Poems

 

The Disappearance of Mademoiselle

When she entered the patisserie,
the women sang her name.
Bonjour mademoiselle.
Like music. 
She was 18 and too thin,
too far from her mother,
her coat not a winter coat.
She liked it here.  She learned
she was melody
and all sweet melt

of croissant chocolat,
or tartelette aux pêches.
They knew her as not
ready for marriage,
and she agreed.
She was not madame,
a word without feathers,
hard-sounding,
like an insult
wrapped around a rock.

The world of mademoiselle,
was always morning and light-filled. 
She was new to the world, counting
centimes, her lips blowing out soft
shapes, oranges, framboises, almonds.
Her legs, so fond of themselves,
they took her at her word,
they took her everywhere.

That is where she was last seen:
at the patisserie, bells
ringing over her head.
She was walking in the door,
as the women looked up,
their mouths closing quietly
around an old impulse,
their eyes empty of her,
and the song she hoped for
slipping out of memory.

--Ilanot Review, winter 2013

 

Penmanship

“When we examine a nest,
we place ourselves at the origin
of confidence in the world.”
                                Gaston Bachelard

I.

A vireo’s nest, tiny and perfect, woven
of pine needles, strips of birch bark,
and a thin piece of white string
threaded from top to bottom. 
The bird’s signature,
the way Navajo women sign rugs. 
I look into the empty cup as though
to read tea leaves.  Sometimes
I crawl in to feel Braille
on my back.  Letters bending,
each needle a work of circle-making,
the round room we yearn for,
the swaying rock-a-bye and cradle croon.

II.

My mother wrote her name in cursive
thousands of times on yellow legal pads,
as if to bring herself more into this world 
by signing up for it, as if by letting
the still strange letters of her married
name become more rounded,  more
comfortable walking their green
tightropes, she might finally
come all the way home to us,
where we waited in vain
for the circle of her arms.

--Ilanot Review, winter 2013

 

Poems from March and Mad Women

I’ve seen them kiss in Paris

long strung-out kisses         on bridges                 or under them—
 
leaning           against wrought iron railings          bent backward

over benches                                              sometimes, they hang

from loops on the Métro, or                       lie down on the grass
 
                                                 of the Bois de Boulogne.

Tongues reach, lick up the last milk of daylight.

And what happens behind the cats looking out windows—   (countless
windows stacked up and down       with reflection and behind them

afternoon spreading itself, as it always does in Paris—across the floor

and up the wall:
                             the yellow dress, stockings still gartered, one toe
                             caught on the corner of the mirror)?

I cannot say who the woman is.                 Or the man.

Perhaps the woman is me.     Perhaps she imagines it is World War II; 
she’s working for the Resistance.

Perhaps the man knows
                                                this is as good as it gets

when you’re out of work, when everyone knows language can only
pretend.

In any case, the two are kissing.  They are not alone:

there is a great sound of kissing everywhere.   It isn’t,

as some have thought,    the spin of the subway’s slip beneath the city,

or the tin-bright splash of hundreds of fountains. It is really the kissing.                            

Legend has the kiss invented here as the door to origination: so they do,

pressed together, sharing            one key,       fumbling with the lock.
 
It’s the key hitting the ground,                  then picking it up again.

It’s the let me try, let me try that you hear.

 

March and Mad Women

Month of no prisoners, snow hard
enough to walk on, then collapsing
to the knee, everything knee-jerk,
askew, the borderline mothers
test their lines in you, hook
the heart up through an ice hole,
throw it back.  Never a keeper,
nary a word of responsibility
for winter’s harsh length,
blackened frostbite, the rage
witch throwing dark winds
against your house, blighting
souls of unlit daughters gone
to stone, long walls
of them in fields, awaiting
their comely moment.
The wretched melting shows
what has stayed, what has fallen,
facedown, frostheaved
brows shamed and fastened to the underearth,
ears worn from listening too hard for the right voice.
Stones so tired of silence, they crack apart.

Walk lightly here.
All is wary in this hallowed ground,
harrowed with the breastbones
of the daughter-scourging.
The seeds so forlorn,
hope wants none of it.

 

Luna

What seems a child’s open hand
on the window makes me jump.
Let it not be a hand.
A pale green bat? 
A night butterfly? 
No, a moth, a giant moth
drawn to the light
of my kitchen at 3 am.

I have met things in the dark:
a black bear’s greased back reaching
for suet, the hide-ripping screech
of a fisher cat.  And every March,
Gladys, slipping and falling on the ice,
dragging herself to the back door,
where she can’t reach high enough
to make the key work.

A luna moth, the book says,
lives for a week and has no mouth.
Mouthless.  I am astonished.
It cannot eat or make a sound.
Pulsing wide on my window,
this could be Gladys, or tonight,
it could be me, hungry, motherless,
leaning forward on fragile wings.

 

The Woman-without-Arms

The woman-without-arms leaves behind eight places
she called home, most of them rented, except for the one
where she was married, but that was a long time ago.  Perhaps
you think the story is about a mannequin—one of the faceless 
limbless torsos with angular vinyl haircuts in a Macy’s window
in San Francisco who grows dissatisfied, joins a support group
and makes her way to a better window in Singapore—
or maybe the woman is really a girl who is standing with her arms
behind her back, the way girls often put their arms behind them
to look up at something for which they yearn—the sky,  a painting
in the museum, the movement of the clock above the 7th grade dance—
the etiquette of “do not touch.”  A way to not flail with one’s needs.
And you may have something there.
 
But let us go on to say that this woman is a grown woman
who has let her arms get away from her.  And let’s say
she gave you one of her arms?  Perhaps the arm is still leaning
behind the coats in the hall closet, or perhaps you brought it
to the Yankee Swap.  You wondered what to do
should she come to visit and you didn’t have the arm out,
as she walked from room to room looking to see if you still had it
somewhere—if it still meant anything.  And you thought,
my god, she made me take it.  She had two arms.  She said
she could do fine with just one, so you thought it better
to take the arm, not to be rude.  But then it did look odd
in your house.  You could not find the right place for it,
and although it looked OK over the fireplace,
some people found it strange, even with the bracelet
(which came with it), the manicured nails, and the small scar
near the thumb from a dog bite in Switzerland.
So you took it down.

But now she does come to your door.  She has no arms at all,
and you want to ask about the other arm, but that would remind her
of the first one, so you pretend you don’t notice she doesn’t touch
her drink.  Much later you find out the other arm put out a thumb
and hitchhiked up the coast, is now working in an artist’s studio,
posing nude. And though she thought she should say something
about needing it to stay with her, she didn’t want to interfere
with its growth or claim it as her own. So she became armless
and could not eat or clean herself and began to go so downhill,
she couldn’t get out of bed.  Everyone thought:  What a shame!
She had such potential! They thought:  if she wants menial, let’s
give her menial.  So the woman-with-no-arms became the one who
cleaned the blue ceramic tiles of the courtyard of the Great Pear Tree
with her feet.  She cleared away the fallen fruit and never ate any
because it was considered wrong to eat the fruit, and she wanted more
than anything to fit in.  The others had lived near the Great Tree
longer and knew how things were:  the misfortune
that would follow if she broke the rules.
 
One night, she couldn’t sleep.  (She had many nights like this.)
So she went alone to the tree to note for herself the beauty
of the shining tiles in the moonlight and to check on the ripening pears:
their fullsomeness, their night fragrances.  As she stood looking up,
(as though she had her arms behind her back), one ripe pear,
heavy with sweet water, bent the branch down to her mouth,
and without thinking, she took a bite.  Because she felt better for it
the next day—a kind of excitement in the pit of her stomach—she came
out secretly every night to eat pears that lowered themselves,
and her arms started to grow back.  Slowly at first
(she could hide them under the empty arms of her sweaters). 
But then she discovered there were four arms growing, not two.
They stretched themselves beyond her reach.
And she followed them.

 

Chickering Bog, East Montpelier

Quaking soft spot on Earth’s skull,
a place you can fall through.
Blue flag iris and sweet gale, sundew,
orchid, and cranberry--it is quiet, sodden:
a fen place, where dragonflies, lured to the sweet
cupped water of pitcher plants, dissolve
into the undulation of a bog nourishing itself.

In the end, I can imagine myself there--not myself
exactly.  Not my body, pulled up a thousand years
from now.  And not my ghost, calling out distinct
ambitions, signaling from its missing black box. 
But that part of me willed to nothingness
and the sudden infill of space: a gleam of sun
on water, the leap of something too quick to see.

All poems copyright 2013 Linda Aldrich