Rye colored sky. A confetti of slim white birds.
The family of potato pickers, eyes on the ground, move
through swells of dust and sun
leaving the cow chained to the grass
beside the road, a cart horse like a shop girl
droops its head, chewing slow,
the Virgin in an arch of multicolored bulbs
awaits in the shadows for the evening to come on
a police car watches from the trees
something bleeding on the road
the mother pulls the child closer
in the bus shelter, the couple press
together like an envelope without glue
a pond glistens
dogs bark from the village
signs like mushrooms appear
offering forks, beds, crosses on fire
the last to mark the massacre
in the woods outside
that village that on on maps
is nothing but empty space.
What can you say? Beyond the words
for children and for tired,
the scars on our bellies tell as much.
The circles around our eyes tell even more.
So many small islands of women.
Standing in the playground between our homes
we heard the news of the shipyard strikes
from a woman in an apron who came running
from sandbox to sandbox. We cleared the shovels.
We took the children inside.
The pain was great, so great
I didn’t care that it rained
and the mud splashed into the wagon
onto my legs.
I was all belly now
and one dull claw trying to cut me in half.
By the time I reached the hospital
I could barely stand
but they made me wait. So many doors
and they made me wait.
Oh I could tell
they didn’t want me in.
The doctor saw my muddied feet and yelled.
The nurse asked if I brought my soap
and when I said “no” left me
with only my hands to cover myself,
hands smelling of horse.
Afterwards, I had no bribes for the nurses,
nothing to make them come.
I wore the red gown they gave to all the mothers.
I stood at the window and looked out
for a husband with apples in his arms.
Ripening in the Dark
A formation of neon birds comes down
stopping just short of the curb
caught it seems by a searchlight or the girl
who holds up the chicken for you to nod
then delivers the guts before your eyes,
bouquets and knotted scarves from a sleeve
into her hand.
A switch flips on.
The Baltic sky darkens and eyes pale.
A fish leaps from a building into a tub of air
it can’t escape.
Like snow, the streets clear of people
under the plow of buses in red convoys, scatter
with the shots of bolting doors and step of boots.
The police close in, winding a gray bandage
over the city.
The millions who fell into line all day,
waiting for a door to open and someone to appear
from behind a desk or a counter and say yes,
I am listening, are silent. Their eyes
slip through the iron bars
to the boxes lying open on the floor.
Just this one time
to see the oranges ripen in the dark
and the face in the passport
that calls itself theirs
We drink tea
from her grandmother’s cups. Buried in the garden
they outlasted the war.
Tea made cool
by too shallow cups.
I remember my Smyrna aunt
three days with a bone sack over her head
barely breathing for the smell,
fearing she’d be found
by the Turks
and made no nicer for it.
A petty woman with a nervous dog.
isn’t always good.
World War II; or, The English Lesson
It’s just too much to say.
The “w’s” make a comedy of her mouth.
The lips, so lush in Polish,
wobble back and forth,
do a Marilyn Monroe walk
in skirts so tight
every step is a pain.
The Good Wife
I smoke, though I do not smoke.
I stroke his head, though the hair is thin.
I show him the full length of my legs,
raise them up like a bridge.
And I let him make love,
spurting, into my hand.
In this I am faithful to my husband.
Anna D. Moves Into a New Apartment
You can’t begin to understand
how wonderful it is.
For years I have waited.
I shared lavatories.
I had no washing machine of my own.
My mother-in-law’s cats ate from the counters.
Everywhere their bowls of rotting food.
It’s a wonder we weren’t all ill.
When friends came to visit I hid them
in my room. I served tea on trays
and shut the door quickly behind me
so they wouldn’t see the filth.
It was impossible to have a party.
Only once, when his parents were away,
we called the few friends we had left
and acted like teenagers. We drank and danced
and took color pictures of ourselves
sprawled on their best chairs.
The next day we returned to our whispers,
for his parents took to napping
long into the afternoon. We hushed
the cries of “stop” which mean “go on,”
the time I’d later say I’d fallen,
our children’s first sounds.
All of us so nervous.
It was terrible.
I became repulsed by my husband’s body.
The whiteness of it. The smell.
I took myself a lover.
Three whole days. Then he left for London.
A friend of mine also had a lover
but only once. She said
it was like brushing her teeth.
As things go, I was lucky.
Wasn’t that what I always heard?
Marrying into such a family?
Polish Television 1989
The candidates sit in shirt sleeves
In the lesser towns outside Warsaw,
where the lilacs grow wild in old gardens
and the mothers are tyrannical to their sons’ wives
(girls in pointed boots who speak other languages,
work in embassy offices,
and would leave for Glasgow given half the chance),
the sun circles overhead
making good pictures.
They hunch over fishing rods.
They talk with their hands.
In the street outside, two policemen watch
the legs of a woman scissor past, their hats
in their laps.
The candidates smile.
They pat horses.
Fetal on the couch, we later watch
the sun from the balconies above
slip down and go lost,
while in a cartoon Jaruzelski walks
on Lech Walesa’s bridegroom arm.
It’s been awful. Haven’t you heard?
For the past two weeks they’ve been calling.
My God I haven’t slept.
They keep calling
late at night. The first time
they said there’d been an accident.
I should go to the station and give a report.
I said I’d seen no accident.
And they said come down
or we’ll come for you ourselves.
So I went.
They said I was a witness.
I said to what? And they laughed.
They said did I ever want a passport,
did I ever want to go abroad again.
Then I laughed.
(she said, taking a sip from her glass)
the little things can matter—
when a colleague goes to lunch
or takes a break.
The littlest things.
More coffee? Or was yours tea?