5.07 / July 2010

Salt of the Earth

All the way from Spokane
to Omaha, meat-packing capitol
of the nation, I study my legs,
tan from laying out in the yard.
Before I left, my mother made me
apply mustache removal cream,
said you can’t meet the colonel
looking like that. Someday
you’ll be the colonel
and I’ll walk around our house
in my lingerie, removing
every hair from my lip,
from the moles that will grow
in the corners of my face.
When we land, I can’t believe
how flat it is here, how you can feel
the corn whispering all the way
from Iowa where you told me
they have manmade lakes,
hot mirrors of sun. You said
we’d go there, walk across them.
Your grandparents tell me your people
are the salt of the earth. Clay,
pot-bellied pigs squat in their yard.
And your father’s third wife
likes cows—her kitchen is black
and white Holsteins on the potholders,
the refrigerator magnets, everything
chrome. It’s so hot outside
the weeds creak but we’re air
conditioned, slaked with water
poured over ice from the ice maker
in the thick glasses the colonel bought.
They don’t sweat. At night, I make you
break the seal on the windows
so we can feel the salt shimmer
on our skin, so we can hear the crickets
rubbing their wings together.

Even Though I Know the Door to Our Compartment Won’t Lock,

I let you slide your hand up my skirt.
The train shudders against
the darkness but I stay apart from it
like the Geneva morning
arriving at the station with us,
pink-armed and able to draw itself
up over the horizon like a swimmer
heaving her wet body
out of the pool. It’s clean here—
no litter, the garbage cans
wrought-iron, and no one’s out.
We drink coffee, watch the empty
sidewalks glitter, read in the paper
that the Gulf War has begun.
The Alps drape themselves across
our shoulders, like a passenger
behind a driver, maybe
she loves him. Geneva bats
her blue eye. We’ve crossed
back into your silence,
I follow you out into this city
where time is kept on the bank clocks
and war folded back
along the creases, like your body
underneath your khaki pants,
the smooth flap above the zipper.

When They Were Water

Your mother’s smoking. The ash
at the tip turns orange. She can tell
by my pleated skirt I’m in college
so she tells me about teaching, gives me
a red bag for my books. We wear
our hair short so we’re all eyes
and you know our meaning. She’s drinking
Gallo wine—I saw the jug in the fridge
when I stayed here at Easter. It rained
on the leafless trees down the street
where the neighbors hung plastic eggs.
There were rabbits taped to the windows.
I stayed in the blue guest bed all morning
reading a book about a woman
and the ocean. Once you brought me here
and went out in your crisp white shirt,
the one that means you’ll turn my car
stereo up and drive down the streets
blowing last autumn’s leaves to the curb.
You were gone for hours. We made pasta
and your mom kept filling our glasses.
We didn’t talk about you. Or your dad.
Just the cruise she went on last summer.
There are glaciers in Alaska you can see
from the boat. Some of them rise up
like the one that tripped the Titanic,
but some are just floods trapped
at freezing, swoops of water changed
mid-current. It’s as if someone was about
to say something important, standing
at the sink, looking out at the yard.