6.02 / February 2011

Four Poems

What I Mean When I Ask You to Zip Up My Dress

listen to this poem

Every night I try shaking it out-the hole in my back,
between my shoulder blades and slightly northwest.

I loosen all the junk from an upended purse, weeding
through spent tissues; lipstick; a throat lozenge; toy truck;

book of stamps; muffin crumbs; kazoo; and change,
covered in grime. I can hear a few pennies left rattling

around my ribs. Not worth much. I don’t know anybody
with small enough fingers to fish them out. Even if you

can’t fix my insides, put your hand on my back. Help me
give that weary muscle someplace dark and quiet.

Study Abroad

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He returned and said
Thailand had clean streets.
When school closed it had been

avian flu. About Connecticut in that year
I have the stations it takes to reach
New York. The low tide smell at the beach.

We had a snow day; a janitor emptied
the coffee pots. A squirrel stored
acorns in our basement and they rooted

our dreams through winter.
We knew some teams were winning
but not who they played.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Spinach Salad

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The longest trip I took this summer
started at 2nd and Market, in Old City,

where I flirted with my parents
and cried over my spinach.

My father said they had some news.
“You’re pregnant,”

popped out, because everyone
was, or had been;

Benjamin and Hadass, a storyteller,
who decided to have a bris,

or had a bris without deciding;
Shula and Daniel, both rabbis,

who will not have a bris.
Helen, my friend since elementary school,

who is married in Christ to her husband Pete,
at whose wedding we danced the polka;

the couple I canned peaches with
before they moved to California.

But my parents are not
among these couples.

My father is dying.
During phone calls he doodles tight ovals

crowded against each other
traveling across stray envelopes.

In college he trained to be a sculptor
until he had an internship with Henry Moore.

Moore was always sketching and my father
did not want to draw. That left the soup spoon

as the only outlet
for the energy in his hands.

He turned it over and over with an easy grace.
The longest trip I took this summer

started when I put out my hand across the table
on top of my father’s hand, over the spoon,

and with his other hand he reached
for my mother to join us

as if, in a deep pit,
we were making a pact:

We would dig ourselves out
one mouthful at a time.

Deep Tissue

listen to this poem

Face down on a bed, knuckle
into the flesh of my sole,

the cord of my leg
tightens. A current rides me

and releases. It would
be a sound like this if

I came. Punish me. This is
what surrender feels like.

Rachel Brown recently graduated with a BA in mathematics and nine houseplants. This is her first published work.
6.02 / February 2011