The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Barbara J. Orton


It's me, she said, under your window howling.
I've crimped my hair for you. I'm wearing lipstick.

I've drunk hard liquor to make my eyes burn for you.
I'm sucking hard candy to make my mouth sweet.

I've brought you a bean cake, a red mouth full of stories.
That's my underwear hanging from your sill.

I've brought you my reasons, my hands full of ashes.
Give up your wife, give up your baby girl.


He holds it by the hair,
the calm young man, his body half in shadow
and half an improbable gold:

the monster's head turned away from him
toward you, as if to show what he's done.

The face, not so much brutish as weary--
dark heavy lids, shadows from eye to jaw,
and the wet glint of a bottom tooth

in the open mouth--gapes like an aging man
snoring in his chair.

He painted them three times,
boy and man, before and after
his own death sentence and exile:

in the last picture, he posed himself
for the severed head.

You can't help noticing that Goliath's face
is David's face, but older
by twenty years, the head of a father.

It makes you think of that other scene
Caravaggio painted, with the ram

and bland angel in shadow, and in harsh light--
picked out, bone-white and terrified--
Isaac's face pressed under his father's thumb.

Some say the word of Caravaggio's pardon
reached him before his death.

Some say it never did. Before he died
"he wandered for two days screaming at the sun
and cursing a ship that only he could see."
Four hundred years and still you walk away thinking,
The knife is at his throat.


All the letters I wrote you
Ashes scattered where I'll never see

Broken plates in the kitchen
Bodies twined in your guest bed

Civility, a long painful friendship

Dreams carrying me back to St. Louis
Decency: what I always forgot

Envying even her unhappiness
Entrails full of blood

Fire swallowing what's left
Fear, even now, of what you'd think

Ghosts dressed in flannel
Grinding my teeth

Hating her
How you stopped eating

I make a better mistress than a wife
If only I could sleep

Jealousy, too mild a word
Justice would hang someone

Kissing your throat
Kindness is no good: I want the truth

Light verse you wrote for me
Living too long

Meeting the grown children at your deathbed
Mostly I remember the sex

Nasty things to say at the funeral
Next to God, I liked you best

Orgasms, your hand inside me
--Oh, you said. Oh.

Paintings of Judith and Holofernes
Poems I couldn't publish until now

Quiet in the empty house
--Quick, before she gets home!

Reading Shakespeare out loud
Refusing chemotherapy

Savage: what I became
Sending e-mail even though I know you're dead

Trembling when I kissed you
Truth wasn't what I wanted, after all

Unbearable, remembering
Ugly things I said

Visiting the museum together

Wandering the city looking for you
Waking to remember you're gone

X-rated phone calls
X-ray shadow

Your wife, always so polite
"You're neurotic, you're a're my type"

Zero, in the end

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication