Red on Her Fingers

". . . it came from everywhere.  Which is to say it was
always there, and that it came from nowhere."

-- "Mood Indigo," Blues If You Want, William Matthews

Every morning it was waiting on the other side of her
eyelids;  lingering near the coffee pot until fed; 
it didn't eat much, though it ate often;  at first

it was only a sound in her body, racehorses crossing
her chest;  her breath and her heartbeat panting at the gates;
her bowels rumbling with the winner;  it became

other people's opinions, something gray that soiled
the town, selecting victims by the size of their hearts;  it
was a challenge in black and white;  knight to queen's fifth,

the envy of a baritone for a soprano who sings the bass line; 
but she caught the rare whiff of hatred in the piano
bench, a small mirror hanging in a tin frame;  she found it

red on her fingers from forcing open the hard nut of
compassion;  and it was worn like calluses for a gui-
tarist, green bruises inside the gymnast's tired thighs;

but truly it was also confession, an old shame trickling
down her leg;  she felt bellows pumping, the open wings
of  a heron flapping;  and thick freckled arms stoking

the fire in the living room of its childhood, where at Christmas
the black engine and four cars circled and circled back into
grievances, admissions, and closed fists pounding;

rosaries began to murmur about it, and quickly
everyone would take sides.          Once
in the back of a drawer she found an old

photograph of it:  1949;  she stands
barefoot, alone on a sidewalk, little shoulders
strapped in a sundress;  her hair long

and light;  one hand on her hip; 
that hip cocked;  the other hand shades
her eyes;  she's squinting at it, daring it to shoot.

"Red on Her Fingers," was published in Tumblewords:  Writers Reading the West, University of Nevada Press, 1995.

Quincentenary Poem: Civic Center Park, Denver 1992

One by one they circle the park,
Eagles facing east from
Courthouse columns
Capitol dome
Museum fortress
The glass rectangular offices of industry.

These are the closed edges of architecture,
This law, this art,
This swallowed literature,
The politics that burn
This island of seeds laid out like tiles On which we march.

It's another turn of another century,
stage-blood covers the globe,
Stains the pool of buildings
And the books of bones

That do not burn "Quincentenary Poem: Civic Center Park," Colorado Women News July 1993 and Montelibre, 1993.

Just Ice

A measure of justice
40 pounds weighed on the public scale
the child's eyes
look down at his heart for mother.
It's Charleston.  1815.
A cup of cool mercy
on the bare backs
dry throats

I wonder how, when.
I enter the courthouse from the hot sun,
the mercy of marble.
The line through the
metal detector
where we leave our knives with the guards
and take with us inside
all the forms of fear.

Each new day
a witness raises her hand
metal weights are adjusted
and a line solid and true
plumbs through the floor to the courtroom below,
and the one below that
and that to
the center of the earth;  while we
sit here and scoop with spoons
the mighty mass of the law.

We listen for:  a clear deep tone
look for:  a gesture
of something true, oh
bring me something true.
Line up the cookie jars
at the dining room table
the headless doll
in the mahogany armchair
the recently discovered bottles of vodka,
spinning on the table
with all the spent shells,
your napkins slit into slivers of silk.

Tell me now
what is the exact distance
between this flesh and that?
Measure it precisely, Justice,
in fingers, please,
in car lengths,
a hundred yards of football fields,
the field of all our possibilities
dissolving like ice
on the hot Carolina auction block
just ice
a trickle of spray paint on the elevator wall.

My toes spread wide
and I push all my bones
into the solid ice
where I now stand.
We must find the words,
get it over with,
make them up
say anything,
before it all melts
the pool of rights and wrongs we fight for today.

The drone of the docket
quiet curses
summer odor of
too many bodies in
too small a space
people with so much nothing
those with too much heart
those without enough.

Every case picks, slices, carves 
what we believe and what we
do not, in the
dry throat
summer odor of bodies
all the forms of fear.

Give us what is clean and true.
Scoop  marrow from our bones
Let our feet grow plump and pink,
Let them step lightly now
not to be sacrificed

to the cotton gin

the thresher.

"Just Ice," was published in Texas Journal on Women and the Law, Spring 1994. 

Dead Baby 

There's a dead baby in your yard
the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.
There was a dead baby in the yard
over by the fence.
It was naked. It was blue.  It was bloody
placenta all over the ground
and red spots on the fence.  Red spots on the fence
led them over the top
to the trail of blood in the neighbor's yard
to the back door
and into the room of a 13 year old,
the childless mother
of the dead baby in the yard next door.
I heard a cry late last night,
a neighbor reported,
Thought it was a cat or a bird,

But what did she do alone in that room at thirteen?
Did she cry out?  Teddy bear stuffed in her mouth?
Did she scoop up her arms? Scream?
Her legs pumping the mantra of a child
giving birth in terror all alone:
Get rid of it, then wash up, no one will know
Did she rise up then
Get rid of it
and take the baby to the fence?
Go wash up, it's gone now, no one will know
it's over, I'm dying, wash up now,
it's gone over the fence now. . .

There's a dead baby in your yard
the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.
There was a dead baby in the yard
over by the fence.
It was wrapped in slick papers,
the Sunday supplement
multicolored  ink-stains
bloody from the birth
yellow rubber gloves flopped next to the puddle,
man-sized gloves.  Playtex
like what you use to wash the whitewalls on your tires
to strip furniture
to clean the oven
or to pull a baby out
that doesn't want to come
when you don't know what you're doing
so you reach in and pull harder
and the head comes out and it's blue
and the cord's wrapped around
and you don't know what you're doing
and you reach in and pull harder
and the yellow gloves pull harder
and you're scared
and it's blue and she's dying,
so you reach for the Parade section
and roll the baby in it
and you don't know what you're doing
and you're sorry
and you drop it over the fence
hand over head
like a kid mailing a letter
and you turn the gloves inside out
and you run home before dark.

There's a dead baby in your yard
the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.,
There was a dead baby in the yard
over by the fence.
It was dressed all in white lace
a christening gown
white on white layers.
The baby had been washed,
the clothes had been pressed
it had all been prepared,
a small bonnet crocheted
a pearl ribbon woven through.
It was wrapped in a cover
a hand-knitted blanket,
the edges folded back,
the kind a grandmother would weave
the kind a grandmother would dream
the perfect baby
the son she'd never had,
the one she could spoil,
the one she deserved.

There's a dead baby in your yard
the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.
There was a dead baby in the yard
over by the fence.
No, don't know nothing 'bout no fence,
the Granddaddy said.
Yeah, so I fucked her. So what!
her face on the tile
black and white tile
bathroom floor,
towel over her head.
So now she's knocked up and squalling out back
That boyfriend hanging around
her mother drinking her share and mine too.
Serves her right for running around
for saying she'd talk, for backtalking me.

The neighbor next door
was the one who was right
who heard that night late
the cat and the bird
Take me to the fence, the baby
begged them.   And when the newsboy arrived
he saw an alley cat out back
tugging at  some meat. 
He heard a single black bird
a cry in the wind. 
He rushed to tell all of them
what all of them already knew.

There's a dead baby in our yard
the newsboy says,
and something knocks at our door.

"Dead Baby," was published in The Denver Quarterly, Summer 1993. 

Restraining Order

I am watching the freckles
on the back of my fingers
multiply and divide like
lovers under the lens.  The
speaker at my podium
says:  He's my pimp.  Tore
a branch from a tree.   Beat
me.  The branch broke.
I am lifting the law books
down, a  browning obsolete
boulder older than I am,
the weight of a witness
of losses. The letters of the
law chew on my fingernails,
and now she is saying:
Choked me  . . .  can't
remember the rest.
I am skin closed in
this chair in this black cloth
swallowing more water these days
staying tempered, staying cool,
a surgeon dusting her hands
for powder burns, and suddenly
I look at her, wide-eyed, broken: 
He shouted he'd
kill me.  I don't know if he will.
I am blotting the battered  bench
with a clawed Kleenex, aligning my
pencils just so.  She says justice.  She says
justice.  She says:  He dragged me by my hair. 
My head broke the mirror.
Do you need to see the pictures?

“Restraining Order,” was published by The Colorado Lawyer, Fall 2008, placing first in the Colorado Bar Association poetry contest.