Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ten Poems by Lyn Lifshin

It Wasn't Even Valentino But Tony Dexter, Made Up With Slick-Backed Hair, Eyes Of Soot

that stared thru me
at the Campus Theater
and made me always
choose men with dark
foreign looks, men
from Iran or Greece
or Turkey.  A glance
scorched, a tango and
I buckled.  At 11, I
dreamed I was Pola
Negri, a name as
exotic as the words I
imagined whispered
deep in the tent of
his skin.  I ached to be
his slave, his harem,
would grow clove
nipples, longer lean
thighs.  If he didn't talk,
no matter, I went for
quiet men, no blonds
I vowed, no Swedes.
Bad boys who would
not smile, strutting
boys, the hoods with
hooded eyes I'd write my
own subtitles for, my
hair, my words a veil I
could be whatever
I wanted to behind.
Blood lips, those
eyes behind dark glasses
let you imagine what
isn't as when Valentino
moved past the tent
flaps as if they were

That Woman Near The Graves

disappears behind granite
and is never heard from
again.  We don't quite
believe this.  She could
have gone to the museum
or called her girlfriend
to meet her for lunch
but instead took the
metro to the cemetery
as if to lie down with the
dead one who always said
her lips brought him
back to life.  It was a warm
day for December even
tho it was the day of
the least light.  She was
wearing the denim mini
I had in my closet,
her hair almost as long
and red as mine.  Some might
suppose I'm that woman,
it seems there are clues.
But listen, the buried
man was already dead to
me before he slept
under the grave in this
city and the me who would
have banged myself
raw on his metal
door had already grown
skin too thick to feel

The Child We Will Not Have

will be a boy.  Dean Michael
will go to law school and play
football.  I'll listen to September
get loud and then quieter,
sneak into the smallest room

to write S.O.S. notes in returnable soda
bottles, my belly crinkled as the toe nail
that falls off after a torturous summer
of pointe.  This child you always wanted
swims in my arms like that gone nail,

I talk to it with my mouth shut.  It teaches
you to sign, lip read my nipples.  In the movie
of September, some of the stills are missing.
I clutch the baby like someone at a crash site,

hear glass fall.  The child we will not have
is all we wanted, all that holds us together.

In Rexall's, Middlebury

the dark booth held us like a cove.
My mother put on high heels and lipstick.
Fruit parfait in glasses, a sweetness.
A comfort to eavesdrop on the others talking.

My mother put on high heels and lipstick.
My father never cared if we had a real house
where my sister and I wouldn't be ashamed to bring friends.
In the dark of the booth, I could imagine, someday, being a beauty.

My father never cared if we had a real house.
My mother never wanted to come back to this town she eloped to escape.
She went out with realtors for 15 years.
In her last weeks she said if she could go anywhere she would pick New York City.

My mother never wanted to come back to this town,
imagined the bustle of cities, the theater, the subway.
My father sat in the yellow chair, read the Wall Street Journal without talking.
My mother played gypsy music and Cab Calloway, "Raisins and Almonds"

I imagined the bustle of cities
where what happened mattered.
My father sat in the yellow chair, quiet as stones.
Bits of my mother's red lipstick swirled in fruit parfait.
The dark booth held us like a cove.

Late November

Today in Virginia, unseasonably cold,
               high only in the mid 30s.
I think of a night drive from Austerlitz
an hour north to bring in my plants, early September.
The sky tangerine, guava and teal.
My own house strangely quiet, my
cat at my mother's.

When I think of a night I drove from Austerlitz
to bring in the plants, my mother young enough
to swoop up suitcases, my cat,
I was looking for someone.  "Aren't you glad you
still have me?" my mother purred.  The cat I
got after that one, now going on 21,
the ice yesterday a warning.

I was looking for someone.  Each time I
left my mother's rooms, drove thru
Vermont leaves there was an ache becoming myself.
When the wind tore thru yesterday, on the stairs, a
shape that looked like lint with claws.
Later I tucked the geraniums in quilts
like putting a child under flannel or leaves.

That ache, a wind under my hair.

My mother tucked in the earth.
The headless fur shape with its pink claws
or feet, on its back, a mystery.
Today in Virginia, unseasonably cold.

Champlain, Branbury, The Lakes At Night

always women in the
dark on porches talking
as if in blackness their
secrets would be safe.
Cigarettes glowed like
Indian paintbrush.
Water slapped the
deck.  Night flowers
full of things with wings,
something you almost
feel like the fingers
of a boy moving, as if
by accident, under
sheer nylon and felt
in the dark movie house
as the chase gets louder,
there and not there,
something miscarried
that maybe never was.
The mothers whispered
about a knife, blood.
Then, they were laughing
the way you sail out of
a dark movie theater
into wild light as if no
thing that happened

Thirty Miles West of Chicago

paint chips slowly.
It's so still you
can almost hear it
pull from a porch.

Cold grass claws
like fingers in a
wolf moon.  A man
stands in corn bristles

listening, watching
as if something
could grow from
putting a dead child

in the ground.

The Daughter I Don't Have

won't see the moon
as fractured.  She won't
be drawn to what is broken,
men so shattered and cracked
nothing can keep them
together.  She won't seek
out lovers with pieces
gone or so damaged no one
can restore them.  The
daughter I don't have
won't pick men like land
scapes all color's seeped
from, pale as bleached bones,
men whose dreams of quiet
drift from --bodies that
fold themselves into a beer
daze by dawn.  No Vietnam
veteran who lives in flash
backs of his leg exploding
on the other side of the
road will tattoo "mine" on
her heart, remembering the
mine that got him.

The Daughter I Don't Have

would ride the horse
I was scared to ride
bareback.  She'd leap
over wild sorrel, taste
the lilac finches glide
through.  She won't hear
"a nice Jewish girl
wouldn't come in
shoes smelling of manure."
Her hair will smell
like the wind.  She'll
see what I hadn't in hill
sides before the light goes,
shapes in tall grass that
could be whatever she
makes them into,
magical animals, rainbows
in leaves.  She'll be one
with the horse, leaping,
feel each muscle tremble.
The daughter I don't have
would move with ease, not
wait on the sidelines
for someone to ask her
to dance but make her own
way thru shadows and
quiet, still as a woman
in an Edward Hopper
painting but with more
to look ahead to,
confident in darkness,
her own maple hair.

Edward Hopper

The thing about Sunday is
the light moving across
a two story red brick
building, shops on the
first floors, four dark
doorways and a barber
pole.  The shops are closed.
They'll stay closed all
day.  1930.  Sunday floating
in space, beating out
Saturday for quiet.  It's
an old neighborhood that
has known better days.  You
never ask what day it is.
Sunday feels like Sunday.
A Sunday kind of a love,
never on Sunday.  When Emily
Dickinson wrote "there's
a certain slant of light
that oppresses . . ." it must
have been Sunday, a day like
wide water without a sound.

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