Flap, flap went the mind of the bird Who flew out of my grandmother's attic Like heat in the creases Where air used to be. One week Of summer was all that house Could take of my brother and me. Years later, After she died, someone, my aunt I Think, arranged for her to be driven Back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma for the Funeral. It was raining, the mortician Hadn't arrived yet, so the driver Left her there -- My grandmother, unembalmed, in darkness, In the month of the Green Corn Ceremony. But she wasn't Cherokee, she hated Indians. Her story was only deep, irregular Wing-beats of the heart. Down dropped a huge bright-colored Night-bird with large crested head, Which, when raised, gave The appearance of being startled. It skimmed a few puddles gorging On insects and a lizard or two. Then banked south for my Grandmother's house, bright star.
Out out, The bumblebee caught in the Pepsi Bottle, one of twelve In the wood crate cooking In the shed And Arthur Van Horn drawing Bow and resin across Catgut, sour linen under the fiddle, rosewood Cradled Under the chin -- his new baby Cries her first cry Of a thousand, For she is Stella, After the guitar, Because rain and tears Are separate.
Those cuff links, that blowfish, That stuff in the Hefty bag Are trash of my people -- whose Bonds are movable like my Mobile grandmother idling In the parking lot of La Quinta. Whosoever speaks her name Fast in the window brings forth Light.
The ballpark all lit up Did not exist until we turned Her transistor on and some kid Whacked a rock back, back . . . It knocked three feathers Off the mercury vapor, landed on corrugated Tin so that the interdigitated Interrupted their sleep but will Not be entering this poem. They can just go back to pressing On the chest like sorrow and letting The game sink in its yellow Case with seventy-two holes For the speaker and a carrying Strap. When the radio broke I could not sling it like David Because the strap broke too. But that was long after sound Commingling with a high brief whistle Amid chatter and crack of the bat. You wouldn't have known her, I can hear my cousin say. Her hair was all gray. It used to be red But gray is something I heard Like the water-sucking clay. But red is what she was Who like a star revolved Between three holes of light Or hung like an eye-droop In water-cooled air and a dark Wind takes the summer.
There is the sound Brando makes under The wrought iron balcony In New Orleans in summer And Stella sweats In her nightgown And Desire runs Along its length But all you hear Is Stanley -- everybody Knows -- one word, two Syllables, and even the space Between the stars is awestruck That a man can feel such Stubborn, stupid language Crawl out of his brain, Into his mouth, and scrape The ceiling of heaven -- Stella -- you are beyond, Stella -- knock, knock. I tap the limousine glass Like an ape, like Stanley Kowalski interdicting silence. Stella -- the lights come on In rooms 3 and 12, a hot Humid air turns to pink smoke Against the cool adobe wall.
From Swamp Candles, by Ralph Burns, published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 1996 by Ralph Burns. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Ralph Burns was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1949.
Date Published: 1996-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/stella