Be broken in bright light,
a drain in your back, your body
releasing its deepest red,
a cardinal opening a wing
within. Halved, one side soft,
the other, a scar running
like a railroad track up to your underarm
where your life was spared, that open
field of broken glass and bad boys
who’d slit anyone’s skin just for the thrill,
just as the doctor appeared, asked you
to count backwards. Be shattered
walking the hospital corridor, slowly,
as each nurse changes her face, name,
smiles and pretends to know you.
Be just at the top of God knows what list,
turn toward a mirror and see all fire,
know your name spills like coal.
Be broken in your car, watch
the light snowfall gather
on the car’s hood, disappear;
dream of eating only air.
Stand at the top of the stairs,
in light falling from the high window.
Be fractured, discharged, come down
lightly as the first snowfall
white points, torches in your hands.
my arm held
under hot running water,
blue vein bulge, trumpet sound—.
Carnival flower, five fingers ready to dance.
Release the elastic!
They want to start a life of their own:
nail, bleached hillside.
Blood disposed down a drain—
my name, street, best time to be reached.
Losing My Hair
It fills my hand
like a small animal,
I could name it,
close my eyes, rub it gently
against my face
tangled in my fingers,
soft as silk from a cornfield.
Look, look – I call to my husband
carrying it down the stairs.
Not that I wasn’t warned by doctors
that one day I’d find it
on my pillows,
in the drain,
on my plate,
in my food.
That morning it started to snow,
nothing that’d cover the ground well enough —
black splintered branches,
strewn all over the yard,
neither wind nor trees.
I couldn’t bear to wrap it in toilet paper,
throw it out.
I carried some strands to the woods
spread them on the ground
for the birds to lift
into their nests.
I placed some more strands
in an empty hornet’s nest,
its gray center welcoming
The hornets were gone,
but the birds might come back.
I wrapped the last few strands with some horsehair I’d kept.
A few thick pieces of a black mane
I’d pulled riding once, out of fear.
Donna, the hair stylist, turns on
the electric clippers,
says Hon, do me a favor
and close your eyes.
She’s tall, heavy,
and sweet as sugar,
hair a teased peroxide
Over the phone she’d said
not to worry about anything,
they had wigs—
they would play with me.
The first wig makes me look
like an airline ticketing agent.
The second one drives a school bus.
The third one, curling around my mouth
wants sex. That one couldn’t be worn
near an open oven door.
The dark one, like my mother’s hair
loves the rain,
travels well in a small box.
Donna says try this human hair,
it fits like a silk glove.
But it’s short, thick Oriental hair,
a gold medallist, figure skater’s hair.
Donna says the reason my complexion looks so sallow
is because of all the chemo.
I leave the yellow of her fitting room.
Sweeping the floor
around my chair, Donna says
After the eyelashes and eyebrows go,
your eyes will need more bang.
I wasn’t the sassy red head he thought he’d pulled over,
black framed designer sunglasses hiding the fire in her eyes,
whose car he’d walked extra slow to,
passenger window lowering as she turned to speak,
ice slipping from the safety glass as from a square fin,
hiding deep inside the car door, smudge-less, ready to rise.
He looked directly at my mouth to see what it might
be, a warm, welcoming silence, or a dog caught with a bone.
But my lips are too thin, slightly purple like morning
glories choking along their white line.
His hands were large. He spread his legs, ripped the ticket
out of his book as if he was about to strip and the ticket
was the first accessory to go. No, I wasn’t the woman
he thought he pulled over, but a spinning out of control
strip show coming right back at him. I pulled off my wig, held
it out to him like a scalp, a sacrifice, an enormous spider mashed
on the dashboard. Holy Jesus he muttered. sorry, sorry, sorry,
stepping back from my car. He didn’t know where to look—
no eyelashes, no brows, no face to match the face
on the driver’s license, no deep sky blue backdrop curtain
to highlight the eyes. My hands shook on the steering wheel.
A woman can be dismantled, yet she moves or dies—
The cop is thankful his kids or his wife are not me,
this woman for whom he now wishes God speed toward
her prayers or the mother ship or the ocean’s white lip,
his large hand holding back traffic as together we pull out,
gravel kicking up from behind his tires,
siren blasting birds like torn paper wavering in the air.
By nightfall I’ll convince myself it is a gift:
this life so thick it sticks deep in my throat
parched and yellowing, overgrown shoulder
like weeds rippling throughout my body—
the cop home and showered with a story to tell,
his family gathered inside their dinner halo.