Three Poems

Going Out of Business

Here, at the end of all things, or at least
the end of the mall, where in another lifetime
my aunt wore heels and bright suits every day,
took me to her lady at the JCPenney salon
to get my hair permed. Here where the perfume
counters spritzed and glowed, where I had
my colors done at the makeup display
and was pronounced a woman, where
I tried on sheath dresses and the fabric sagged
at the hips where I did not fill it, where
my aunt grabbed my arm and snapped at the clerk
who mistook me for a boy. The store
is closing for good now, clothes marked down
and gathered to the center as they dwindle,
the racks, too, for sale, the mannequins.
She still wants to come here,
to this clearance to end them all,
pushed in the wheelchair with the oxygen tubes,
to work through the crowded racks
of last year’s Christmas sweaters mangled
by hangers, velvet jeans, designer
emblazoned sweatpants, shuffling her feet
to drag herself to the next, looking for the top
just the right shade to go with the teal pants.
The summer colors and crinkled fabrics
laid over the arms of her wheelchair,
piled in tired excess. The floors are dirty
and the escalator is broken. Nothing will be
as it once was, when we spent the whole day
in the smell of newness, eating square pizza
in the din of the food court, laughing
as we held up things we’d never wear.


Dead Can Dance

Why were we listening to this music all year? Faux mysticism of the ancients,
Farsi chants, an immense hurdy-gurdy circling us like flies,
two-second reverb that promised the vastness of bottomless night.

Something about Ulysses. This is what was playing as we undressed on the floor
of your parents’ living room, spider plants tangled the ceiling, the coarse oriental rug,
the small inbred dogs circling. The house sagged under its load, twenty years

of paperbacks, magazines, exotic clay figures and old plastic toys
crowded the windowsills, layers of afghans made every chair and sofa a homeless
wretch huddled against the cold. Usually we were only passing through,

and they were in their places, your father gazing into the crunch and thud
of the computer game where you were allowed to be the evil one, your mother
reading in the yellow circle drawn by the gooseneck lamp, the dog

licking and licking her pale calves. She smiled at me always, though you told me
that after the skull’s been opened twice (to scoop out tumors and hope
for the best) a person’s teeth never fit together quite right again.

You said this at the back of the yard, pulling cigarette smoke deeply into
your frightening thinness, then stubbed and carefully worked the last tobacco guts
from the butt to prevent a fire, slipped it into a brush pile waiting to be burned.

No one knows what a woman a year from death looks like, even the ones
who are not passing through her life on their way someplace else,
as I was, and as she seemed already to have forgiven me for. She died in March

in the spring I knew I would leave you. In your cold bedroom the window’s light
turned my skin to paste, and the next day the wind blew so hard I saw it flip
the dried body of a worm from the sidewalk and carry it away.



A clapboard moldering, flaking paint
where dim August forest crumbles
into the muddy glint of the Ohio
making its sluggish way inland.
A narrow road finds the Rose Hotel,
the grocery where the last of the produce
wilts and browns, gas pumps
clicking their slow spindles.
At noon the old women sit
at the shelter by the boat ramp,
leaned onto picnic tables,
knees splayed in the heat, each
in her own Easter egg pastel,
the little-girl-colored clothing
of old age, funerary flowers
embroidered at the sternum.
The barges pass slowly
and the old women bear witness
to what is always left behind.
Middle distance. Islands splitting
and reforming in mud, sudden opening
of a power line cut through trees.
Under everything that has happened
they are still alive with this
thing they will not say. Long-buried faults
in the continental crust and all
the lives which are not ours.
What to do with the remainders
of want? The phone lines
grow heavy with starlings
and despite themselves the old women
tip grayed vulvas toward the river
because rivers still extend
to the horizon, in this unrelenting
foolishness, the place
of the still-warm bodies of every
longing that will die with us.



Image: SecretName101, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons