Jane Flanders



Aunts are like your mother but not too much.
They don't know how to scold you
or wish you would leave them alone.
They never marry; devote themselves
like nuns to your well-being.

Aunts travel to places mothers never heard of
and bring you things--not underwear or mittens--
but cedar boxes from Bermuda, pin cushions
from Chinatown, jewelry from the Five & Ten.
They smell of sachet and spearmint.

Aunts have lives or their own (must have)
but you'd never know it. When they arrive
they hug you first, swooping down like swans,
leaving red marks all over your face.
They laugh and tell you how big you are getting.

When you grow up you visit them with your children.
This is a test. They are kind but disinterested.
While you were gone they got thin or fat.
It is just as you thought.
You were the one. There was nobody else.




That's right, I live here
In the brick house with the weedy yard;
Sometimes it rains
And sometimes it's just the starlings
Taking a bath in the clogged gutter,
Their comings and goings
Scatter brief shade.

In warm weather
Legions of children pass this way,
Waving their standards--
Water, sun, fresh fruit.
They suck the pulp and spit away the seeds,
They beat their sand buckets with shovels
To scare away the birds,
My desk is in the hall.
I'd never get anything done
Without that little room at the
Back of my head.




Fish do it best, never touching;
While she blurts out pearls
He hovers above her
In a cloud of his own making.
Bees mate in mid-flight;
The queen flies,
Not in ecstasy but panic,
The drone falters and drops.
While the male mantis is still
Kicking like a piston,
Filling his love at one end,
She eats his head at the other.

Leave it to the larger beasts,
Dogs, apes, elephants,
To make a joke of it,
A mutt jigging hotly
Over the haunches of some
Bored, delinquent thoroughbred,
The baggy skin of elephants
Swaying sadly in midthrust,
Monkeys, waving their red,
Tumescent bottoms,
And man most of all,
Aiming his little homo erectus
At the stars.

Desire can jiggle his shackles
Any time, he can
Wake from a dream
Clutching his pillow,
He can be swimming or
Reading an article on foreign
Policy, he can be caught
At a dinner party by the
Practiced hand of his hostess
Under the table.
Abruptly, she excuses herself.
Soon he follows,
Shielding himself with a napkin,
Up the polished stairs
Into her scented room.
Between the salad and the Camembert
They manage an extra course,
Her arms and legs unsheathed,
His pants carefully hung
Over a chair to save the crease.
He mounts hastily,
One ear cocked to the crowd below,
A clown astride his donkey;
She kicks and bucks,
Seeing satyrs rampant in the corn.



We all have tales to tell,
How the womb jerked and we were rejected,
How our defenses have been assaulted,
Our love exceeded our abilities.
We wear clustered around our throats
The soul's artifacts.
We have watched the sun come up,
We have gathered the field's flowers,
We have built towers and great walls,
We have grown impatient in the dark garden.
We have plucked out our brothers' eyes
And smothered our children,
We have cut off our hands and sold them
To art dealers, they are on display somewhere
In little glass-doored refrigerators,
We have wept over trivialities,
We have failed, in the confusion,
To take our own lives,
The dead have gone home without us.

Out of the plane's wreckage we creep like maggots,
The ship sinks but we make it, somehow,
To an island in suburbia.
In Venice we escape the plague,
In Alexandria survive the famine,
We are on the road to Mecca and Canterbury,
An angel has passed over us.
We could amuse you for a thousand and one nights
With stories of how we fell into plum pudding
And made the princess laugh
And burned our feet in the fire.
We are all old wives, even the youngest of us,
Spreading our table before you.




I never let it bother me,
your not loving me, or rather
if it bothered me, your not loving me,
I'd buy myself some flowers
(anemones, I think--they sound so nice--
or lilies, for virtue), I'd
do a load of dirty clothes,
or run around the block in my bright orange shorts,

or rather, when it bothers me,
your not loving me, I bake cookies for the kids,
or cry, or sing myself a song,
soft-shoeing it into the dining room
like that bear at the zoo who lumbers around
with his mouth open, who can't tell
popcorn from little wads of paper, who
doesn't know love from trouble, that's
what I do when it bothers me,

which is only when my heart beats, only while
my toenails grow, only so long as
I'm sleeping or awake, anyway,
that's how things get done in this world,
which is why I never let it bother me.




I thought I liked babies.
I wanted a new wardrobe.
I wanted a new name: Mama.

I was curious.
I was careless.

Mother did it when she was young.

I wanted attention.
I wanted to please Aunt Evie, who loves kids.
I wanted to know how a watermelon felt.

I was bored.

I wanted to quit my job.
I wanted to relive my childhood.
I thought it would be good for my complexion.

I, myself, was such an adorable baby.

I couldn't think of anything to give my husband for his birthday.
I really wanted a cat but he's allergic to them.




Jane Flanders is the author of four books of poems: Leaving and Coming Back (Quarterly Review of Literature, 1980), The Students of Snow (University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), Timepiece (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988) and Sudden Plenty (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press, 2003). At her death on April 12, 2001, Flanders left almost 700 uncollected poems, most unpublished as well. This huge body of work was progressively uncovered in the nine months after her death by her husband Steven. Most of those selected for Sudden Plenty were written between 1974 and 1978. Steven Flanders calls these "the dramatic years when she discovered her mature voice and vocation as a poet" and credits the "inspiration, support and encouragement" of Grace Cavalieri, Flanders's teacher at a workshop at the Glen Echo Writers' Center, for allowing her to "transform her relation to her art from that of an occasional versifier to that of a poet by vocation."

Published in Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2004.