Published: April 28, 2006
|At My Mother's Bedside|
Bony hull and sunken wreckage, she sits
propped up by pillows, hands folded
like a splintered bow across her swollen stomach,
her thinned hair, a skullcap of dune grass.
I stand next to her, my throat an ocean shell
filled up with sand, with everything
I don't know how to say. This room, a seine
float, wavery with limitation. Here, now,
life starts to blur, warps like fish underwater.
Outside, voices of my playmates yap joy
in early autumn. I am eight years old, learning
that no matter how much life is left for me,
its exquisite green glass will always be distorted--
death, a dark meniscus of salty water leaching in.
Originally published in The North American Review (September-October 2004); later anthologized in Kiss Me Goodnight: Stories and Poems by Women Who Were Girls When Their Mothers Died (Syren Books, 2005).
Mid-week dinner for eight,
husband's work, leave everywhere
early but still run late. Juggle dishwasher,
pots, knives, vegetables, vacuum, a four-layer cake
that wants to fall apart. Before my daughter caught
the bus she said, how nice that I could fit whatever
I like into my day, in contrast to her,
a homework slave. For a minute
I consider leaving mid-mess,
water boiling, onion peel scattered, tomato
dripping, table covered and my bitter
half-baked. Instead I finish my assignment, try
to care about the results, leave two wishful sinks soaking for someone else later.
Conversation with my Mirror
My pretty mother said that looks don't count,
and men would sooner love a clever girl,
brains are what a woman needs, though charm
can never hurt. I'd watch how carefully
she'd wind a curl or pluck a brow and neatly
paint the oval tips of every nail
a second coat. I'd lean in close so as not
to miss a trick, the way she managed every
little thing and how she'd balance up
against the sink in stocking feet, while squinting
through the smoke. And so I mimicked all
she did, and only recently recall what
it was she said about those brainy, clever
girls and what rewards they could expect.
On Leaving Home, for Beth
You sleep in a Parisian hotel
snug in the arms of Mickey Mouse
giddy with the magic of a new-born kingdom
eager to strut and play, inhaling Disney wonder.
I sit, listening to this April blizzard,
wondering as it rumbles and flashes
if the daffodils will survive.
Did you pack enough socks?
Will I learn to let go?
I cannot explain these natural phenomena;
snowfall and thunder;
you half a world from me.
I cannot imagine my days without your music,
my nights without your smile.
I only know you brighten every landscape.
You are as rare and remarkable
as lightning in the snow.
--Sue De Kelver
Originally published in The Wisconsin Poets Calendar, 1995
the four year old
who never took her eyes off the magician
and his mini-guillotine
as he neatly sliced a head of cabbage,
then solemnly volunteered to put her head
next beneath the blade
the child who hung by her legs
from the top bar of every swing set,
her hair a shredded banner flying groundward,
who always went headlong down a slide,
into a pool on the run
today lives on the other side of the world
while I sit home and wonder
if she's hanging upside down
and where she's putting her neck
Originally published in Poets On: Offspring, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 1992.
Emergency Surgery, 3rd Grade
The scar is now
a strip of rope
not a long railroad
stitched in black
or a welt of red rising
like a mountain ridge
splicing my small daughter
when she asks Am I safe
Does this guarantee
nothing else bad
will ever happen to me
and I want to say Yes
That's right Yes
Of course Yes
One More Moment
As you lay dying,
your words floated out
little puffs of breath,
After your funeral mass,
friends bring in food
and gently place offerings
on your finest linen.
They pile their coats
across your empty bed,
one atop another,
like a burial mound
marking your last place
while we talk in another room
keeping you alive for
just one more moment.
and if she did live forever
we would call up armless men,
up out of the ground, that grow
where hens' teeth are planted,
to run aimlessly back and forth
across the miniature rhomboid lawn
until some burrow under the fence,
some fall into the pool and drown,
gradually thinning into transparency
as the summer loses interest.
the rest, one by one, are caught
in the raspberry thorns, flapping
their forked toes and useless
little pink wings, after devouring
all the birdseed left in the feeder.
it would give her something else
to complain about.
(originally published in horseless review #3: www.horslesspress.com.