White Heat


My mother stands before the white heat, but for her
it is more Cagney

than Dickinson, sweat

and a tray of pills, cable, that good son
on a tower of fuel

calling out to his ma.
I’m all undercover,

Edmund O’Brien working his prison con.

For her part, she can recall the exact evening
in 1949

when she first saw the film,
what she wore, what she ate, what the air was like

on the walk home.
The camera swings—

she waves a bruised arm, points
at Virginia Mayo,

B actress, moll,
shouts Danny Kaye—Walter Mitty.

Pulls her top down
just enough

to reveal where the quivering substance plays—
little anvil,

hammer poised to jolt her heart
should that muscle fail.

It’s a good

she runs her fingertip into, its zippered Braille.
The movie

ends.  The mother’s dead,
son ignited,

the aftermath a rush of memory
and piano.

All those schoolgirl lessons coming back
in the curve of

her hands, the shape
of her back—

1949, ’52, my difficult
birth, how

my living almost kills her.  She
plays.  I

listen.  The hammers’
finer forge refines the melody—a pile of din and flame.

Dennis Hinrichsen has published six books of poetry.  His most recent are Rip-tooth, winner of the 2010 Tampa Poetry Prize, and Kurosawa’s Dog, winner of the 2008 FIELD Poetry Prize.  He has new work in FIELD, The Journal, Scythe, and Solstice.  He lives and teaches in Lansing, Michigan.