My mother went to work each day
in a starched white dress, shoes
clamped to her feet like pale
mushrooms, two blue hearts pressed
into the sponge rubber soles.
When she came back home, her nylons
streaked with runs, a spatter
of blood across her bodice,
she sat at one end of the dinner table
and let us kids serve the spaghetti, sprinkle
the parmesan, cut the buttered loaf.
We poured black wine into the bell
of her glass as she unfastened
her burgundy hair, shook her head, and began.
And over the years we mastered it, how to listen
to stories of blocked intestines
while we twirled the pasta, of saws
teething cranium, drills boring holes in bone
as we crunched the crust of our sourdough,
carved the stems off our cauliflower.
We learned the importance of balance,
how an operation depends on
cooperation and a blend of skills,
the art of passing the salt
before it is asked for.
She taught us well, so that when Mary Ellen
ran the iron over her arm, no one wasted
a moment: My brother headed straight for the ice.
Our little sister uncapped the salve.
And I dialed the number under Ambulance,
my stomach turning to the smell
of singed skin, already planning the evening
meal, the raw fish thawing in its wrapper,
a perfect wedge of flesh.
From Awake. Copyright © 1990 by Dorianne Laux. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Carnegie Mellon University Press, www.cmu.edu/universitypress.
someone asked me if my husband left me, or if I left him. After
the reading, someone asked me if there was a chance for
reconciliation as I shoved a pulled pork sandwich in my mouth
with Carolina Gold BBQ sauce oozing out the sides like neon
yellow lava. After the reading, someone asked me if I still pray
to God as I sipped a fizzy Diet Coke and the ice cubes huddled
and softly clinked around my upper lip leaving a wet mustache.
After the reading, someone said they had been divorced too and
then scurried away in a way that I completely understood. After
the reading, a woman told me I was worthy as if I was shattered
while I picked up crudités with a copious dollop of ranch
dressing. After the reading, a white woman thanked me for my
“angry poems.” I told her they were about my joy, and then she
touched my forearm and said, “No, they were about my rage.”
Insisting. After the reading, someone said they cried, and
another gave me a kind word. Thank you. After the after, I went
home and changed into my cheetah print pajamas. I wrapped my
hair and brushed my teeth. I got in bed and played a sci-fi show
on my laptop. The actors on the show were trying to find a way
to talk to aliens by using math and pheromones. I googled the
height of one of the actors. He is 6' 4". I fell asleep while
watching the show about the people in space trying to
communicate in first contact, intergalactic noises beeped and
swirled around the room like bees.
Copyright © 2023 by Tiana Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes when you start to ramble
or rather when you feel you are starting to ramble
you will say Well, now I’m rambling
though I don’t think you ever are.
And if you ever are I don’t really care.
And not just because I and everyone really
at times falls into our own unspooling
—which really I think is a beautiful softness
of being human, trying to show someone else
the color of all our threads, wanting another to know
everything in us we are trying to show them—
but in the specific,
in the specific of you
here in this car that you are driving
and in which I am sitting beside you
with regards to you
and your specific mouth
parting to give way
to the specific sweetness that is
the water of your voice
tumbling forth—like I said
I don’t ever really mind
how much more
you might keep speaking
as it simply means
I get to hear you
speak for longer.
What was a stream
now a river.
Copyright © 2023 by Anis Mojgani. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.