Jamaican Idol

Walking backward from the sea,
scales shedding, you seek the cave. 

This is why the French door admits
only ocean. You stare into the louver

and forget how to get out. Lull
is the word, or loll. The sea returns,

completing your pulse, the waves live,
each breath of yours worship.

More by Terese Svoboda

Hope Wanted Alive

A red-faced lion raises its maw.
I could be in the supermarket, saran wrap thrown back

but there's Hope Wanted Alive scrawled along
all the mud-slick side streets

where kids roll bottle tops, kids hawk one seed—
in Nairobi the slum blues where I stop, gallery-wise.

Forty children in clean costumes of show-off
purport to live in the two rooms abutting the paintings.

You could drink the sugar cane at the end of the street
or you could set fire to it.

I did see truck tires without trucks. 
I did see ice cream nobody would lick.

And slits up the side of a dress,
and always huge knives that cut, 

in my case, canvas. A big painting
not in celebration of our president

but the red-faced lion, looking 
for the supermarket, kids in claws,

bottle tops for eyes, nobody costumed
who isn't running, politicians

with outstretched arms equaling
—or trying to—hope. I buy it.

Body Mostly Flown

A De Chirico head aslant on a coverlet,
body mostly flown, the dazed prayers dumb.

The ritual cigarette, the ritual drink:
incense, holy water. No ambivalence, 

the woman inside fled, the whispers
I make of tenderness—hers—she sleeps through.

She's in that corridor, tunnel, the light is left on—
shut if off. But the nurse has to see the thermometer.

No ambivalence. No valence either, no speech.
My own heart stops, skids. No lingering regret or all,

sealed with stubbornness,
forgiveness a ness from a life

more fairytale, the hard breathing still, still.
A wing flaps and fear scurries out, 

a mouse with a crumb it meant to eat earlier.
De Chirico empties the patio.

Countess Lethargy

Dogs slink around her bed in hunger.
Lest you make sacred her image
on a brick, on your drive or thumb, 
she needs to be turned twice a day
plant-ish, in her deshabille. 

Lethargy has its roots in lethal.
This is the truth you must share
or die, the waves over your head,
the waving you're not doing.
Pride vacuums away the scraps

yet nobody empties the bag.
Maybe she hurts. Maybe.
The dogs devour her at dusk.
You have it in a book, read once, 
now on the computer shelf. 

Clever is what those dogs become, 
punished by crowds anxious to see
the Countess' soul fly from their mouths.
She wears gold and shines: sunlight.
You are one of those dogs.

Related Poems

The Children's Hour

Soldiers with guns are at our door again.
Sister, quick. Change into a penny.
I'll fold you in a handkerchief,
put you in my pocket
and jump inside a sack,
one of the uncooked rice.

Brother, hurry. Turn yourself
into one of our mother's dolls
on the living room shelf. I'll be the dust
settling on your eyelids.

The ones wearing wings are in the yard.
The ones wearing lightning are in the house.
The ones wearing stars and carrying knives
are dividing our futures among them.

Don't answer when they call to us in the voice of Nanny.
Don't listen when they promise sugar.
Don't come out until evening,
or when you hear our mother weeping to herself.

If only I could become the mirror in her purse, 
I'd never come back until the end of time.