The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Jacqueline Powers


Okay we were first cousins
and maybe he loved me more than he should
but his is a sad tale
a cautionary tale
like a made-for-TV movie
but all his almost sincere charm easy smile
couldn't save him from
time after time        bam!
or his mother turning a blank though loving eye.

He fought back the only way he could
when he smashed that kid
in the head with an iron. I mean,
what's a boy to do?
He was sent away for awhile
they called it reform school back then
and it was school all right
he learned about meth and skank and angel dust
and knife fights and Hell's Angels
and how to almost survive in a lack-loving world.

He was just sixteen when his daddy
keeled over
we went to the movies that night
took all the kids and he leaned his head on my shoulder
and cried and cried
he was so happy the old man was finally dead.
Shoulda killed him myself, he said.
You're so beautiful, cuz, he said.

I don't see him too much anymore
just weddings and funerals.
He never did make it to prison
just the county jail a time or two like when
he got into a fight with a chain saw, lost
half his nose that time.
The other guy survived, too.

Lost his grown-up baby sister about that time
to the false-bright, fog-promise oblivion
        of heroin.
No one ever dared tell him their new step-daddy
raped her at thirteen.
They knew better than to stir up trouble,
though he's grown calmer
over the years.  I think.


Her last breath was the same as her first,
hard and grasping. And in between
was hard, too, with no childhood
to speak of, eldest of fourteen
except one died a baby,
scarlet fever they said.
Mother's little helper and
school in jealous fits and starts before
the glove factory assembly line
and row house in Philly
with her own 2.5 children, black and white
linoleum floor. How we hated
that sauerbraten smell, castor oil swill spill.
But that was later.

That was just the way things were then,
they shared what they had
slept four to a bed
and we didn't know no different back then
she always said, smiling, shaking her head.
We didn't have nuthin' but we had enough, she said.

These were spare-strong people.
Her daddy was born old. His eyes
lived somewhere else, as if long deprived of choice
hands bent like a pretzel.
He hardly ever spoke out loud.
Her momma never spoke at all, but
worked the ground with egg shells
and coffee grounds,
birthing roses big as cabbages.

In the end her face an intaglio
white-cold, marbled stone--
an effigy of itself.
They woke us in the dark
so we could share
that last breath which was really no breath at all.


This bar is smug with the brittle smoke
taste of conversation.
All around people sizzle
in an effort to come together,
while nonetheless setting themselves apart.
They coyly seat you
in the almost empty second floor,
just inches from the only other
person in the room, who you carefully avoid
looking at, instead pulling
an unused secret from your
new red leather tote, although,
when you accidentally meet
his green gaze you can't help but wonder,
Is this the next man who will
sop up my juice slick with a rasping tongue?
It would be so easy and anonymous,
so vile and unlovely, viscous
and unimaginative, but isn't that the point?

At home you've grown
impatient with my carping on eternity.
But I will find you next time around
like I found you this time, that simple necessity,
okay, call it what you will,
call it need, call it delusion or bone-black
nothingness beyond the death dance of despair.
I say, Because it doesn't matter.
I say, Because I know the taste of you now.


This is no bird-dappled Easter Morning,
sunstruck, no, just you and me staring,
and an empty house,
those colored egg dream kids
climbing trees, throwing sticks and stones,
some broken bones gone now,
the occasional half-drunk hilarity
has faded, and I wonder, did we stand
or did we fail, or does it not matter
in any case, now that our time
has come and (perhaps) gone,
and you on the floor
on your side in the kitchen,
fingers twitching,
plates and dishes scattered, ambulance
and sirens rushing, wailing,
a corpus wired for sound, bleep-blips,
red/green lights flashing
a silent prayer, a rosary of sorts,
though it's not time,
there's time enough yet for all that
and more, but this Easter Morning
we will make our own way,
unfettered, unbound,
search out wild orchids in the shadowed
crotch of chilly trees, forsythia
in a jelly jar, abundant, and spring rain,
while in the pond
a thousand fish waiting to be born.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication