“My parents split up but I stayed on.” — Sergei Dovlatov, Ours
Inside my heart, love
Is baseless, every last
Seat of grace lost
When the family burned down
On her side
Water and wood her wonders
Birds and mice
The windows the books
After the crash I make my way down
my tea tray in my hands
Porcelain against silver
She takes the tea
She holds my eye
no flight risk
hands clean mouth closed
at attention between life
In the movie always in theatres everywhere
Just a few get out
Only they get something they can keep
While you and everyone else bow down to
Hot hungry sun or twist against the sour floor
or just blown away die — soon or late
It doesn’t matter, you just keep watching and
You dread going home after
To find mother, a knife to her crotch and that boy
His knife or someone else’s
Knife in his hand under the paper roof
Whose sound barks too close to your ear
I want to be a real girl. Wood for a body is
Not my cup of tea. Good
For barrels, whiskey, water — but not a
Where my tin heart is, a real girl
Has muscle. She warms
Without the application of heat.
Again in my friend Karen’s room the scene of peace
Is Sunday light that picks up dust mites
Then passes across our hands
And faces. Play is stately.
Off screen of course the giant clock ticks on
For my ears only. It tells me precisely how much longer
I can stay here.
To move against the twist
Making a counter-
Drop the needle down at the moment
Right before the bough breaks and
Crashes my story
Cape May, New Jersey
The smell of cigarette smoke smell doesn’t bother my husband, he tells me
At last, because it reminds him of his mother.
We are seated in the sun outside our motel room.
Smokers are renting nearby quarters.
Daughter June, within, hones her wit on YouTube. This is not
As dark as it sounds. June is a kind and loving teenager. It’s true!
True, too, that my mother-in-law died of lung cancer.
It was not nice to watch her starve, then drown.
June was just a baby then, in a sun hat from her other grandmother,
Really a step-grandmother, but what kind of name is that?
Sounds like a stepladder made out of an old woman, but what
Would you use one for?
He never told me he liked the smell.
When I knew them my in-laws were past all sin.
To honor the father and the mother:
A duty pressed into children
Everywhere; rightly too, as no child lives
Without the birth of lungs, tongue, mouth
To do and to sing
Imprinted with obligation
the child bears a leaf of debt
pressed into its heart
Fossil of birth, seed
— sharp, scratchy
Some of us feel it in the gullet
Like gravel, like glass
This poem is for you
If you know what I am talking about:
You would spit out that seed
Until the mother, the father are ready
But you have to eat
They need you, your big babies,
Threatening day by day to die
Without your sacrifice