Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Middle Child

Almost done--took a while, but I'm starting to get happy with it.


It was a day at the end of April,
“Supposed to shoot up, near to ninety-two”
She said, her fan held still, her parasol
Open to catch the raining rays. “I heard,
And it might just be rumor,” the fan starts
Again, “I heard the record’s ninety-one.”
And shook her head almost around full turn,
As if to tell her, too, somehow, something
About how records scratch after they break.

“I was the youngest, so I never cared
for records—making them or breaking them.”
She wiped her brow. “Are you the youngest girl?”
(She was, but not the youngest of them all,
And guessing at the meaning, shook her head.)
“No,” and again, “No. I’m the middle child.”
And the across became an up and down—
Agreement? Comprehension? She stood still,
In the tight heat, and then, uncertainly,
As if that, that not knowing (or the sun?)
Made her legs engines, gave her fuel, she shrugged
And walked away. (She marched, to be more accurate,
Since accuracy is the rage these days.)

Alone again, her midday wanderings
Strayed off from sidewalks, strayed from pavement grooves,
And gazed into a stand of daffodils,
The perfect upswing rows of yellow cones,
Upended bells unrung; she gazed a long
Time, thought of that other between figure,
Or figurant, Narcissus, stooping down
On banks, or tidelines, marshy grass.
She thought of his eyes next, a pair of two
And both were looking for a rainbow bridge,
A light and sturdy transom strong enough
For body and image and that starboat
Of beauty, vanity (some call it pride)
Alike, a bridge to hold it all (an ark—
to be precise, but how can arks hold boats,
especially boats made of stars? How’s that?)
But, failing water-light, or arks, he drowned.

So too would these sun worshippers, in joy,
If they could, merging with what they reflect
And consummating color, name, and shape
Alike, at once recombinant, unselfed
(The blind man told him, he whose death feeds them,
“You stay alive as long as self’s unknown.”)
As they bent up and stretched before her eyes
In tip-toe straightlines, ruffled ends a crown,
The trumpets heralding and strident blast,
And narrowing the tube, the March windshield,
And out to petals. Here she noted on some
The extra bred-in ruffles, adorned
As to spread out the bell, open it wide—
Even the decorative, adored first bloom
Gives way to its own beauty ruse, she thought,
And, laughing, plucked one of them, to cup the weight
Of the selected for, of extra, trait,
And watched the rigid rows maintain their bask
As if to drench themselves until full drunk
In this, this chance to honor their Sun-God.

She sniffed and closed her eyes, and like a wish
The sky went gray, the billowed cloud shapes swarmed
Their deity and masked it, and let loose
Into the blooms turned buckets fat raindrops.
They splashed and pelted petals, and tested
The wishes of the congregants to drown
With tastes of rain to fill the flowers’ frames
(And she knew, wet herself, God had two names.
Of this, suddenly, she was now sure:
To punish and to give away were acts
Receiving letters at the same address.)
But she thought of the woman’s parasol
And laughed to wonder if its gossamer held.


It was about the first of May, and hot
Again, a little hotter than last time,
Some said. (She couldn’t say herself. She lost
Her parasol meteorologist
to sun-stroke’s calm.) Without the record scratch
she became more than middle; she became
lost. Doubly so, without measurement
or relationship, so she sought both
at once in her old haunt, the organized
display of botany, the sense arranged
in knowns, in pocketed themes, in placard facts.

She knew where, just where, she would go, first thing—
And, eager, nearly passed by the hillside,
Its bunches of drooped scallion shoots disguised
As scrubby ground, as cover, the stand gone
Despite the bright and blinding glow of light
The daffys honored through resemblance to
(Instead of family, become beloved).
But where had her beloveds gone? She asked,
And in the sizzling heat she saw shade stalks
That days ago had been ripe, butter-hued,
Hang shriveled as if on flypaper.
“I saw them flooded just the other day.”
(But when exactly she had no one to say.)
“And now. Now look!” She cried up to the sky.
Still soggy looking, sagging so, and shrunk
Down to half-size at least, a scorched bouquet.
“You look just like wet cats, the bunch of you!”

The daffys, though addressed, were still bare.
She pressed her cheeks in with her hands, her lips
Gave out a fish’s O. Not knowing why,
She shook her head until it would fall off
If not for triggering a thought. She turned
And let her cheeks go slack, gave her eyes room
And saw the visitors: the elderly
Smooth wrinkles out with bloom, and to her left
The mothers push their strollers, padding past
In brisk short sneakered strides. One of the old
Zipped up his windbreaker and muttered through,
Another spotted her, tipped his pageboy cap.
No one got her attention. No. Not one.

She was far gone by then, bent low over
A peony, a lone bud blushing past
In lavender plush nests. She groped and gasped,
“It’s not right. It’s just not.” She sputtered on
Past tulips, past their prime, thick waxy drips
Of red, or gold, the petals dripping down
In lazy candlewax streams. “Insect wings.”
Growing impatient, confirmation close—
Begonias? Check. Full blown, and early so.
The cherries, lilacs’ scent—all these belonged—
But this? She thought, beholding a wide blank
Of white, the mortarboards and tasseled tops
Of light green puff that signified dogwood.

She huffed, disturbed, and her reward showed up
As riot flames—the burst bloodlines in rows.
“Azaleas.” Said between question and cry.
The names came flooding through: rhododendron,
Blue bells. “Not cannas?!” Halfway peering out,
Afraid the whole thing would come tumbling down
At once—what if? She puzzled in her brow
What if at once? Like an instant message
Of some kind (right on the brink, cusping close).

She marched in broad daylight between the trees,
Appropriately pink flushed cherry trees,
Without seeing herself alone, the rest
Aside in shade and fanning, huddled close
Or posing, all tongues foreign to her
As she considered now. Now. Everything
Packed tight into a now, and here; if so
She must be here for it, here now (the sun
Is beating on her temples, sweat’s beads come).

For with this now so big, so suddenly
Apparently at once, it flipped itself
Over to near otherwise, too (wisdom’s
Sometime dancemate, the shadowboxed other):
It meant a big now must (at once) be small,
Be short, and quickly passing—and she thought
Of an eclipse, its now moment stuffed tight
And rare, and missed often (at least by her).

She thought of schedules of how to ensure
Next year she’d get in closer, here for more
(for a small now always has room for more)
And worried she wouldn’t adapt her time
So when the party came she’s have to check
The box that read “unable to attend.”

She fretted right over the stone arched bridge
A single humped piece—missed the cool water
Below, the stream flow dribbling old rain past
And just about tripped headlong exiting:
The fountain’s rim unleveled ground enough
To catch her back to earth, and sheets of drops,
A curtain drawn in shade around a duck.

1 comment:

positivgal said...

This is a really great poem. I like it a lot. I think it may be one of your best! Well done.