May 2008 - THE POTOMAC



Cassandra in Therapy
   Kate Schmitt

I can see beyond.  You don’t want to know this.
I tell you how the neighbor heaves a white bag of trash into the bin

just as the sun smears orange and long across the horizon
and the Fear is there suddenly, of even the evening sky

from the safety of my warm apartment.  It lurks around inside
like a raccoon at the dump hoping to find something worth

the sharp edges of a can around his nose,
and it always finds what it’s looking for: tonight, the end of a party

where I come back to the quiet dark wearing the same black dress
I wore all four days I buried my loves, each time another plane trip

to another state, stockings and shoes and tissues carefully packed
as though putting things in their places, boarding pass

and wallet in the front pocket, would mean that it wasn’t real.
I try to warn you.  I am superstitious, you tell me. 

I need to concentrate on what’s here right now,
the seventeen minutes still left in the safe white room.

But it’s no use; the dear ones I leave momentarily behind continue climbing
through time and cities, walking through steam and streets contentedly

as though no one ever fell back into the dirt of the world.
Today he returns his borrowed earth, we said together in a circle

and until I wrote those words again, placed them carefully under a leafless gray tree
and wept a hundred blurred and unreal days away I felt only Nothing:

the everything that is no longer here.  It is the same now, I say to you:
I can see memory just as clearly as what waits ahead.

I can’t not see it, can’t not feel the stirring of air around me
as they come closer, the swift, ever-approaching bare feet of grief. 

And before you can speak a reply, I see your ghost looking out from the chair,

you too turning to shadow in the terrible crystal ball of my mind.

 

Hecuba Replies

You might have done the same
and enjoyed it,

the great crushed pomegranate of the heart inside you
dripping its awful red

knowledge into your body’s dark cavern.  If he had been yours and tossed
on the sea for days

when he was returned to you, salt like watery vultures
tearing him away from himself.

Missing pieces.  A boy who once held just one finger of your hand
as he walked unsteadily and small

across the floor to his father, slain against his own hearthstone. 
If not even a daughter was left

whole, her redblack throat a hole opened to the grave.  Even if foolishly,
her neck tightened in perfect poise,

she walked calmly from this tent where I sit in blood.   My hands.
Remember that you hated, too,

wanted the same thing.  And I took mercifully: the king’s pale ripped eyes
never had to see what he lost. 

Still, you are uneasy.  You know you were with me there tricky as cards
your nails my nails tearing open possibility.

Empty sky.  Stone in the throat.

  
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