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Talking In the Dark (When the Rates Go Down)

ISSUE:  Spring 2002

My daughter dorm-distant I’m polishing
zinc lids the shoulders of blue jars
the way my mother shines yellow tiles
in a third latitude
radios buzz bad weather
Ashley sprawls in jeans an apron props me
mother leans in a stained housedress
that map of the land of lotus eaters
running water over stiff hands


She stares past the black mirror
turning a wrist under the spigot
traversing that unlit landscape poverty
bathing in a bucket
chasing a chicken seizing its ruddy wing
clutching above razor claws and snapping the fierce head
musical water elemental my father downstairs
behind two doors like a gem in a vault

He hunches his shoulder
tracking the tennis ball’s video trajectory
tucks to brace his spine for the lob
his metatarsi twitch in sleep
like a hound dreaming through boundless fields
he used to clock miles around Lake Merritt
when sweatsuits were uniformly gray
roadwork blurry rope fig of the punching bag
how I feared those ripe fists

Mother tucked her left leg pale as milk
scattered jacks in the hall
crimson nails swept the starry oak
a red ball hovered above our breath
she could jump each silvery bovine over the fence
and herd them into her palm twice ours but kind
her childhood anecdotes cautionary
crates and soapy plates and sweeping sleeping on straw
that chicken

That girl slipped scalded peaches from their skins
and sailed each on a slimy conveyor
honey hair trapped beneath a spider net
she stands at the tap running silver heat where blood
shudders the wrist
eyes pinned on the night her husband
swinging his lantern through infinite stars
shook them into a single spark
kept folded in his wallet

She looked out to claim his one light from that sea
bitter as coffee as arguments
he slammed the door gunned the engine
accellerated into midnight the paired
rubies of departure widened our street
like the wake of a boat
it is a thing men do I know that now
drive away
slip the weightless ring from their fingers

And women cry
pinned between the wings by regret
waiting up late in neighborhoods of excess rain
polishing handmedown jars
flawed crones resurrected from cellars or rubbish pits
bubbled and burbled masons that stood
unrepentant in the scald
bore in their bellies the indolent peas
and kept their complaints to themselves


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