We are swimming underwater,
living our movie
with the soundtrack turned down.
You get up to dress
and stop to press your copper
tongue into my mouth,
conduct the sky to this bedroom.
You say what I want to hear.
Yesterday I photographed a tree
shaped like a wishbone.
Also, when he wasn't looking,
a man casting for carp
while his earlier catch,
a five-pound bass,
circled in a bucket.
Sometimes I'm afraid
you're no better than Judas
dipping his fingers in the dish.
It's then I go round and round
like that fish
with its wounded lip,
by the immediate mercy.
HOW WE LEARNED ABOUT THE WAR
There were the pictures from Life,
the spider in the brain of Harry Truman
saving the boys time by dropping the bomb.
There were the silent films of opened
boxcars in Poland, the sticks and stones
with holes for eyes that went on living.
Parts of V-mail letters arrived, sometimes
after the telegrams lame with regret.
In the windows hung miniature flags,
their stars assigned a simple code
of blue, silver or gold. Gold
was for the unlucky. Only months,
years later would diaries come to light
so that we might hear the boots
that kept the Jews awake, see shadows
burned into a wall. Only then
would we see how the world always knows
what it is doing--girding for war
and whistling, while Lorca died and Picasso
on fire created the hips of Guernica.
Sometimes we forget the noose and its length--
how we are joined. We hang our souls
in windows prophets die for, playing
our parts at both ends, holding
our spotted coats in our hands.
Rumiî Series, 1998
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He must have a right,
this saint who gave my father
second life, rescued him
from the yellow jaws
I'm inside the stethoscope,
my knee jerks
for his rubber hammer.
Handsome Italian doctor.
I button my blouse.
He ticks off boxes
on a green form.
I pay him four dollars.
Shame nibbles my smile
as he jokes with me.
I tell no one but the priest
who's in a hurry
and charges the usual
three Hail Marys.
Home, who'd believe?
He's cut with such success
into my family's marked flesh
just to say his name
evokes Christ or Roosevelt.
It happens two more times,
this cupping of green breast
as if it were an Easter chick.
A trance of stethoscopes.
A hammer to the ceiling.
I forget about it
until this year of boulders
coming loose in heavy rain.
He's dead. I'm middle-aged.
I can change nothing
of the failed landscape
but how I see it. Field
of poppies out of focus.
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Smacking her lips
she cleans her plate
and asks for more.
As if she were still poor.
It's hard for me to look.
I want my mother to be a swan
who never leaves the water,
not this crone
with gravy on her chin.
Aging, why couldn't her passion
have been jewelry?
Or collecting porcelain
angels with violins?
She spreads butter
on her slice of bread.
Bows her head
to the task at hand
like a gleaner at twilight
too busy gathering bits of grain
to hear the Angelus.
THE ARRIVAL OF GRACE
That is not my daughter
pulled under by a wave.
That is not my daughter
touched all over
by thumbs of salt.
Into her mouth the sea
comes big and hard.
Her lungs give out
a fish music.
It draws the sharks.
The sharks hook
into her lost body.
They flail her skimpy
buttocks black and blue,
cut her in two
in red water
(she will never
bleed like a woman).
This is no magician's daughter.
suck her baby nipples.
Pick her tiny clit.
The cow's skull of her pelvis
washes up on the beach.
A dog sniffs it.
Nothing else is given up
This was a child of six summers
with a serious daring.
I want to turn the sharks
I want to see the moon's agenda
that made that lethal wave
so perfect in its coordinates.
I want to hold the mother
burning up the sea.
IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE
Vuillard collapses on a chintz sofa.
The parlor, impossible to dust,
has been knickknacked to death.
A cat sits on the upright piano,
loaded with photographs, dripping fringe.
Plush stuffed chairs wallow in corners,
as if waiting to be fed. Chaste
antimacassars crocheted by hand
bleed on backs and arms. Can this
moon be sustained? Gladiolus
freshly watered, lean from a Chinese
vase, probably imitation. A Persian
carpet swallows the hardwood floor while
a lacquered chest with brass pulls,
intricate scrolls, stands to one side,
overpowered by floral window curtains.
There are books everywhere. Shelved
and unshelved, closed and opened,
cherished and thrown down. Vuillard
closes the door. Banishes nature.
Interiors! He must have interiors!
His women seem contented in their silk
striped gowns. The light leaking out,
regardless, rocks like a ship. The walls
detach. The ceiling blooms.
Elisabeth Murawski is the author of two books of poetry, Troubled by an Angel (Cleveland State University, 1997) and Moon and Mercury (Washington Writers Publishing House, 1990). She is the recipient of four fellowships from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and poems of hers have appeared in The New Republic, Grand Street, American Poetry Review, DoubleTake, and other journals. She received an MFA in poetry from George Mason University, lives in Alexandria, and is employed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Published in Volume 3, Number 2, Spring 2002.