The Bat Of Porch Light
"Night, when I was flying across
the sleep of other lives,
your pet reached out and snagged me
from the balcony, in the web of my cape . . .
This gore lays itself out for your lionheart,
who feels less companionless
nosing over the mousy
bird of me.
I feel, just behind the right shoulder, clean teeth
become my own spare bones,
a synchronous skeleton.
We live together briefly, the tom whispering
in my ear, me tolling
But the arrest weighs on me.
Night’s old neatness mussed. Here I am
indoors, bleeding all over the house-
mistress’s books, everything I knew forever
jounced from place, my slant on things
flattening to the floor. A kind neighbor
drowns me. Phoenix sloshing in a pail.
He drops me on a glacier.
I await the county man
who picks up iced identities.
Death is my address
on the flyway to South America.
And my sound—
like hair after hair uniting on a cat’s back—
migrates among the rabid searchers,
who will find outI was well.
As is, therefore, your treasuredmugger".
-subsequently published in EXPECTATION DAYS, U of Illinois Press, 2007
—I can’t translate much,
But I know the symbol for the sun:
Two empty boxes, or the dusty corners
Of a sunporch. Will they never
Tell the weather?
The Iharas left this delicate letter
Crushed behind a desk drawer,
On paper thin enough to divide a soul.
Took J. to the place
where you and I saw the rat.
This time was different—my first
Green heron flew under the low trees
And chose a branch
That strawed up winter life
From the blank pure springwater.
Is it gloom if it startles and shifts?
The bird was immature,
Streaked, and unknowledgeably late for this meridian.
Phoebe keeps cutting larger and larger scarlet letters,
Wants to know exact material and style.
Yes, she can translate the A,
Ornate or plain. She stalks me
And suddenly I’ll feel something held against my back.
She tries it there, before I’ll admit
To wearing it face on.
I like it, I say,
I like anything you make for me.
And they will keep appearing, surreptitious surprises.
We must be unready for them.
-published in PATRON HAPPINESS, Ecco Press, 1983
Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember
How I found them in a vein beside the railroad,
A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold
While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot.
I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed.
I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly
Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me
No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened
To the light. They were bright as any orange grove.
I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut
With no roots to grip, like laboratory frogs' legs twitching
Or like red beheaded hens still hopping on sheer nerves.
On the third afternoon one bud tore off its green glove
And burst out brazen as Baby New Year.
Two other poppies dropped their petals, leaving four
Scribbly yellow streamers on a purple-brimmed and green
Conical cadaver like a New Year's hat.
I'd meant to celebrate with them, but they seemed
So suddenly tired, these aging ladies in crocheted
Shawl leaves. They'd once been golden as the streets
Of heaven, now they were as hollow.
They couldn't pull together for a last good-bye.
I had outlived them and had only their letters to read,
Fallen around the vase, saying they were sorry.
-published in ELEGIES FOR THE HOT SEASON, Indiana U Press, 1970
Limper and meeker the cheap cottons grow thin.
Heavy with wearing things; nothing I want to be seen in.
I’d rather lean in the window
With my poppled milk-skin and say nakedness
Is our drab uniform. Don’t worry:
Nothing will approach, no one is looking. Only
A white dog like a flashlight across the night.
Father has allowed me to name
The clothes—as I learn to sew. But they
Are boneless. They’re not animals. I can’t support them.
New things: yes, I’ll sit in them for awhile,
A full skirt, ruffles, necklace, watch and rings,
And rub a gardener’s naked back. But when he sleeps
I strip alone, open
The curtains, flatten against the window
I give oil to, pull back
With its dust tracing my sunlessness.
Or I might hold myself like rag and ammonia
To the pane I make worthwhile,
Clarify. My silhouette is clearly tired,
I want to start from here and go on,
With this streaked and strapping,
Purple, pale, okra-blossom bone-clothing,
The body scribbled on by a carried child
And not for young satyrs to grade. I want
The worn clothes torn
To bare the thread,
To pattern what is raw-edged.
This is my body
Stitched for no one else,
With these patchworker’s bloodstains—every quilt
Wears its finger blood
From the needle, this
Is not failure, to be harmed this way,
Thimbles, bodices, all cast off. Lights off, I rest
Here in a nakedness that has the power
To make our daughter
Beside the curtain torn by a catclaw
Or chewed through by sun, I am more
Than a glass woman, more than a fabric one.
This skin. The bible-leaves of the labia.
The fever of my forehead. Its
Workmanship. Naming the quilt patterns.
Name clothes, Father says, be ashamed and name the clothes.
I name. Wimple, haik, yashmak. Panties, slip, bra.
-published in STREAMERS, Ecco Press, 1988