The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Kathi Morrison-Taylor

I think of prayer.  The slow reach up
and curl back, leg rising steadily,
a knobby arm of a clock; then time
tumbles--like that.  Seven-year-olds looping
across blue-carpeted sprung floor.
The reason to stretch so far seems complex,
gesture surprising and off-hand.
Each spine answers the will
of an arc, pearls concealed so the arch
is more like a tree bent back by ice
or wind, not the necklace of bone
hung from skull to seat, contorted
into architecture.  It's natural.
Their bodies bend before age trains
them back from the ledge where flips and dives
command at least a try.  I can still
imagine perfect faith, the breath that fills
my lungs as I look up and back
into the center of God, or just loyal sky
wheeling to catch our dizzy amens.
My sloppy work makes me cringe.
I planned to stake them but they grew
too quickly.  Now with florists' wire
and strong bamboo, I devise a plan
to raise their fruits, pull the dragging
arms erect without splintering limbs.
Most say they're delicate,
and it's true that at twilight you can't
water them without risking blight,
but don't discount their unruly ways:
Beefsteak tomatoes strain stems
until they rest in bush beans, cherry tomatoes
tempt moles with dusty spice,
and Big Boys in our corner plot, tease
sharp eyes, flash orange beacons
under watermelon vine.  They wax wild
like the teenage girls I teach,
who should be too smart to lie
or cheat, as they sometimes do.
Next year, I will cage them quick,
before they know July sun,
encircle each seedling with wire hoops,
fair boundaries for enthusiasm.
They will grow upright, aligned in rows,
tendrils trained efficiently.  They'll perform
as I ask them to--unlike my girls,
who tend themselves appallingly,
prop their breasts with Wonder bras,
and bare their midriffs to the summer's heat.
All the time you're telling it to stay,
it drools for a reward,
eager to scramble off with its bone
to a private corner of your mind.
Mornings, you wake to its howling
at garbage men who've come to take
rubbish from the curb of your dreams.
You curse its protective racket.
Later, when it's curled up tightly,
whuffling, foot-kicking, soft-jowled;
or at your heels, secret rock-eater,
tongue dripping--you love it .
Forgive lost collars, prized dead crabs,
its late return, limp cat
in its jaws.  It whines
at your displeasure but barks at joy.
Cacophonous past,
beyond obedience,
old and full of tricks:
Take it by the choke chain.

        Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC
Unnaturally older than their owners,
nothing like the leather they were,
strangely limp and wrinkled,
they hold each other--toe-to-toe
or heel-to-instep--not a metaphor
but evidence.  Their emptiness aches
as if to separate feet from shoes itself
were brutal.  Phantom metatarsals
sharpen themselves on disbelief.
An era away from Nazi death ovens,
their brown tongues and black knotty laces
burn my vision until I tear and wonder
if I am too young to be authentically
bitter or grieved.  Behind glass
in semi-darkness, they prove a mountain
of distressed humanity, footprints lost
yet preserved, in each sole,
an archive of flesh memory.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication