At dusk the streetlights stand like beacons to the underworld, a girl runs toward me beaded with rain and sweat. I think husk, wheels— seeds rattle, shake loose and a candle is held to the egg's red mass she is too young to see. In Pompeii those bodies are not bodies but plaster poured into the cavity where a body once lay, no less a hand pushing back ash, no less a woman with her unborn child twisting for a pocket of air, the forge, the fire, the glimpsed blade, a door we close quickly, just as my brother said Now I know I will die, and I thought of course and not me in the same second. We kept driving, arrived at the airport and the next day our father did die— aria, the birds rising at the sound of the explosion and plums, succulent ashy, burnished. Walking down the Spanish Steps on a Sunday morning in October, no one there yet, Keats' window open, you said Ten or fifteen years from now when I am gone, come back. You touched our absence from each other, the fifteen years ahead you've always had— when in dreams I am older and you remain as you were when we first met, before devotion was returned, or was it that I let it be—our lives together suddenly recognizable as if seared pages fallen from a larger book.
From Undone, published by New Issues Press. Copyright © 2011 by Maxine Scates. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
My hands are murder-red. Many a plump head
drops on the heap in the basket. Or, ripe
to bursting, they might be hearts, matching
the blackbird’s wing-fleck. Gripped to a reed
he shrieks his ko-ka-ree in the next field.
He’s left his peck in some juicy cheeks, when
at first blush and mostly white, they showed
streaks of sweetness to the marauder.
We’re picking near the shore, the morning
sunny, a slight wind moving rough-veined leaves
our hands rumple among. Fingers find by feel
the ready fruit in clusters. Here and there,
their squishy wounds. . . . Flesh was perfect
yesterday. . . . June was for gorging. . . .
sweet hearts young and firm before decay.
“Take only the biggest, and not too ripe,”
a mother calls to her girl and boy, barefoot
in the furrows. “Don’t step on any. Don’t
change rows. Don’t eat too many.” Mesmerized
by the largesse, the children squat and pull
and pick handfuls of rich scarlets, half
for the baskets, half for avid mouths.
Soon, whole faces are stained.
A crop this thick begs for plunder. Ripeness
wants to be ravished, as udders of cows when hard,
the blue-veined bags distended, ache to be stripped.
Hunkered in mud between the rows, sun burning
the backs of our necks, we grope for, and rip loose
soft nippled heads. If they bleed—too soft—
let them stay. Let them rot in the heat.
When, hidden away in a damp hollow under moldy
leaves, I come upon a clump of heart-shapes
once red, now spiderspit-gray, intact but empty,
still attached to their dead stems—
families smothered as at Pompeii—I rise
and stretch. I eat one more big ripe lopped
head. Red-handed, I leave the field.
From The Complete Love Poems of May Swenson. Copyright © 1991. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.