Lament

Someone is dead.
Even the trees know it,
those poor old dancers who come on lewdly,
all pea-green scarfs and spine pole.
I think…
I think I could have stopped it,
if I’d been as firm as a nurse
or noticed the neck of the driver
as he cheated the crosstown lights;
or later in the evening,
if I’d held my napkin over my mouth.
I think I could…
if I’d been different, or wise, or calm,
I think I could have charmed the table,
the stained dish or the hand of the dealer.
But it’s done.
It’s all used up.
There’s no doubt about the trees
spreading their thin feet into the dry grass.
A Canada goose rides up,
spread out like a gray suede shirt,
honking his nose into the March wind.
In the entryway a cat breathes calmly
into her watery blue fur.
The supper dishes are over and the sun
unaccustomed to anything else
goes an the way down.

More More More Sexton

Anne Sexton, “Cinderella”

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.


Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.


Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.


Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.


Once
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother's grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.


Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That's the way with stepmothers.


Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince's ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn't
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.

As nightfall came she thought she'd better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

More of Brian Turner’s Poetry

“Body Bags”

A murder of crows looks on in silence
from the eucalyptus trees above
as we stand over the bodies—
who look as if they might roll over,
wake from a dream and question us
about the blood drying on their scalps,
the bullets lodged in the back of their skulls,
to ask where their wives and children are
this morning, and why this hovering
of flies, the taste of flatbread and chai
gone from their mouths as they stretch
and rise, wondering who these strangers are
who would kick their hard feet, saying
Last call, motherf*****. Last call.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“Eulogy”

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller
(1980 – March 22, 2003)

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

Anne Sexton “You, Doctor Martin”

You, Doctor Martin, walk
from breakfast to madness. Late August,
I speed through the antiseptic tunnel
where the moving dead still talk
of pushing their bones against the thrust
of cure. And I am queen of this summer hotel
or the laughing bee on a stalk

of death. We stand in broken
lines and wait while they unlock
the doors and count us at the frozen gates
of dinner. The shibboleth is spoken
and we move to gravy in our smock
of smiles. We chew in rows, our plates
scratch and whine like chalk

in school. There are no knives
for cutting your throat. I make
moccasins all morning. At first my hands
kept empty, unraveled for the lives
they used to work. Now I learn to take
them back, each angry finger that demands
I mend what another will break

tomorrow. Of course, I love you;
you lean above the plastic sky,
god of our block, prince of all the foxes.
The breaking crowns are new
that Jack wore.
Your third eye
moves among us and lights the separate boxes
where we sleep or cry.

What large children we are
here. All over I grow most tall
in the best ward. Your business is people,
you call at the madhouse, an oracular
eye in our nest. Out in the hall
the intercom pages you. You twist in the pull
of the foxy children who fall

like floods of life in frost.
And we are magic talking to itself,
noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself,
counting this row and that row of moccasins
waiting on the silent shelf.

Hero by Paul Engle

HeroBy Paul Engle

I
I have heard the horn of Roland goldly screaming
In the petty Pyrenees of the inner ear
And seen the frightful Saracens of fear
Pour from the passes, fought them, brave in dreaming.
But waked, and heard my own voice tinly screaming
In the whorled and whirling valleys of the ear,
And beat the savage bed back in my fear,
And crawled, unheroed, down those cliffs of dreaming.
    II
I have ridden with Hannibal in the mountain dusk,
Watching the drivers yell the doomed and gray
Elephants over the trumpeting Alps, gone gay
With snow vivid on peaks, on the ivory tusk.
But waked, and found myself in the vivid dusk
Plunging the deep and icy floor, gone gray
With bellowing shapes of morning, and the gay
Sunshaft through me like an ivory tusk.
    III
I have smiled on the platform, hearing without shame
The crowd scream out my praise, I, the new star,
Handsome, disparaging my bloody scar,
Yet turning its curve to the light when they called my name.
But waked, and the empty window sneered my name,
The sky bled, drop by golden drop, each star
The curved moon glittered like a sickle’s scar,
The night wind called with its gentle voices: Shame!
    IV
I have climbed the secret balcony, on the floor
Lain with the lady, drunk the passionate wine,
Found, beneath the green, lewd-smelling vine,
Love open to me like a waiting door.
But waked to delirious shadows on the door,
Found, while my stomach staggered with sour wine,
Green drunkenness creep on me like a vine,
And puked my passion on the bathroom floor.
    V
I have run with Boone and watched the Indian pillage
The log house, fought, arrow in leg, and hobbled
Over the painful ground while the warrior gobbled
Wild-turkey cry, but escaped to save the village.
But waked, and walked the city, vicious village,
Fought through the traffic where the wild horn gobbled,
Bruised on the bumper, turned toward home, hobbled
Back, myself the house my neighbors pillage.
    VI
I have lain in bed and felt my body taken
Like water utterly possessing sand,
Surrounding, seething, soothing, as a hand
Comforts and clasps the hand that it has shaken.
But waked, and found that I was wholly shaken
By you, as the wave surrounds and seethes the sand,
That your whole body was a reaching hand
And my whole body the hand that yours had taken.