Mary Bonina








Fashion Sense


The students in this class, all women

and only the one from Poland might be

called stylish.  She paints her fingernails

a color she says is called:

I’m Not Really a Waitress.


At Christmas she buys the teacher a gift,

a wool challis scarf, and another day

remarks when entering the classroom:

You look good wearing black.


But even she is sensible, once

bringing to class a loaf of Polish Rye,

the lesson not even about bread.


Next to her, an elegant Haitian woman

keeps trying to hold onto a word.

She is a natural beauty, yet her manner

is not.  She has admitted to everyone,

she loves the movies.


Examine, too, her grace

and her lovely French accent,

nearly Parisienne.  And do not

ignore the obvious, that even

a white uniform looks good on her.


Who would be surprised to know

that now, learning English,

my Chinese students want words

to describe bolts of cloth they remember

nudging past a needle at the sewing bench,

stitching a collar, a hem, an ornamentation?


Even without my help they know

the English words:  wool, cotton, rayon, linen.

Interested in fabric, style, craft


these tailors, dress and lace makers,

weavers and knitters

who have embroidered flowers on silk,

what they want from this lesson is something

more subtle, asking for how to say

spots, lines, squares.

I give them new words:

stripe, plaid, polka dot,

the more delicate dotted Swiss.


I cut up old clothes and bring swatches,

showing them herringbone,

hound’s-tooth, black watch, and glen plaid.


They admire my hair,

curly on a humid day, but I love

theirs, straight and silky in any weather.

They want to know if I have

a permanent wave.



Tough Trek


What the ranger did was

lock up his little hut,

drive away, leave us

hiking, our whereabouts

unknown to anyone else,

we three in a foreign country.


Setting out there’d been no list

to add our names, only a sign

–you know the one —

about how you must proceed

at your own risk.


Absolutely alone to negotiate

the path on a ridge

in the rainforest, soft earth

underfoot, orbiting

a volcanic lake below us,


we go climbing

into the clouds:

shaky legs, vertigo,

water bottles empty too soon,

and the color green

teasing us to rest.


We hear our hearts

beating as if they are outside

the body in the orchids

clinging to the trees.  We

thump our way forward


through mist, rip-rap,

displaying the height of ignorance,

believing as gospel truth

the guidebook rating — this climb easy

hey, a stroll in the park,

or a day at the beach.


Turning back we know

will be as difficult as keeping on;

giving up, simply out of the question. 


I hug the ground on the down slope

though perfectly fine going up hill.

It is my way I know to clutch at roots.



Are the orchids really beating

and is the air thick with wings?


Trying to breathe,

we inch forward.



Water Falling


A dream of a house

with waterfall,

some feat of ingenuity, tall,

its presence in simple surroundings

a context I know, yet can’t place,

and I cannot tell either if

the house is mostly wood

with just one glass wall.


Built on high, the house spewing water,

which it was meant to do, this

no accident of plumbing.  I look

in awe, remember Eleanor

remarking a day in Maine visiting

artists’ studios saying “It’s amazing, what

human beings can do.”  So my dream

house was some work of art, I would say.


My neighbor Rene watches

with me, standing as if we are in the city

out front on the sidewalk, but no, we are

in a yard in the country watching together,

as if watching a house fire:  but

this is its opposite.


I turn to her though after looking,

seeing how beautiful it was that

water falling.  “If only I could do something

like that,” I said to Rene.


Her reply just like what I expected

from the faith I had when I prayed

as a child to statues of saints,

to the Virgin, my eyes focused deeply

on the plaster faces painted to look

gentle and kind.  I was always waiting for one

to lift an eyebrow, the way Rene did

in the dream, as if to say, maybe just maybe

this was something I could achieve. 


I understood then that it matters

only how much you believe in art;

and if the statues had raised an eyebrow

as Rene did in my dream, I might have believed

in something all together different.











Mary Bonina’s new poetry collection Clear Eye Tea was released October 2010 by Cervena Barva Press, which also published her chapbook Living Proof (2007).  Her poetry and prose has been featured in Salamander, Hanging Loose, English Journal, Gulf Stream, in many other journals and several anthologies, including Voices of the City, a project of the  Rutgers University Institute for Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience (Hanging Loose Press, 2004).  Excerpts from her memoir, My Father’s Eyes received Honorable Mention in the University of New Orleans Study Abroad Competition and earned her the designation of “first alternate” for the Goldfarb Family Fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  She is a member serving on the Board of Directors of the Writers Room of Boston, Inc.

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