What Surfaces

Wendy Barker

Another chip in the white enameled sink, only three years old. How

                                    I've tried to keep it pristine, and yet—

            stainless steel pots scrape it till the black

cast iron breaks through. What's below a surface gloss. Now the flesh

                                    on my hands has grown so thin

            the layers underneath show through,

rivery veins and knobby metacarpals. Knuckles like pebbles—like

                                    rocks. I've bordered my rose beds

            with stones from Blanco Creek. How long

did it take to shape those irregular rounds and ovals? Our house, built

                                    of blocks mined from the quarry only

            five miles up the road—limestone

formed in the Paleozoic Era. My favorite paperweight: a fossilized

                                    clam I found in the backyard, remains

            from the time the land around us

lived under ocean. Something so pocked, wizened, holding my papers

                                    in place. Arriving at the Grand Canyon,

            we've all peered down at those

dozens of rock layers—granite, dolomite, sandstone, shale, basalt—

                                    formed two million, maybe two billion

            years ago. And who would want

to mend that great magenta-, purple-, blood-shaded rip in the earth's

                                    surface? It's what we come for,

            to gawk at all those layers, exposed.

More by Wendy Barker

Another Way with Wang Wei

No emptiness around here: across the street

     a backhoe clanking, beeping, the next-door neighbor’s

seven dogs at it again, shrill yaps mingled

     with baritone yowlings, 747s thundering overhead, and

you’re upstairs in your study, too far for me

     to hear your voice, but later, tonight, you’ll come down

and speak in your gentle tenor, and all

     other sounds will fade—as far as Wang Wei’s mountain.

After Reading Baudelaire

With sky a tight-fitting cast-iron lid,
       humidity and temp ninety-eight, rain stalled
over the next county, I listen to Edith
       Piaf ’s “Non, je ne regrette rien,” her raunchy,
chutzpah-laden contralto almost
       convincing me she actually has no regrets,
though I sure do, have never eased
       the ache of leaving my baby boy with sitters
so I could keep on with grad school,
       how some nights I’d come home to a bundle
of shuddering sobs till I held him
       and nursed him, but now of course he’s grown,
a solid forty-one, and I’m proud as
       any proud mom can be, yet I can’t shake free
of those tangling webs, while I know
       the spleen isn’t what Baudelaire and his cronies
thought, rather a neighbor of the stomach
       churning out antibodies, blasting worn-out red
blood cells, not a seat of down-in
       the-mouthness and foul temper as the ancient
physicians believed, so maybe I’m just
       cleaning away forty-plus years of regret, because
I’d sure like to sing along with Piaf
       that I regret nothing, and, after all, I wasn’t as
bad as other mothers I’ve read about,
       even Martha Sharp, who during the SS Nazi
years left her own offspring for months
       at a time to rescue Jewish kids and bring them
to the U.S., saving them from Auschwitz
       and Treblinka, saintly to be sure, but I wouldn’t
blame her children for feeling some
       pretty sour spleen about a mom’s not being there
to hug them for winning archery medals
      at summer camp or battling measles or bronchitis,
so I turn again to Piaf with her feisty
      chanson “Milord,” in awe that, decades after
a girlhood in her grandmother’s brothel,
      this “Little Sparrow” is even now clearing my
gloom, the way currents of rain end
      a drought, the way milk lets down from a breast.