, of course, are optional.
Hit it right and you might
                           just break a sweat.

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

ROCKET AND BANANA

                        I write these words on the board
                        then ask my students to dig deep-
                        beyond obvious incongruities.

                        Tell me how they are alike.
                        First, the stream of protests,
                        You can't eat a rocket.

                        You can't ride a banana.
                        Followed by peals (no pun)
                        of adolescent laughter

                        When one girl connects the
                        phallic shape of each.
                        Her language as colorful

                        as the marigold and plum
                        strands, that adorn her hair.
                        I find her lovely, because she

                        is unafraid to speak in this
                        room full of strangers
                        Because she wants to break

                        the silence with what she knows
                        to be true.
                        If I were maybe, nine years old again

                        driving to OTB with my father
                        and this girl was crossing the street
                        in front of us,

                        He would shake his head and say,
"Jesus, wouldja look
                        at that-the circus is in town."
        
                        And I would peer out the window
                        thinking a parade was about to pass,
                        then turn my attention back to the

                        racing form in my lap, because my father
                        needed me to pick a winner, although
                        I might bet on Rocket in the eighth, to show.

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

THE KISS

                Walking through the carefully crafted
                rows of manmade hives taught me
                how not to fear.
                Even when the bees would
                settle themselves against the cool surface of my skin I did not flinch.
                                                
                I was five, maybe six
                when I learned the unspoken etiquette
                of this foreign land,
                when to sway --
                 when to remain still.
                I marveled at their
                black, alien eyes
                their lean taut bodies
                and the constant stream of communication
                sung in exquisitely low tones.
                                
Last night, years later
                miles from that home,
                we have gone to bed angry again
                and have been silent for hours.
                In the darkness, my face close to yours
                as the spaces between breaths,
                I ask for a kiss
                and felt for the first time
                the full sting of your mouth.

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

THE NIGHTBLOOMING CEREUS

                        Half past eleven the night Cereus blooms.
                        You are in the garden with your flashlight
                        and your pregnant sister, six weeks gone
                        (though I know to include this fact
                        might smack of poetic contrivance.)
                        
The scent of the Cereus
does not survive cutting.
Would wilt in the bud vase,
waxen and stale. Like most things

which bring pleasure, its essence can't last.
Half past eleven- your form, still a warm dent
on the eggshell sheets
and I list more to center.

I have learned to wait- half past eleven
for the dark shove that signals you're near
and your flawless description of that mottled blossom
which I, gladly, will steal.

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

WATCHING MY FATHER CLEAN HIS GUN AT THE KITCHEN TABLE

                                I am sitting to the left of my father
                                while wearing his white cotton gloves,
                                the kind that stop traffic
                                examining the collapsed fabric fingers
                                that begin
                                where my real fingers end.
                                My eyes tear
                                from the stench of linseed oil
                                saturating the now blackened rags
                                strewn across the kitchen table,
                                their work done.
                                I watch as he takes a child's toothbrush
                                and cleans the cylinder
                                purging the deposits from each
                                of the six chambers.
                                "Never point a gun at anyone," he warns,
                                "even if you know it's not loaded."
                                Without another word
                                he removes the layers of newspaper
                                set down to help control the mess.
                                I notice the dark smudges
                                left behind
                                where ink has bled through the dampened sheets
                                staining the surface
                                of the speckled green and white Formica.

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

THE YEAR THE FURNACE BROKE

there was no money to fix it.
I woke each morning to the sound of my father
in the kitchen downstairs, at five a.m.
heating the first of twelve pots of water
for the washing of breakfast dishes and children.
That winter, I slept in my coat
underneath four blankets
inside a green sleeping bag.
With eyes half open I would roll over in darkness
lift up an arm,
and feel the condensation that had formed
on the wall above my bed.
With first light,
I could trace the ebb and flow of my breath
as it escaped my mouth.
I washed myself with heated water
from the same pot my father used
to make sauce in on Sundays.
Other times I ignored the ritual
and took a cold shower
numbing myself to the onslaught of water
as it pelted my flesh.
Some days I refused to bathe
and left the house
in the same clothes I'd slept in.
Once I remember sleeping over my girlfriend's house
and asking her mother if I could
take a bath before bed,
letting the hot water run into the tub
until I could no longer see anything in front of me.
Imagining that this is how the world looks
from the center of a cloud.
Later that evening in the guest bed
I lay awake, pulling my ponytail over my face.
Feeling my fingers streak across the strands of hair
smelling faintly of balsam.
I remembered the low muffled roar of water,
like holding a shell to your ear the first time
believing you can hear the ocean
and laying down
I let it rise above my neck, covering my chin,
spilling over the edges of my mouth.

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

THE ALLURE OF 1957

Would have to be the aprons.
Starched white and sickle sharp
the one Lucy donned and Ethel too.
Donna Reed and Lassie's mom
a brownie baking uniform.

                        But wait there's more
the literature:
How To Win And Keep A Man-
  A Common Sense Guide To Marital Bliss

And oh, What you could learn from this!

As much as you could
for a girl. Why
thumbing through six books on cars
will show how interesting he is.

Don't indulge in personalities
or give advice unless you're asked
and then take care with what you say.
Avoid an obvious display
and banish loneliness this way.

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

SYMPATHY FOR THE CREATOR

After the Earth's molten crust had cooled
on the windowsill of the Universe
and a proper lighting motif established.
After the dinosaur experiment went awry,
the most glaring omissions being opposable digits and empathy.
After the prototype models tracked primordial ooze across the Asian land masses
and learned to walk upright
keeping their knuckles off the ground,
The Lord rested
and leaned in for a closer look at his latest bipedal creations,
their dewy skin
still ripe with that new human smell.
And He smiled at what He had created
because it was good.
For a while.
But the mind of God had failed to predict their unpredictability.
The sheer abandon with which they seemed to seize the baser angels of their nature.
The murder of a brother here-
the slaying of some innocents there.
Centuries of this became too much to bear.
Even after a flood He could not keep them down-
"Worse than roaches" He was heard to mutter.
They burned and crucified His messengers
who returned home shrugging, shaking their heads,
"I just told them what you said."
He found himself staying up late,
chain smoking and eating fried foods
His fingernails bitten to bloody half moons,
watching infomercials and trash talk shows.
In the mornings,
He would storm the halls of heaven,
an empty crystal decanter aloft
His magnificent voice booming,
"Jesus Christ, am I the only one around here who knows how to make coffee?"