This morning words grind like gravel
and the engine takes on a crazed torque
when what we say spins out of control;
intention, a stop sign we blew 3 miles back.
Another roadside tragedy about to happen:
the flash and burns, that acrid smell
hanging over the wreck, neither of us
able to prevent it. I suppose if I were
to let go, not chase you like some rookie
cop wanting to ticket your every move,
I could sit back watching your trail
of sparks diminish in the distance,
knowing the hottest ones are fueled
by a history long before yours with me,
and not care how many red lights you take
to find a way back to where I am,
sputtering, trying to restart the car.
This evening in the cold kitchen,
everything's sharp, the curve of copper
kettle with its scratched-in constellations
and the sink gleaming white like snow under ice
when I catch my mother's shadow.
How often did I stand here
listening to the grit and scourings
of her life while she rinsed each plate,
handed me each to dry.
Wine flushed her high cheeks,
spread into her tightly spun hair.
And while she wrung the bitter
words like rags, rags--the same
stories night after night--I stood by
with the dish towel, silent, a useless child.
I knew I'd failed her.
But now, washing the same plates
that have become my own,
I see it was she who had failed me.
A daughter is not an empty cup.
She cannot hold her mother's pain.
She can only dry and buff,
and put things away.
oil on linen, 8o"x 30"(1992) o
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I want to stretch like the wind
stretches up the grooved face
of a cliff, sinewy in an early mist,
salt flake and chalk dust swirling.
When I hit the ridge and dissipate
into the clear morning air, I want
to remember the night's keelless ride,
the toss and the froth of it, vowels
of another world. And when I leave,
if the last note of your voice lingers
like a sax or smoke in a curtain, it will
be good to have work to distract me.
I am watching an island booby knife into this clear green
pool of a sea, a black shooting star, a winged spear.
His aim is always accurate even though the fish are
nowhere to be seen, he drops, a vortex of feathers,
vanishes, then reappears angling upward
from the ledge of a wave so that I think
nothing in this world moves without pattern,
even the fish finning to and fro or
sidling into the kayak of beak
are only interrupted from their
own feeding and whatever it is
they pursue, watched from
a distant shore as I stand
watching this booby dive
and dive again, knowing
that the pattern I've
diverted is also
pattern as when the
fish escapes, he flies
through an emerald
sea, and the booby
fins once more
The only odalisque I know is August
whose hours open like a kiss
that lasts all afternoon. Notice how
she dips her slender fingers into the cool
mint tea of evening, languidly wrapping
her turban as if to protect her head,
from that clear-eyed and ambitious Fall.
She knows her days are waning,
that soon enough she'll be packed
for storage like a mistress or a vase
emptied of stems, of summer, of an ocean
too cold now for swimming. But she's
in no hurry. Her limbs are tanned
curving along the chaise longue.
That over-the-shoulder half-smile
she gives you still mysteriously beckons.
If she invites you to recline with her, do.
Christina Daub co-founded and co-edited The Plum Review and is the co-director of the Plum Writers Retreat. Her poems have recently appeared in Poet Lore, Connecticut Review, and The Maryland Poetry Review. Some of her earlier poems were anthologized in Manhattan on the Neva: American Poets of Perestroyka Time. She is a writer/researcher for the Discovery Channel's new Health Channel, a resident poet in the Maryland Poet-in-the-Schools program, and teaches at The Writers Center in Bethesda, MD.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 2000.
To read more by this author:
Christina Daub: The Whitman Issue