Except for One Obscene Brushstroke – 2003

Letter to Myself 

Once, I confused my own hand
with desire,
once I held it there

until it promised love—
it couldn’t possibly get better—
until I realized

I’d rather cry
or take a long bath
alone in the house.

Doesn’t it seem
the more thoroughly we wash
the more we stink,

our bodies refuse
to trade in
their own damaged coats—

that even a moment
can take more
than all we’ve got.

I Hope My Daughter Doesn’t

lock herself in her room in only a nightgown
and black lace-up heels, listening to Average White Band,

dreaming about how to make it to Studio 54
from Brunswick, Ohio while outside fields turn glossy

with ice and in the next room my father
dying—promising, after the morphine takes hold,

to wait for all of us, somewhere, in heaven.
I hope my daughter doesn’t become scared

of birds, angry creatures of vast acres,
affordable on the outskirts of town,

holding a metal trash can lid like a shield
as they graze past her.  I hope she realizes how

quickly her two-cylinder tractor cuts the grass down,
how her large concentric circles only get smaller.

I hope, like me, she never ties the clothesline around her neck
just to see what would happen, then jumps from a chair—

wears the cut behind her left ear like her first real secret
to bed for a week.

I hope my daughter doesn’t grow up thinking her body’s childlike
except for one obscene brushstroke,

but that she’ll pull that first tongue that enters her
deeper—her head falling slowly back,

eyes closed, and let stars be stars,
unnamed above the sewer plant, above their parked car.

Who was the man, disgruntled, who jerked the car door open,
pulled me out of the front seat, gun to my cheek, calling me Kathy?

I hope she doesn’t take on God too young,
like the one that caused the kitchen light switch

to spark and catch the wallpaper on fire
or sent down the small plane

killing the last of the town’s seamstress’s three red-headed sons,
the other two already dead—one to heroin,

the other in a car accident—
leaving her with an alcoholic husband, a sewing machine,

and a recent litter of  puppies to give away.
I hope I believe whatever my daughter

tries to hand me.
I hope my daughter doesn’t grow up thinking

she wants to stay, for her mother to live forever,
and decides toward her life to run away

and does it well—not like a friend and I tried to, once,
dressed in short tank tops and cotton flowered skirts,

hitchhiking to Boulder, Colorado, pulling our skirts up
high above our knees; one car stopped

and pulled off the shoulder, the driver slowly
putting his cigarette out

as both of us turned toward each other, high-fiving,
in disbelief.

Under Fluorescent Light

much isn’t possible—
bloom of a black rose,

dark petals fallen from night,
from a broken vase

held together by our hands.
On my worktable, six flared

velvet capes, underbellies of robins,
muffle hearts, tender 

as a body’s open borders.
Flowers, actually.

Call them what you wish.