Clotheslines

The lines sag deeper and deeper with sweet wet gossip. 
The clever pins do headstands all day, jaws clenched.

My parents preached the virtues of clothes dried outside. 
Dryers are a rich man's fad, the static can kill you.

A Halloween of underwear, haunting the neighborhood. 
The socks' threadbare parody of Christmas morning.

The shirts surrender, they pray, they are crucified. 
The hung pants stiffen like casts in the hungry sun.

I press out their rigor mortis with Gothic devotion. 
I polish the clothes with the day's lost water and heat.

My parents were well dressed the last time I saw them. 
The basket feels fuller and lighter as I walk back in.

More by Michael McFee

Virgule

Its perpendicular
tilted, falling forward,
 
this oblique stroke
between lines of verse
 
or fractions’ numbers
or month/day/year
 
separates & connects
parts of some whole:
 
its diagonal can also
offer us alternatives
 
like his/her, and/or,
a skinny twig partway
 
between limb & ground,
like me not quite vertical
 
or horizontal, a slash
leaning into stiff wind.

Cast-Iron Ghazal

My mouth won’t ever forget her skill with a skillet,
my father’s mother, cooking
with her mother’s skillet.

Looking deep into its heavy antique mirror, I see
her wedding day: white dress
and this coal-dark skillet.

Heaven was bacon’s sizzle waking my ears and nose.
Or was it one of her chickens 
slow-frying in the skillet?

Her husband once took it hunting without asking:
she said she’d bust his skull 
with that upraised skillet.

Fire-born bell whose clapper was a plain dinner fork,
juicy fauna and flora notes
rang out from her skillet.

I see early widowhood, cooked-for children gone:
darkness lends its seasoning
to every cast-iron skillet.

She hid its teardrop handle inside her strong grip
when pouring red-eye gravy
from one lip of the skillet.

What went into the oven as batter we two mixed
came out as cornbread glory,
steaming amen in a skillet.

Black as her Bible, black as her once-maiden hair,
black as a panther howling
at midnight, this skillet.

I see her funeral day, the kitchen filled with food
not made by her, no flame
kissing the empty skillet.

I say McFee into its circle, hear her savory voice 
giving back the family name 
from her (now my) skillet.

Q

U’s mate, O with a new root,
the one capital letter
which probes below the base line,
here’s to the quirky beauty

of its tail, that fluent tongue
stuck from a wide-open mouth,
that elegant half-mustache
parted quickly toward the east,

that antique handle we grasp
to lift up the monocle
of our alphabet’s monarch,
that final flourish of the quill.