Copyright © 2013 by Rhett Watts
THE BEHOLDER’S SHARE
“Have you been taken yet?”
the question women asked of each other
in great-grandmother’s day.
Not in a lover’s embrace, but their visage
captured on copper plate. The daguerreotype
case opens to a girl holding hoop and stick.
Photograph as new toy.
Once a snippet of hair clipped from a lost child
lay pinned to the case’s velveteen mound.
Before the beloved’s likeness looked back at us,
ladies saved something more tangible—
hair tufts from brushes stored in dresser jars
called receivers, someday to be set
as the gem in a ring like perfume or smelling salts.
Lift the lid to Mother’s jewelry case.
Catalog its curious contents:
wedding ring that rubbed a white shadow
on Grandma’s finger, a broken wrist watch,
a strand of pearls with no clasp. Single earrings
and sweater pins lie in satin-sleeved sections
as their owners did at their last showing.
The Victorian pieces Mother called quaint.
I adored their fine woven metal, human hair!
Locks she and my father cut and swapped remained
secret against private parts during their engagement.
Pinned to undergarments, their pledges
lay on skin softer than any photo
locked in metal ever touched.
Daughter falling lovely
through the years,
land exhausted on my stripped bed.
Let the vacuum stand abandoned
reminder of aborted effort,
a bellows for this July heat.
Adolescence is its own hard work.
Collapse with mercy
into this comfort ritual
of groom and preen.
Let me brush aside hair heavy with life,
massage porcelain bisque of brow,
remember the cherry stork-bite.
Your lyric voice ascending echoes a lullaby,
my segue to our blended song,
replete with giggles, full-measured sighs.
Cradled in puffy egg crate we drift free—
from the mattress of a thousand nipples
buoyant we will rise.
JACOB HAVE I LOVED
Before company arrives you sprawl on the lawn,
Jacob climbing his dream ladder like the drone
who guarded his spot days after his queen’s nest,
burrowed in the dodgy fencepost, was junked.
Like paper wasps we worked our layered nests
in fits and starts from Daly City to Providence.
Opaque wisps flagged spots where we folded and
unfolded our life together, some strange origami animal.
This is what I’ve wanted: grapevines on chain-link,
unkempt beds teetering on chaos,
and to reach for you as the Clematis reaches for
what’s nearest, a fencepost or another plant.
I’d hop and whistle like the sparrow pulled towards you
on instinct’s leash under the net that we floated
to save the fruit. But the berry went to the bird
who rolled a reptile eye, plucked a fat one.
After company, after the dishes,
I want you to climb me like the ladder leaned against
the house, like the bee who’s found the floor of the
fuchsia and hangs there, nearly toppling over.
WAITING ON THE ANGEL
for the women of Aqua Arthritis
We wade in water, grapevine arthritic limbs
ripening with each step, in long lines
like Balinese dancers, pressed palms
wriggling like carp away from our bellies.
A cranky crowd gathers, lap swimmers
snap bathing caps, jockey for position.
We bump out the cardinal directions,
our hips keeping time circular,
having learned to look away from the clock,
look away from the bikini-clad girl covered in
a full-body tattoo of bruises as she lowers herself in.
Or when our instructor rescues a classmate
floating face down, outmoded replacement parts—
hips and knees—locked in synchronous mutiny.
Pool rules don’t cover etiquette for near-drownings.
It’s hard to know how to keep the silence of tradesmen
who find a nude woman descending hot tub stairs backwards.
Sensing eyes fastened on her bare bottom, she spins,
confronting them with their tools in hand.
Sometimes when we’re immersed in the moment,
our movements meshing with the music,
with each other, we’re graced by visitations—a bird
pecking at window glass, rabbit watching from the lawn.
A damselfly whirs above us while a woman
no one knows pads the pool’s perimeter, her folds swaying
beneath her swim dress. She lifts her forefinger and all eyes
train on the tiny dragon that lands on her perch, folds
its wings, rests while she glides towards the door.
THE SAND ARTIST
On these cliffs above the ocean,
from my bird’s eye vantage point,
I look down on a woman outlined in sand.
Large as Lady Liberty, she’s as glorious
as the Roman goddess the statue embodies.
A tiny woman, her maker, drags a piece of
driftwood, large sketch pencil, traces the giant.
She walks redoubling steps, footprints deepening,
enhancing the lines of her colossal picture,
brushing away unwanted marks with her toe.
The enormous woman lunges on one knee toward
the cliffs as if propelled by the stiff sea breeze.
One arm behind, the other lifts in front of her,
palm up. The little woman could fit into that hand,
ride cupped there while the larger one practices
Tai Chi, the long form.
From here, the shingle beach looks the size and color
of the canson paper on which I painted my first
pastel. Also a woman on the shore, copy of
Gauguin’s Tahitian study, “Woman Crouching,”
comfortable in her own skin.
I wave to the artist who climbs and scrapes
her way through the huge form, spiraling up
as I did climbing the stairs inside the New York icon
of copper and wrought iron, all the way to the crown.
Overlooking the harbor, vertigo nearly took me down.
The sand artist raises her head, waves back to me,
returns to her drawing, represents movement with action
lines scribed alongside the body like grace notes.
Signs of life—the lopsided heart at the drawing’s
center, or the navel dug into the figure’s bare midriff.
For the rest of my walk, she remains engrossed,
blissed out in that trance that work brings.
Grateful for her point of view, I admire her creation
from above, the tide already licking at both women’s feet.
I must work larger, much larger.
(photo by Robert Frank, 1955)
Does the Desire Line still run here?
Where the photographer caught the Canal St. trolley
giving back views in the streetcar’s transom windows—
wavering sidewalk, pedestrian dreams.
Shelved at the level of hats, they form a glass gallery
over passengers, thought bubbles in stopped time.
Quick, try and read them before the trolley moves on.
Read them as lines of Life and Fate in the city’s palm,
more curved than the train of thought folks ride—
white man seated before the matron, face tight as pocketbook.
Try to decipher where the boy and his sister in buttoned-up best
might travel, where the black man behind them already has.
And what the woman in the last seat watches coming down
the boulevard, winged horn-rims salted with light.
At this confessional distance, the Big Easy
is suspended in front of God and everyone. City as idea,
as ideal moving in the glass above the riders’ heads.
All blurred bridge trestle and mica-flecked stone
and interrupting horizontal notions of the street as desire path—
the shortest distance between two points.
It suggests an alternate route when vertically linked
with the people framed in the trolley’s open windows.
Say, for instance, with the boy who grabs the window casing
as if mounting a merry-go-round horse.
Any moment he might lift into the shimmering river,
shimmering mind, rise into the Beautiful City,
into the possibilities of water, sky.
CROWN JEWELS OF PERSIA
in memory of Neda Agha-Soltan
The most stunning thing I’ve ever seen:
two pink diamonds cut from the same rock—
“Sea of Light,” sister stone to “Light of the Eye.”
The “Eye” set in a tiara, the “Sea” in a brooch
so large & clear I saw my brother through it.
We gawked at it during our visit to Iran’s Treasury—
the Jewelry Museum. It was the summer of ’73,
year the Shah, like oil, began to peak.
a green velvet coronation robe strewn with gems
the size of baby fists & poodle skirts twirling over
bobby socks in the film “American Graffiti.” In Teheran’s
alleyways anti-American graffiti foreshadowed revolution.
At the Grand Bazaar, a woman in full hijab aimed a wad
of spit at my knee-length skirt while Davoud our driver
parked his prized ’64 Chevy Malibu.
My awestruck little brother in the museum, reached for
pearl strands spilling from what looked a pirate chest.
The burly guard grabbed him, scolding in Farsi, English.
Behind alarmed glass stood a globe covered in gold
studded with emeralds for oceans, rubies & diamonds
for land. Earth spins heavy on its axis.
Nothing new under the sun.
Another century begins, another revolution unwinds
lengths of green cloth through the people’s hands in Teheran.
The familiar cry repeats, “Down with the Dictator!” The latest one.
Neda, whose name means voice, is silenced by a sniper’s bullet
in the street. Cell phones flash her death image around the world.
No hand is small enough to stanch the finest rubies trickling out
her mouth, cracked chest & pooling in her open eye.
after an AP photo (Bronx, NY, 1997)
The woman who would be Queen of Hearts
stood by a chain-link fence and waited,
designer-suited and high-heeled, a lady
waiting for a nun swaddled in a sari spun by lepers.
The nun, called Mother,
each day met Christ disguised and in distress.
Anticipation shone on the princess’s face undisguised;
she wore it like her heart, this woman for whom others
waited. The tables spun and reluctant princess bowed that day
to willing pauper, the sandal-footed beside the well-heeled.
In the City of Joy, Calcutta’s sorrow
followed unhealed London’s loss, the grief of both cities
undisguised. The world had spun to the week that
stopped both women’s hearts. Young princess left when she
would have waited, aged nun sped on to meet
her true physician at daybreak.
In the City of Light, Diana met
her lover late in the day to chart their course, when their ship
heeled, turning sharply home. The nun who on others waited
left worn sandals that had disguised gnarled feet now
lovely on the mountains like the hart’s in fields
of lilies that neither toil nor spin.
Hindu mourners touched Teresa’s body,
child-light in homespun. No one died in the Home for the Dying
the day they buried Mother in the land she called the
Heart of the World. By Buckingham’s gate, the funeral cortege
heeled and the Queen bowed her head in an honor undisguised.
The world’s keen eye watched and waited while in silence
Diana’s coffin rolled by laden with lilies.
The stories of the nun and princess were spun together,
worked as if by some weaver’s hand, the last day of each life shuttled
into this guise. The warp threaded upward, twisted tight, healed
seamless when crossed in the cloth’s weighted weave, packed hard.
What we treasure was found wanting on those days. Two lives, deaths,
spun questions of wounds and their mending. Left us
to wonder at what holds together, what splits apart.
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