Song of the Ironing Board
So many hands lay hot on my belly
over the years, and oh, how many ghosts
I held, their bodies damp and slack
their long arms fallen to either side.
I gave till my legs shook, but then
they were up and away. Thus the lovely
soft nap of my youth was worn down.
But I gave of myself and was proud.
I was there for those Saturday
touchups, those solemn Sunday
sacraments of Clorox in the church
of starch, the hangers ringing.
On stiffening legs I suffered
the steam iron’s hot incontinence,
the melt-down of the rayon slacks,
my batting going varicose.
And it all came down to this:
a cellar window looking out
on February, where a cold wind
pinches clothespins down an empty line.
I lean against the wall and breathe
the drifting smoke of memory,
a stained chemise pulled over
my scorched yet ever shining heart.
How much it must bear on its back,
a great ball of blue shadow,
yet somehow it shines, keeps up
an appearance. For hours tonight,
I walked beneath it, learning.
I want to be better at carrying sorrow.
If my face is a mask, formed over
the shadows that fill me,
may I smile on the world like the moon.
How I always want to hear your bad news…
The Woman Whose Husband Was Dying
She turned her eyes from mine, for within mine
she knew there wasn’t room for all her sorrow.
She needed a plain that she could flood with grief,
and as she stood there by the door I saw the distance
before her slowly filling, as if from hidden springs,
and she stepped outside, and placed one foot
and then the other on the future, and it held her up.
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A Meeting after Many Years
Our words were a few colorful leaves
afloat on a very old silence,
the kind with a terrifying undertow,
and we stood right at its edge,
wrapping ourselves in our own arms
because of the chill, and with old voices
called back and forth across all those years
until we could bear it no longer,
and turned from each other,
and walked away into our countries.
fragile old heartStandard
A Map of the World
One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pouting in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.
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Splitting an Order
I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.
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This Paper Boat
Carefully placed upon the future,
it tips from the breeze and skims away,
frail thing of words, this valentine,
so far to sail. And if you find it
caught in the reeds, its message blurred,
the thought that you are holding it
a moment is enough for me.
You lie in your bed and sigh
and the springs deep in the mattress
sing out with the same low note,
mocking your sadness. It’s hard––
not the mattress, but life.
Life is hard. All along
you thought you could trust in
your own bed, your own sorrow.
You thought you were sleeping alone.