The Time Machine

Laura Kasischke

My mother begged me: Please, please, study
stenography...

Without it
I would have no future, and this

is the future that was lost in time to me

having scoffed at her, refusing
to learn the only skill I’d ever need, the one

I will associate forever now with loss, with her
bald head, her wig, a world
already gone
by the time we had this argument, while

our walls stayed slathered in its pale green. 
While we
wore its sweater sets. While we
giddily picked the pineapple
off our hams with toothpicks. Now

I'm lost somewhere between
1937
and 1973. My

time machine, blown off course, just
as my mother knew it would be.

Oh, Mama: forget about me.
You don't have to forgive
me, but know this, please:

I am
the Stenographer now.
I am
the Secretary you wanted me to be.  I am

the girl who gained the expertise you
knew some day some man would need. 

Too late, maybe. 
(Evening.) 
I'm sick, I think.
You're dead. 
I'm weak.

“And now I'm going to tell you
a little secret. 
Get your pen and steno-pad, and sit
down across from me.”

Ready?

The grieving:

It never ends. 

You learn a million
tricks, memorize
the symbols &
practice the techniques

and still you wake up every morning
lost inside your
lost machine. Confused, but always
on a journey.

Disordered.

Cut short.

Still moving.

Keep speaking
Mama.
Please.

I'm taking it down
so quickly, so

quickly, even

(perhaps especially)

when I appear

not to be. 

I do this naturally.

See? So

naturally
that in the end
no training was ever needed.

None at all.
None at all.

I taught myself so well.

It's all I can do now.
 

More by Laura Kasischke

Kitchen Song

The white bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with nothing.

The sound
of applause in running water.
All those who've drowned in oceans, all 
who've drowned in pools, in ponds, the small 
family together in the car hit head on. The pantry

full of lilies, the lobsters scratching to get out of the pot, and God

being pulled across the heavens
in a burning car.

The recipes
like confessions.
The confessions like songs.
The sun. The bomb. The white

bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with blood. I wanted

something simple, and domestic. A kitchen song.

They were just driving along. Dad 
turned the radio off, and Mom 
turned it back on.

Near misses

The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.
 
My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open 
  the third-story window to call to the cat.
 
In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me
  back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees.
  And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.
 
And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped
  one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle
  burning on the table beside me.
 
It's a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on
  the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are
  her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a
  banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared
  across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You.
 
And still she can offer only her body as proof:
 
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away.
  A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray
  for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the
  beautiful soup.
 

The Pain

Like the human brain, which organizes
The swirls and shades of the bathroom tiles
Into faces, faces
With expressions
Of exhaustion, of disdain. The
Virgin Mary in the toast of course
But also the penance in the pain, and the way
My mother invented
Plums and tissue paper, while
My father invented the type of
Sudden kindness
That takes you by surprise
When you’ve expected to be chastised
And makes you cry


 

About this poem:
"The poem's impulse is the same as the poem's subject—a grappling, out of hope?—with the idea that there must be some way to integrate into one's life, if necessary, the experience of physical pain. If I can make out faces and objects every morning (if I stare long enough) at the bathroom tile—or so I was thinking—surely there would be a way to make meaning out of this pain?"

Laura Kasischke

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Mozart Songbook

Outside on Fremont Ave, black
snow and no such thing as a
white wig or a lovestruck violet
who sings his heart out. My lungs
ached, huge with breath and the harsh
sweetness of strange words. Veilchen,
Mädchenmy brother spoke them
to show how my tongue was a gate
that could open secrets. He pressed
keys partway, to draw softest sounds              
from the upright, and what he loved
I loved. That was my whole faith then.