copyright © 2021 by Norah Pollard
The world tickled my father.
He had a talent for laughter.
He laughed at the just and at the unjust.
He was not crazy.
He was not cruel, never cruel.
To the friend who broke his toe,
the friend who got arrested for drunk driving,
the friend who got nailed for doping his horse,
the friend who had the blues because his woman ran out,
my father would say: “It could have been worse.
It could have been me.”
And then he would laugh and snort and hoot,
and his laughter was so gleeful and innocent and wicked,
we’d all get to laughing because
when my father laughed, nobody could help but laugh too.
And the owner of the tragic tale, especially the owner,
would laugh, and his laughter and dad’s laughter
and our own laughter would keep on
until we were weak with it,
the tears dribbling down our faces.
And the laughing owner of the tragic tale
was magically cured of his melancholy—
at least for a time.
Then, spent, we’d all sit around grinning,
limp and calm, each of us silently allowing
how absurd life is.
None of us blaming anyone.
The Angel and the Lion
On a crossroads near my home is a grassy rotary,
a tiny local flea fair where unwanted things
are dumped and everything is free.
Today, a wooden rocker, a box of shoes,
two half-dead potted palms, and
standing in the center, white and glorious,
is a winged and stalwart angel.
And a lion.
How were they ever brought here? And from where?
Some cemetery nearby, perhaps,
or the lion from the courthouse
and the angel from the sky.
I cross to the little island to touch them.
I feel I am in some deMille Bible scene.
The angel, oh, she’s gorgeous! As tall as I am,
outspread wings with individuated feathers—
and each feather has an edge.
The only thing amiss—she lacks a head.
But I’m glad she’s headless.
Headless makes her noble—she’s been through the wars.
Too, now I can envision the head of anyone I like
resting on her shoulders—
Jane Eyre, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Norah Jones.
No banana curls or simpering smile. No halo.
And even though she has those two flat breasts,
I could imagine her a male…say, Gabriel.
I touch her. Cold and slick, this winged marble woman.
I’m in love with her. I want to bring her home.
And the lion! Large as a real one!
All white stone, lichened green between his toes and ears.
He’s an old and lordly lion.
His mouth is firm and kind, not fierce, not snarling.
His eyes are blank, as though he’s seen enough.
His tail—a miracle it’s not been broken—
extends straight out horizontally
giving him the look he’s on the move.
Oh Lion, walk you home with me!
I love you, too. I want to bring you home.
But how would I get them home?
A derrick would be needed.
And how would they fit in with
my white-cottaged neighborhood—
so predictable, so tidy.
Scandalous! A lion and an angel
on my Vine Street postage-stamp front lawn!
My neighbors would first be shocked to laughter
at the old and crazy lady on the block.
Then immediately they’d get up a petition
(Outrageous! The angel’s tits right there!)
to have the salacious angel carried off.
As for the lion, he would have to be eliminated,
for he would frighten the neighborhood children
who must be sheltered from imagination at all cost.
I rub my angel’s back and stroke my lion.
Though I cannot bring them home,
I’m hopeful no one else can either.
I’ll visit on my walks, and when I do, I’ll pray,
“Oh, Guardian Angel, oh Lion of Judah, save us!”
For we all need deliverance from mediocrity,
and preservation from wooden, conventional souls
Why I Go to the River at Night
The river’s long black tongue
takes the snowflakes like communion.
I grow colder and freer.
I watch and wait until all my little ideas,
obsessions, complexities, my hatreds
as well as all my loves
melt away like the snow on the river.
This is the reason I come to the river at night.
The sky grows blacker, the snow whiter.
In the dark near the rocks, a white mass
is floating towards the pilings.
A small iceberg?
Hard to make out.
Now the mass has become muzzy forms
shaped like question marks.
It comes to me that the night, the snow, and the river
are being asked a question.
I’m thinking on this when—
Two white swans, question and answer both,
enduring in the dark,
swimming into all that white.
Night annuls and night brings forth.
There is always something to find in the darkness
if you put yourself there.
Loneliness, the Yellow-Headed Bird, and Me
Most poets admit to it.
It is a favorite topic.
I am moved by their loneliness
if they’re eloquent about it.
They help me to imagine what loneliness is.
Maybe you’ll think it’s a prideful stoicism in me,
or a kind of arrogance that
I prefer my own company to others.
But I tell you, I am never lonely.
Yet I don’t nurse a vodka at the kitchen table at dusk
remembering the special good old days.
There weren’t any.
Or thinking of a man who used to love me.
There wasn’t any.
I’m not weeping in the dark
missing the companionship of my kind.
I’ve never met my kind.
And so I don’t miss anything
to make me feel lonely for it.
Loneliness is merely the atmosphere of my life.
It is simple, like the air.
I breathe it, like the air.
And, like air, it is not something you can describe,
or have a feeling about.
In fact, like air, loneliness can be something you need.
There is a bird that has come to my yard this spring.
It appears to have no mate.
It’s a bird I’ve not seen before—
brown and white with a yellow head.
No other birds fly with it.
Still, it sings and sings from dawn
until the North Star’s rising.
The Jewel in My Father’s Crown
was his glass eye—iris the deepest sapphire,
jet pupil, milk glass sclera.
For many years I’ve wished that
before we’d buried him, I’d asked the mortician
to give me my father’s eye. Secretly.
(The family would not be pleased.)
I would have carried it home and placed it on a swatch of silk
high on the the bookcase shelf, looking down, vigilant,
watching me go about living my life,
watching me grow old.
We would speak with our eyes, my father and I.
I would ask his advice, tell him of my good day,
whisper of my sorrows.
He would be with me.
I had never spoken of this longing.
Friends would find it macabre, perverted.
Family would think, Shame.
But yesterday at the library, when I asked the librarian
how she hurt her eye—she had a patch—
she said a prosthetic eye was being made for her.
In a sudden ditching of reserve, I confessed
how I longed to have my father’s blue eye.
“Yes,” she nodded, “and do you know? I still keep
my father’s artificial leg.”
We looked into one another.
“It’s just…” she said, “it’s only we want to hold on
to them. To something of them. Something intimate.”
We laughed together briefly.
No, it wasn’t laughter. More the kind of
soft nickering sound humans make
when they understand each other.
One Man’s Meat
for my ex
When he told her he wanted a divorce,
he said, by way of explanation,
“We don’t fill each other’s needs.”
Shot through the heart,
she could only bleat, “What needs?”
Sitting in his big green chair,
feet propped up, ashtray on his lap,
he took a long drag.
He breathed out.
His large head swung in blue smoke
like a ham in a smokehouse.
“I’ve asked you twice to buy Hamburger Helper,
and you never did.”
Oh, Hamburger Helper!
The very glue of marriage!
The very spice! The greatest aphrodisiac!
Oh, helper of hamburger,
oh minced parsley, dried garlic,
potassium sulfate and celery seeds!
Oh, husband, she did not fill your needs!
One of Those Days
The morning sky is china white,
the clouds dark blue—a negative of normal.
I watch a pointy-headed possum,
supposed to be nocturnal,
wade through the dew and the grass.
I pour hot tea into my mug—it shatters
like a cherry bomb.
The postman comes at noon instead of nine.
And when the sun is at its height,
it briefly rains from brilliant skies—
and only in my yard.
The day is strange and getting stranger.
There could be lions in the streets.
I am low-key excited, I am leery,
I am curious and cheery,
I’m in an expectant state of mind.
In this psychological condition,
I grow alert to the entirety—
I hear the roses, smell the crickets,
see banana trees that aren’t there.
My cells are super-sensitized,
my eyeballs have been husked.
I’ve been deskinned.
Words sing within,
and words will out.
I’ll make another cup of tea,
perhaps another after that.
For it’s a good day, a very good day