She lifts the white, lace nightgown
Over her head, waits for hot
Water to flow into the basin.
The billowing curtain sheer, tulip appliquéd,
Rises with the breeze, revealing
The dogwood's veil of ivory blossoms,
Each with its nubby green core,
Soft-claw edges dipped in mauve.
She washes her face, slides
The washcloth along her armpits,
Between her legs, rinses.
A rush-hour traffic report
Stalled tractor trailer, half-mile backup
Radios faintly from the bedroom
Across the yard. She brushes her teeth,
Inserts a contact lens, blinks,
Readies the next one, when an arm
Encircles her waist, a scratchy
Face rests in the curve
At the base of her neck.
Cut off by the mirror, her index
Finger holds out the clear,
Waiting lens to the light
Like a sacrifice. A tiny, malleable cup,
It adheres, balances, preens.
It knows it's been cleansed,
That after its nightly soakeight
Free-floating hours lazing in saline,
On wave after wave of dreams
It offers, with transparent
In two of your poems you called that central
Passage of womanhood a wound,
Instead of a curtain guarding a silken
Trail of sighs. How many men,
Upon regarding such beauty, helplessly
Touching it, recklessly needing
To enter its warmth again and again,
Have assumed it embodies their own ache
Of absence, the personal
Gash that has punished their lives.
So endowed of anatomy, any woman
Who has been loved
Knows that her tenderest blush
Of tissue is a luxe burden of have.
Although it bleeds, this is only to cleanse,
To prepare yet another nesting for love.
It is not a wound, friend.
It is a home for you.
When I held smooth the satin to zip
Up your wedding dress, frosted with flounces
And pearl-beaded filigree, a rococo
Confection more sugary than the cake,
And watched as you swiveled slowly to face
Meall floaty notes, pure fluteso still
As I situated the baby's breath and the veil,
How could I have told you, knowing
You'd learn it soon enough, my perfect doll,
How fuzzy the world is, how the clearest
Picture, frill-tipped gladioli in primary
Colors, can dissolve into darkness, how
The eye can fool you, presenting a straight
Or diagonal path when the earth is curved.
"It can be corrected," I tell you, a half-truth,
When you call me to say you can no longer
Focus, nothing is sharp. And I can hear
How the light is bent in your voice, the shadows
Behind what you say, while in my mind's
Eye you stare at me blinking, a week old,
The day you were placed in my arms,
Able to distinguish little but two black
Moons, my eyes dancing in the fog.
That this was the most exquisite
Instance of my childhood never changes.
Nor does the decade between us
Or the way you looked up at my face
After racing out the front door
To greet me eight years later, almost
Toppling me over, ringing my waist.
Two sisters, so nearsighted
That upon my return to you, before
I resumed my groping tromp
Through the world, you held me like a reference
Point, a place you will always find,
The sheen of your eyes announcing
My bearings as much as your clear
The cool juice drips loose on our fingers.
At breakfast in the garden, as the sweet breath
Of orange blossoms mingles with the waft
Of wild creamy tea roses, nodding their silky
Heads at us in approval, and the green baby lemons,
Hanging from the tree like gumdrops, rustle against
Their lax shelter of leaves, I notice those
Hairs on your chest that have suddenly turned silver.
Winking, you slide your orange wedge entirely
Into your mouth, then flash me a fiery orange-peel smile.
Fast on the freeway, outside the groves, we passed
A bumpety flatbed truck that owned the road
With its cargothree car lengths of oranges,
Looking so puckish, so ready to tumble, we couldn't
Stop smiling at them, thousands of flaming suns.
Hours later, from our private perch overlooking
The Palisades, with the warmth of your arm
Around me and the sun settling its vast silver quilt
On the ocean's skin, you tell me that, although
You have turned thirty-nine, you still feel young.
We have only a short ride on that truck, my love,
A bouncy ride on the truck. Feeding each other, we
In the heat of her dream, she hears
The iron kettle boiling, its scuttle and hum
As hurried as hoofbeats across a plain.
She drops in two guinea hens. Dancing
In a ring round her skirts, the children
Cheer, "Auntie, the English song!" Lifting
Her lute, she sings of the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumping over the moon. How the little
Ones hoot when the dish runs away
With the spoon. Ah, spoonan uncloaked
Lute, it waits to be strummed. The temptation
Of spoon. The temptation of London, of Paris,
Of bumping along in the carriage with M. Philippe
In his top hat and greatcoat to visit
The peacocks, turquoise and gold and green, each
Roaming the Bois de Boulogne with one hundred eyes.
She sleeps in the desert, under a smiling full moon
That shines in the teal night. Quiet behind her,
A lion stands, tail erect, having sniffed
At her onyx flesh, at the ribbony stripes
His color blindness darkens on her muslin dress,
All rainbow hues. She is lost in a dream,
I was led to the trees, as if someone with muscle
In her walk had pushed me. Heading
To the leavesregal, molten with their final
Chance to breathe, Indian summerI stopped
By the crowd shouting at the blue police barricade,
Mile 25. This was the moment, one of 26,000
Runners, you presented yourself, dazed and red-faced,
Soldiering on. Although I was too astonished
To speak, your name issued from me, the same way
A cut bleeds, the eyes allow us to see.
"Keep going!" I shouted, again without forethought.
Slowly, your mouth fashioned my name, then
You continued, working to control your body,
Pushing on through a life out of control.
"I can't sit still," were your words, so urgent,
Serving as much as a plea and apology as a goodbye.
Yet it is the way we would sit together
For which I remember you. We would talk only briefly
Or not talk, leaning against each other while the light
Turned to darkness over the Hudson, until we were sitting
In darkness, and one of us, without any active thought,
Might quietly speak, or rise to turn on a light,
Or move closer to the other, as if the darkness
Itself had spoken and thought were held away
Like an outsider, standing outside a barrier,
June in San Juan, '53, the hum
Of the air conditioner. You shyly emerge
From the bathroom wearing your blue
Negligee. His watch sits on the nightstand.
He still wears his trousers. He steps
Toward you, tells you, "You are beautiful."
Your throat swells. This is finally
Yours. You press your full weight
Against him. Neither of you speak.
Years pass, seven. Closed in the dark
Of a white room, you collapse
In the hole of his silent chest,
Into a sunken pillow of ribs,
Wailing at the plastic tubes secured
To all his entrances and exits, at the doctor
Gripping your shoulder with his antiseptic
Hand, at the nurses bristling back and forth
Outside the door in cushioned shoes,
So far away from the briny
Bath of the ocean air, wet sand,
From a strapless dress, a gardenia corsage,
Champagne, pretending about your age,
From a week lying sunburnt
On the fresh bleached sheets
Of a hotel bed, your face
To the face of the man beside you,
I sharpen more and more to your
Likeness every year, your mirror
In height, autonomous
Flying cloud of hair,
In torso, curve of the leg,
In high-arched, prim, meticulous
Feet. I watch my aging face,
In a speeding time lapse,
Become yours. Notice the eyes,
Their heavy inherited sadness,
The inertia that sags the cheeks,
The sense of limits that sets
The grooves along the mouth.
Grip my hand.
Let me show you the way
To revolt against what
We are born to,
To bash through the walls,
To burn a warning torch
In the darkness,
On the underground shopping concourse, possessed
By a sense of mission, dashing along, I had passed
That cool swath of mirrored wall hundreds of times,
Ignoring my image, a blurred flutter of wings,
On the periphery. But today my reflection halted.
The permanent wall gave way, to reveal
A cramped room lush with lacy, white wire sculptures
Looming eight feet each, a thicket of halos and wings
Piled in tiers to the ceiling, chins tipped up
And arms uplifted, awaiting their moment, their golden
Holiday place amid the spangled lights and mist of snowflakes
Dusting the garden, waiting, as if for the first time, to be seen.
I stood transfixed, having learned where the angels live,
Hidden sentinels carrying on their quiet business
Based behind mirrors. They're there every morning,
Peering out from the medicine cabinet, as we drag a razor
Against our face or, so skilled at defining, we flick
A mascara wand and glide on lipstick. Framed in the foyer,
The youngest among them pressing their noses to the glass,
They send forth a sunbath of approval, regarding us
At full length. We see them most clearly in the eyes
Of loved ones. But any shiny surface will do.
A spoon, a metallic button, a puddle, will laud your own
The little one listens but never reveals
What she knows. By day she controls the light
That filters across the roofs, through
Trees, on furrows of plaintive faces.
She wakes up alone and unlocks
Cabinets of light, allots the portions
Strictly, patiently hears requests
For additional rays. What a job.
She has to be careful. Not long ago,
In a moment of passion, she almost
Gave away the whole reserve. Phones
Incessantly ring. Amazing, someone
Thanks her for light. She has to hang up.
Her cheeks are ballooning, deflating,
As if she were some nervous fish.
She scoots in the broom closet, fits
On the funnel. Her face is beaming.
She targets the freshly erupting supply
Into a spare metal cashbox, hides it
Under newspapers in her desk.
No one has noticed. Flushed,
She sorts through the mail,
Coos a wilted sigh. So many tasks,
Yet the barest assistance.
When she leaves, later, again,
will dot the night, star by star.
All poems © Michele Wolf. All rights reserved.