Marcia Slatkin

(USA)

You Say, “Black.”

I cradle white, croon to it,

cream-puffs and marshmallow

of my youth, time

sugared white, and I murmur,

“white, white,” to entice you.

 

You teach me.

You diagram “black,”

parse it, build

black theories

with wire cutters,

weld black arrows

to point the black path.

 

My sugar bowl

crawls with black ants

 

I notice black hooks, hangers.

see black seams in the bricks

of buildings, cracks

in the white path,

follow black lamp wires

to light.

 

Mending

your coat with black thread,

I almost long to become

charcoal for your fine, sure hand.

 

But nights,

while the black watchdog snores,

I dream white.

 

 

 

What The Stars Are

 

The buck chased her,

his fullness toward her tail.

When she would not stay,

he reared, hit the sharp

yard-rail, and sprayed.

 

The man in the moon

was like that.

 

In the dark,

he pawed the earth’s

soft waist. His fingers

clawed beneath her clouds.

 

And when she turned away,

he arched his back

 

and sprayed

the night with stars.

 

 

 

The Last Duck

We trapped him –

the dignified male

with the graceful neck –

and held him down

till drowned. His death

 

was ugly. His heart

wouldn’t let his wings

go limp. They hit

the lip of the tub like fists.

There were long slow moments

when we could have let him live.

Then his beak bubbled death,

and we didn’t. That day,

 

A silence stilled the yard.

The ducks didn’t fly, drink, eat,

or bob their mobile necks to speak,

but stood, breath-stopped as stone.

 

In time,

they sought the boulder

he’d used as throne,

exhaled sighs

like oboe notes,

 

and the gargling roll

from the root of their throats

flooded every bite we chewed

of this last duck

we killed for food.

 

Solicitude

Amid a maze

of age spots, raised

as gravel, walnut hued

and jagged in shape,

 

my mother’s breasts

emerge, still pink,

unscarred though fallen,

guileless on a sheet

of rippled skin.

 

And after donning

bra and snapping

straps in place,

she gathers them up

 

like scooping pliant

honey with a spoon,

or shaping dough

to buns that fit a pan –

 

and rests

obedient lobes

in waiting slings

slowly –cradling each

with vein-rich

careful hands.

 

 

A Prayer to the Dial Tone

 

Eyes tightly closed, holding

the buzzing phone to her heart

like a crucifix,

thumbing random numbers

like worry beads – or perhaps

davening, as she’d doubtless

seen her father do, swaying

with each fervent phrase

whispered into the top

of the plastic messenger

of contact and warning,

 

my mother communicates

with the spirit of her son,

whose work entails travel:

 

“My sweetheart,

be safe.”

 

 

Not Yet

 

You might think

I would have rid myself

of that old myth. The dead

are gone, beyond reach

or calling. But when,

ill for days, my mother

rises, looks at me

and calmly says, “It’s time

to find my husband,” the ice

that sometimes gathers near my heart

melts, flows over, floods. “We

 

don’t know exactly where he is,”

she says, her voice

a luminous string

to which she clings

as she begins to tread

some fathomless bridge

that leads beyond my tears.

 

My caress pleads

with her eyes, now

grave, bright, and caught

in what seems

a moment of ultimate

seeing. Then I sculpt

my sobs to words,

and cast a net

 

that hauls her back, back–

 

promising she will of course

find him — just

not yet.

 

 

 

Melt

 

Immobile, my form

was powerfully fixed

in what they call Greenland,

my sheets for centuries

stacked within an ocean

cold enough to keep my ice

intact. I was content.

My massive presence

ruled the waves

and trapped excess,

a glassy girdle

cinching seas.

 

Now, heat from a savage sun

attacks me. Huge chunks

of what I feel as body,

and weighing a billion tons,

shear off and slide into the deep.

I am disfigured. I melt

and drown at once,

the ocean rising round

a self no longer strong enough

to tame its height. If I die,

 

my power dissolving

into liquid surge,

the sea will rise twenty feet.

Submerged, my wave-capped corpse

will spread, swirl past, seep

and flood all low-lying land.

 

The creatures with the fleshy

legs and chests, with hair

and anxious, beating hearts

will flee my reach.

In death,

I will be everywhere.

 

 

 

Upheaval

 

Sometimes, it is a

bubble on the walkway;

a small hump that barely

breaks the man-made grade.

One passes easily.

 

Sometimes the sidewalk

is broken — a sandwich

shared by friends,

a pizza, placed on a table

and pulled apart, islands

on an empty tray.

 

But sometimes, pavement

heaves up, the eruption

of volcanoes, the clash

of tectonic plates

creating temples of concrete–

A-frames, defiant, jutting

into air like ice floes,

their sides aslant

in a choppy grey sea.

 

It is easy to trip

on these monsters,

to stumble

 

and lean on the very tree

whose roots have gashed

the man-poured skin

and crazed it egg-shell split,

as it yields to the thrusting

power of growth

beneath – the force

 

of nature breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “You Say “Black” won a Walt Whitman award from a NY bank in 1978; It was published in the anthology Bizzaro/ Dobrin/ Slatkin, ISBN 0-943018 04-8 put out by Backstreet Editions in 1982.

 

“The Last Duck” was published in the Paris Review in 1992.

 

« The Last Duck » and « What the Stars Are »  were all published in a chapbook called A Season’s Milking, 2003, by Pudding House Press, ISBN 1-58998-218-5., and later in a full length book called A WOMAN MILKING, WORD PRESS, 2006. ISBN 1933456493 

 

“Solicitude” won first prize in Stony Brook’s Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society Poetry contest, 2004, and was published in Contexts Magazinein the spring of that year.  It was later published in a chapbook called I Kidnap My Mother in August, 2005, by Finishing Line Press, ISBN 1-932755-018-1.  It as well as « Not Yet » will be part of a full length book called NOT YET:  A CARE-GIVING COLLAGE, forthcoming from SFAPRESS, Stephen F Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, in early 2012.

 

« Melt » and « Upheaval » are part of an unpublished manuscript called OP-ED: EARTH,  a series of 60 poems about climate change. The work has been done during the past two years. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

__________________________

 

Former English teacher, farmer, and care giver to her mother, an Alzheimer patient who lived with her between 2003- 2007,  Marcia Slatkin now plays cello, takes photographs with which she makes collages, and writes. Her fiction won two PEN awards, and many stories have been published in small magazines. Sixteen of her one-act plays have been produced in small venues in NYC, San Diego, and Long Island NY. Her full length play, UPSIDE DOWN, won a staged reading at the Long Beach Playhouse, Long Beach California in 2010, and had a 6 performance run in NYC, September, 2011. Honors include finalist status in the Samuel French one-act play contest three times, and the survival by her full length screen play, « HOME FRONT, » of first cut in the Sundance Film contest, 2004 – 5. Her first chapbook, A Season’s Milking, Pudding House Press 2003, was followed by a chapbook called I Kidnap My Mother: Alzheimer Poems, Finishing Line Press, 2005.  The full length « continuation » volumes of both of these chapbooks are available. « A WOMAN MILKING: Barnyard Poems » was published by WORD TECH  in 2006. « NOT YET: A Care-Giving Collage » is forthcoming from SFAPRESS, TEXAS, in early 2012.

 

 

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