BY SUSAN PILEWSKI
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?"