FIRST BOOKS ISSUE
A kindergarten Saturn,
she orbits the yard,
arms raised skyward,
chip tipped up,
eyes shut like a gospel
singer whose lyrics rest
on the tip of grace.
I guess it's about bones
and balance. The body
hoops with soul and smoothes
its hips and ribcage
into a limber pole.
The planets hula
around a muscular sun.
Pink, orange, and green stripes
spiral around my daughter.
She's in outer space,
too busy to recall
how she learned to keep
her circle circling
around one steady
center all her own.
DIAGRAM OF THE FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM,
Both parents born in El Salvador, the
neighbor boy, Enrique,
has trouble with his homework, knocks on our door, asking for
my husband's bilingual expertise. At twelve, he must study the
reproductive system in a special class called Health. He hands
my husband a cross-section of a woman, a map with arrows
and blanks. Shyly, he says his parents know only the Spanish
words—tranquil in their living room, listening to the news under
a wide-eyed portrait of Jesus, while their boy in the next apart-
ment learns to pronounce clitoris, vagina, and uterine
What would Jesus do, faced with a worksheet like this? I find
I need to leave the room so men can talk as men. My husband
comes to consult me only when he is unsure about fallopian tubes.
In a half an hour, they are almost done. Anatomically correct and
American, the diagram is filled with terms doctors use. I can
hear Enrique thanking my husband: Gracias, gracias, gracias,
señor. His gratitude seems too great, as if he could know
when you learn a new word in no time you find it everywhere.
My daughter rips the foil packet
and pours tenants into the tank—
as directions say, INSTANT PETS.
Eggs like pearly dandruff hatch
into jiggling specks. On the package
a cartoon brine shrimp winks.
They grow, endear themselves
to my child. Daily, she aerates the tank—
pours greenish water from glass to glass—
provides powdered algae clumped
smaller than mustard seed.
Little water chimps agitate
for breakfast at the surface,
so human in their neediness and spunk,
they earn the playful name we offer:
Sea Monkeys. What if, magnified,
we too might invite analogy?
Something generous, far cuter
than our small, mean selves?
PLAYING OUR BIRTHDAYS
Not because he loved her, but because
Mom would say. When years after the divorce
he played her birthday, mine, and his for the jackpot.
He held on to what he felt was luck
long after she packed her bags and left him.
Even their anniversary splashed its date
onto losing tickets that he never threw away,
dozens discovered in old sports coats' pockets.
As if their man-and-wife collision
could mean nothing less than a ridiculous fortune,
three-in-one destined for fame.
As if some rational good should finally come
of the days, months, and years that dropped us here
together, and left us, once knotted in dismay,
slowly working apart.
ON HERITAGE NIGHT AT MY CHILDREN'S ELEMENTARY
I show up with brownies, nothing exotic
or spicy, no soul food, fried rice, or plantains.
In a Betty Crocker pyramid, I display my dark, sugary fix
awkwardly, pretending a wholesome, American heritage,
while inside, I am the dilute white
of my father's alcoholic amnesia,
a translucent fog as homogenous as a mild cold.
I show up with brownies out of a box, whisked with oil,
eggs, and water, the color of brandy in his morning coffee,
dense and slightly under-baked. I set
them on a table in the gym
wondering what others will think of me, wondering
what I think of them. In an addict's kingdom that's how you think,
sizing up others, who like you, may hear heritage and know
Jack Daniels, gin, or a six-pack could
as easily appear as this array
of international casseroles. In a United Nations' stew of young families,
screw my historic English, Swedish, Scottish, French blood lines.
Our parents teach us what to do, or not to do, in my case.
Kathi Morrison-Taylor was born and
raised in the Pacific Northwest. She completed her MFA at the University
of Washington in 1989 and since then has lived in California, Connecticut,
and Virginia. Her poems have appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Stand,
Seattle Review, and New York Quarterly. Co-director of the Joaquin Miller
Cabin Reading Series in Washington, DC, she has worked both as a teacher
and librarian. She and her husband and two children make their home
in Arlington, VA.
The poems here are reprinted from By the Nest,
published by The Word Works, Inc., with permission from the author.
For more information on the book, see: http://www.wordworksdc.com/.
Published in Volume
10:2, Spring 2009.
Read more by this author:
Morrison-Taylor: DC Places Issue
on Joaquin Miller: