The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Moira Egan


I ought to know by now: a boy like him
is going to fall in love with me for cause
so wrong it should be criminal--and yet
I met him at a party, where he came
right up to me, no small talk, we discussed
biology and boys and girls, taboos,
tattoos and witchy dresses, all my rings--
he told me I reminded him of his sister,
a punk rock girl so wild they wrote a song
about her. Did I know it? Punk Rock Girl?
He said it was Dead Kennedy's but no,
I set him straight, it was Dead Milkmen, so
apparently I knew a thing or two
about the 80s' seedy underside.
My favorite movies? Diva, Liquid Sky
(his sister's favorites too), that actress, wan,
who plays both male and female parts and in
the hippest act of solipsism I
have ever seen, she goes down on herself.
We talked about South Street and Zipperhead
before the tourists came and how the punks
and preppies warred. And only when he said,
She used to be older than me but now
I'm older than she was, did I understand.
She died ten years ago. It was heroin.
Their mother tried to have a talk with her;
she went back to the City, she'd go clean.
The phone call came the next day, 3 a.m.
He hasn't slept a full night since she died.
Can you imagine what it's like to get
that call at 3 a.m.? Your sister's dead.
If he would let me, I'd unwrap the blood-
and smack-soaked bandages around his heart
and press them to my lips.

I didn't say
that our phone call came later; it was ten.
My sister in Shock Trauma, Wilmington;
they'd flown her in a helicopter there.
An accident on 95, she flew
into the windshield. She was Critical.
I told my parents I would drive, I knew
that highway blindfolded. Just let me drive.
It was the summer she had run away
down to the beach and I was just as glad.
I used to find her boyfriend's spattered blood
on the bathroom ceiling when he came around.

They lined up empty bottles of JD.
One night, so far strung out on PCP
and coke she didn't even know her name,
she tried to kill me with a butcher knife.
You've heard it said, "My boyfriend saved my life"?
Well this one really did: he got the knife
away from her and her away from me.

She's lying in the ER like a corpse.
Her feet are Boardwalk-calloused, bits of glass
are sprinkled in her hair. I see the ring
she must have stolen from my jewelry box
-- the opal glowing in the harsh green light.
I want to love her just then, but I can't.
They say those stones are bad luck if they're worn
when not your birthstone. Maybe if they're stolen
it doubles up the bad luck?

We're both drunk,
a party four years later. She comes in
the bathroom, where I'm peeing, and she sits
across from me, perched shaky on the tub.
I was fucked up. I'm so sorry. I love you.
We're both a messy flood of tears and then
she says, That guy you're with, he's really cute--
you wanna trade? We laugh, like sisters again.
Not everyone gets to have this conversation.

        for Sionna, in memoriam Georgie

My little sister's little dog has died.
I didn't know him all that well but cried
because he was her favorite, puggish, sweet
and always snuffling joyfully. He tried
to run with the bigger dogs in all this heat.
My sister's daughter found him in the barn.

You'd think that after all the deaths of pets
we experienced as kids (I used to think
our parents gave us pets so we could see,
up close and personal, the chilly hand
of Brother Death. See how you learn to think
when Dad's a poet?) we'd grow used to it.
I never have.
I still go into grief
when someone dies "before his time"; I shake
my recently freckled fist into Death's
ugly skinny face and still can't take
the awful fact of it. I've watched them die,
my best friend at sixteen, my grandmother,
my grandfather, my uncle, then my Dad,
then his mother (and speak of truly sad,
to see a woman lose a second child
some fifty years after her baby died).
Death sucks. He isn't fair.

And when I go
to any funeral now, it's like the worst
and deepest death replayed, again, again,
that bright and lovely day in February,
the astro-turf for green around the grave.
I turned in time to see the awful crane
begin its work of lowering my father in.
I hate funerals; I cry; I'm just a mess.
I'm grateful for the bright sun at the graveyard
and hide red eyes behind prescription shades.

But when the lady poet died, I drove
through dreadful storms and downtown Baltimore
to find the tiny chapel. It was cold.
I looked around. The poets all were there,
the priest seemed gentle and the Catholic prayers
came back to me like reflex, and I said
those words I used to know; I spoke in tongues.

Surprised myself, I rise to stand in line
to take the sacrament, body and blood.
At times like these, I think the dead can see
how much we love them still. I taste the bread,
a sip of wine, whose sweetness startles me.

for Reetika

In water warm as amnion we float.
She says it looks like San Pellegrino

and it does, the Mexican sun
sparkling down like lemon.

We're laughing about the worst lines
ever said to us by men.

--You have the most beautiful shoes.
--Your eyes are such an incongruous blue.

And these from Famous Writers.
She asks, But are there any good lines?

I tell her about the red-headed Englishman
on the train with us from Constance to Florence.

As he left, he said, I hope you live forever.
Of course, I never saw him again.

At La Gruta, you swim into a cave
where the water crashes down on you, a force

shot straight out and hot
from the earth's volatile heart.

But you can't stay in the grotto very long.
We swim back out and rest for a moment,

our hands on the concrete island
in the center of the pond.

We shiver in the ladies' changing room,
chilly out of the sun.

She smoothes back her black
cascade of hair and passes me the towel.

Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful
    --Adrienne Rich

I'm telling my new-found friend Fiona
that in your forties you figure out things
that'll save your life. My girlfriends all must own a
wicked pair of pumps and fishnet stockings,

for example. Superficial? Au contraire.
I want to know a woman friend's been down
some scary alleys too, come up for air
and seen the beauty in the heart's wild pound.

These are the women who would never shake
their heads as you divulge your reddest shame;
they'd be the ones to join you at the stake
while prune-lipped puritans kindled the flame.

So I was happy when we three girl poets,
upon confiding deepest darkest things
the night before, all showed up in our fishnets
and cockroach-killer heels for our reading.

And peeking through the net, our crimson nails,
the way we hide and show ourselves in poems.
So, like the wily girl in that old folktale,
we too arrive "not naked and not clothed."

AT 3 A.M.

And when my cell phone vibrates in the dark,
its alien green eye blinking me awake,
I hardly start. My past, both near and far,
at these hours never lets me get away.

He's drunk and lonely, wants to hear my voice,
although I'm guessing he could wake his wife
and do to her in person what he enjoys
explaining he would like to do to me. Night

can come on heavy, I'm first to admit,
the sheets twisted around you like a noose.
But I'm getting too old for this late-night shit
and being his 1-900 number muse.

I tell him I can't talk; I'm not alone.
Truth is, these nights I'm sleeping with my poems.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication