Copyright © 2016 by Geraldine Zetzel
Maybe we knew, maybe we didn’t.
No slamming doors, no
sounds of weeping.
or the other is away, that’s all.
Suitcases line the hall.
Does one of us throw up
every morning before school?
Does one of us cry out at night in terror?
Don’t make a scene, that’s the rule.
Side by side on the playroom rug
in our bathrobes, we listen to the radio—
The Lone Ranger, Charlie McCarthy,
or was it Amos and Andy?
The dog lies groaning
and farting in his sleep.
Nanny knits under the lamp.
We never asked her:
she wouldn’t have told.
Gulls in a line on the beach
watch as one of them worries
a crab. Another hunts for scraps,
scavenging boldly among
Golden Lolitas practice cartwheels
while their small brothers in droopy
swim trunks chase each other,
howling with glee, throwing
fistfuls of sand.
Hip-deep in the surf, fathers
stand dunking babies;
under beach umbrellas mothers
anoint the necks of toddlers.
Hold still! they say.
This could be us, fifty years ago.
Look—aren’t those our children
charging into the waves? Isn’t that kid
with the Frisbee their friend—
what was his name?
At the horizon, as always, a tanker sits,
moving so slowly you can’t see it move.
The dishes, he insists, are his job.
Brought up to use brain, not hands,
now in our late marriage
eager to master new skills—running
the vac, taking out the trash—
doing the dishes becomes
the chore he loves best.
He shoos me out of the kitchen,
never consenting to let things
just soak in the sink until morning.
Nightly, he takes on the grease,
scours the pots with the zeal of a true
believer, davening over the suds,
the water scalding hot
as in a surgery scrub-room.
He marshals the cutlery like a troop
of scouts—forks, knives, spoons,
serving-pieces in orderly ranks
into the dishwasher, counters wiped.
And so comes up to bed at last,
his hands smelling of Lemon Joy,
his face rosy, hot as a lover’s.
Even in the late bad years, so much
drained, lost from his memory,
he keeps up this blessèd routine.
Slower and slower, the familiar
movements, yet unstoppable.
I try spiriting off the dishes so fast
there’ll be nothing left for him to do.
Until I see—why not sooner?—how much
he needs to keep up his husbandry,
to be useful still—at least in this—
and thereafter leave a token plate,
a fork or two, a pot resting in the sink
for the dear work of his shaky hands.
In memory of Lou
Spill of white honey
on the bedroom rug.
Light sliced & checkered
as it filters through
the Venetian blinds.
Dogs near and far
vexed into barking.
Every tree bathed
Ah, not to sleep! To stay
awake all night while it lasts!
Not to waste a drop of this
This old enchantment.
And again the thought—
it might be possible to live
like the moon. Just
coming and going forever,
never having to leave.
after The Poet, or Half-Past Three
Chagall’s homage to his friend,
another exile who used to drop by
his studio in Paris at odd hours
for a glass of vodka
and a gossip in Russian.
We stand there
trying to make sense of the image.
The French tricolor swirls around
the figure—but Chagall’s painted
his friend’s head floating upside-down
and bright green—a loose balloon—
drunk with joy at being alive.
Or is it the homesick green of exile?
My stepdaughter’s face today
seems all eyes and cheekbones.
Her bald head is swathed
in a silky turban—she’s elegant
as a tsarina. I can hardly bear it.
One other woman, I notice,
has her head covered,
despite the August heat.
Tall, rail-thin, she’s pushing
a stroller—the baby’s asleep,
a blue and white cocoon.
She stands a long time there
in front of that Chagall.
Is she, too, exiled from the country
of ordinary life—her world
turned upside down—trying to master
this difficult new terrain?
Not just name-tags scrawled
on a boarded-up window
but these crazy feats—to conquer
towers & buttresses & tilting walls,
to emblazon SCAZZ in 2-foot-high letters
to rival SKARDINO’s brilliant jigsaw
of black outlined in neon yellow—
skywalkers leaving their marks,
each letter muscular as an acrobat.
Now as the train gains speed
BUCKKE rules along the tracks,
his sign on every overpass & switchbox
into New Jersey, where OBONTO
takes over outside Newark.
Then, nearer New York, TREGG
appears in purple and gold
on factory wall & storage shed.
Someone has tried in vain
to scrub them off. But they
just go on springing up like
the invasive kudzu and the bittersweet—
beautiful rovers making themselves
at home: TOPH & KRODITE & SPEXX,
oh urban heroes, I salute you all—
inventors & night warriors
with your spray-can weaponry,
your elaborate orthography,
your terrible, urgent need to make
some mark on the passing world.