Cold Water Wash

It’s a story set in Ecuador, you tell me,
At a place where old men go
To be forgiven those sins
Too terrible to confess.
You speak of that place that has nothing to do with you.
Your hand flattens the pages of your manuscript. 
Keep the wrinkles few.  Keep the corners clean.

You touch my shoulder a little whenever you can. 
You do it when we enter the bar
When we rise from the table.
Your hands with license to touch like sea breezes. 
I let you do it.  I like fingers pressuring
The small of my back when we dance,
The little hint of a kiss I give you for fun.

Later you slip that same hand down into my jeans.
My hand blocks yours.
I say no.  I say stop.  You do not.
I speak firmer.  Louder.
Thirty seconds at most this goes on
Till you stop when you fear
I will scream and, you know,
I still can.

In a village in Ecuador
A sparse dappled dog
Drops a fresh mango pit
Coated with road dirt by the foot of the cross.
Now I will never see that village
Without the pit without the dog
Because you held me there
In that way
For that long
Against my will
It was like that.

My spirit is silk in the washer today
French lace dancing in the cotton cycle.
Cold water wash water level high
Cold water wash water level high.

Cold Water Wash," was published in Texas Journal on Women and the Law, Spring 1994. 

A Mother's Advice to Her Children

If you ever get the chance, live with an artist.
Live with an artist and you begin to notice
the shapes of things. 
Even the air around the enormous
sprig of forsythia
in the beer bottle,
the way its presence
makes the room fade away,
its relationship with the white wall,
its simple canvas.

Live with an artist and expect food
to slow cook all day
just for the odors of chiles,
the moisture in the kitchen
the falling apart of the meat inside the pot.
You needn't gather the cats.  They will find you.

Move in with an artist at least once.
Plant plenty of daffodils,
whatever you can afford. 
And study the light
all day and in every season
before you decide to do
much else.

Live with an artist. 
Stay as long as you can. 
Leave if you must, then live with
an accountant.

"A Mother's Advice to her Children" was published in The Colorado Lawwyer, Fall 2008, placing second in the poetry contest.

White Rain

Although it is summer evening,
hair spray and Nescafé
smell so strong and familiar
it makes one wonder if it is morning or night.
In the yellow bathroom,
the girl takes her seat facing
the wall full of  tiles
interlocking like arms squaring to lift their black centers.
The mother untwists the rubber band
and a few strands snap. 

She leans her belly into the girl's spine. 
Lightly the amber brush, then
the wide speckled comb
untangle the limp brown hair.
The mother's hands smooth
the girl's skull, circle it at the crown,
wrap the red rubber band around the hank
quickly, perfectly, twice,
as if it were an entire plant of celery in her hands.
All is luminous:  approaching blonde.

Every Saturday the mother's freckled hands
pour gold over the girl's head;
then the piercing scent of sliced lemons,
and a warm water veil
flows down from a white kitchen cup. 
The sun slants through the slats of the blinds,
falls on a thick lemon shell rocking
on its shiny pocked rind,
its soft white center slimy and spent.
The mother reaches for the slim girl
waiting on the back of the bottle.

She is my mother in a cotton housedress,
and I am the freckled eleven year old,
who, more than anything else
wants to be able to sleep over
an entire night at a friend's house,
without waking homesick in the inconsolable night:
Will you drive me home now please?
I worry that my mother is alone there. 
I have to get back to her.

I remember the brittle knots
ripped from the bristles of  those days, 
when your hands held my head
in the kitchen sink, my naked back cold and wet,
the sounds of water pounding,
my head lumbered
involuntarily, and looked up at you,
like it was someone else's head,
maybe your head,

turning, as it did years later
from the front seat of the car,
when you first saw your grandchild,
part black, part jew, part you--
six years old sitting next to me in the back seat,
her best dress  tied with a wide blue ribbon. 
She was waiting to meet you, when,
smiling, you turned your gray head,
reached your hand back naturally to touch her,
and that same hand that washed my hair
recoiled from her nappy head

like the snake that lived under the screen porch
of your childhood where you pumped
the water into the bucket,
the screen door slapped hard, twice
and  your younger sisters lined up
at the farmhouse sink every Saturday.
You tied on your mother's bleached apron,
and washed them over and over
head after head,  girl after girl
in the same water, careful
not to waste the rain.

“White Rain” under the title "Virginia 1957-1977-1997,"   was published in Ms. Nov.-Dec.1997. 

Letter to Muriel Rukeyser at the End of the Twentieth Century

Your poems shock
the way waterlilies burning in a museum
shock the moneyed.  With fragrant treason you begged even the rich,
to understand, As you spoke to each generation as that generation,
your dark hair curled in the thirties
By a passion electric for justice. 


You named what we were taught to despise in the stone insanity
of the first century of world wars.  You said clitoris, and you said
penis, and with the reverence of the condemned you said asshole,
peeling off the mask of Orpheus, speaking to the yet unborn,
admitting to the torn life, begging: please no more mythologies.
You made contact like a pilot to a radio tower, the shaking wheels
of your single engine extending to touch down.


And when the young were going and going to war to war,
you slurred your words on the Senate floor
with thousands of others, jailed, one-half your limbs
stroked out in the fire of your brain, those slurring leaves of water lilies,
stepping stones to the cloud of the world.
You, the bastard’s mother, worried incessantly for the world,
Named it every way you could, then laid out the arousals and climaxes of,
Yes, just looking at another woman looking back at you.

As for us, yes, the young still go to war,
And wars continue at the speed of darkness,
Not the world wars you expected, but the others,
Wars of despisals in our countries, in our cities, in other countries and cities.
Promises and solidarity collapsed, and in the confusion
justice circles this sweating planet, looking for somewhere to land.

The newspaper still arrive with their even more careless stories:
Union Carbide, high 46, low 45 3/8,f close: 45 ½, sales 482,800

JUDGE THOMAS:  I have never asked to be nominated. . . Mr. Chairman, I am a victim of this process

PROFESSOR HILL:  I would have been more comfortable to remain silent. . . I took no initiative to inform anyone. . . I could not keep silent.

A voice flew out of the river,
Smoke of the poems we still try to write.
We too are more or less insane,
And even now through time
We witness the buried life.
At the end of this millennium
We are still writing our poems,
Born as we were
In the first century
of the aftermath of world wars

This poem won the 1997 Denver Press Club Poetry Award.

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