Copyright © 2017 by Laura Altshul
Rain sounds splatter darkness
as sprinklers raise their serpent heads,
spew water onto unseen green.
Rising to rooster alarm and hiss of spray
in the still blanketed air, we run before sun-up.
Our bodies pierce the night,
our footfalls seek the pathways
we know must be there, are there.
Air lightens around us, surrounds us
humid and salty, sweet with jasmine,
gardenia, funky garbage, burnt sugar cane,
fried peppers and onions.
We gasp it in, breathe this life,
Sun heat sudden, race to beach,
into the amniotic sea.
tear off shoes and toss ourselves back
At the Third Grade Christmas Pageant
In a billowing crinkly blue smock,
a reluctant Mary, instructed to look down,
wanders the stage with her Joseph,
a head taller, trying to match his long strides.
Darkness out there, somewhere her parents.
She’d wanted to sing and dance
with the animals waiting in the manger.
Landing on a hay bale, she is handed baby Jesus,
a swaddled figure. She’s never liked dolls,
but she cradles the bundle as she’s been told,
gazing at its staring eyes, hard porcelain face.
The music starts, the animals sing
and she shoves the baby at a startled Joseph
and moves center stage to sing and dance with them.
The music reverberates inside her, and
she flings herself to its rhythms and blasts
away as she moves, her arms winging wide.
for Sydney Osborne
The car’s air shimmers with silence,
molecules dance between us
after the initial hi reverberates
and glancing at her profile
I try to gauge her depths.
So careful, I’m so careful –
sometimes she’s mute, tired and cranky
teenager who stays up too late with homework
and maybe other things too personal to mention.
I tune into the news, listen for lures,
conversational hooks, a mention of books
we both love to read. The car our skin
as we swim through traffic to the station.
The heater’s warmth perfuses
just as we arrive
and then she gathers, pulses out,
says “Bye, love you” –
a reprieve of sorts.
I turn up the volume, musing
on the solitary trip back.
Montgomery Bus Arrest: March 2, 1955
for Claudette Colvin
Before Rosa there was Claudette.
Sassy fifteen, she sat her ground
refusing to lift up and go back
for the white person demanding her seat
and the driver commanding her to leave.
She said she’d paid her fare,
had the nerve to dare to stay
to fight for what is fair and right.
She’d studied Sojourner and Harriet,
brave souls who led the way.
Yanked up and out by two white cops,
school books flew from her lap.
They grabbed her skinny wrists,
cuffed and dragged and kicked her
and snarled vicious names.
Terror hit as the cell slammed shut.
She cried through her prayers.
She was the first to sit her ground.
Why Rosa? Why not Claudette?
Too young, too angry, too black.
Yet nine months
before Rosa, she saw the way,
she was the way.
Untethered from gravity’s grasp
the astronaut twin grows two inches
while his earthbound brother
remains the same.
Standing at my mother’s door
I loomed higher
beside her aged compression,
our two bodies passing
like the down escalator viewed
from the rising one.
What happens when a friend ascends
beyond the other
or drops beneath?
The way a needle pulls thread through the cloth
the way water winds through a pinhole in the pipe
the way a mouse eases through the wall’s crack
the way a diver cleaves the water’s surface
the way a glass crashed out of my mother’s grasp –
it just slipped through my fingers she said
an hour before she paused and fell into bed –
and despite her fear she slipped right through.
The supermarket checkout woman
cradles the melon, hefts it into a bag,
pushes it at me and calls me baby.
“There you go, baby.” Baby?!
I’m a mother, a stepmother.
I have an advanced degree.
I’m a grandma, eleven times now.
I’ve survived natural childbirth, breastfeeding,
divorce, cancer, disappointments, graduations,
moves, remarriage, taxes, Thanksgivings.
I’m a retired teacher and administrator.
I tutor and serve on boards.
I run and meditate, also mediate.
Who is she calling baby?
I curl up in bed and get ready to sleep –
think of her hands cradling my melon.
Bird claws clamp tight
round the bough at night for rest
anchoring against wind
and gravity’s pull.
You cleave to my side
your left hand on my right breast
fingers fiercely cupping,
I push my hips back
fitting into your nest
warding off deep knowing.