copyright © 2021 by Geraldine R. Radacsi
Would you have it back—
the old races on the Charles, the pain?
the toiling backwards, blindly,
wondering what god blasts your boat forward?
Knife-keen oars braid the air,
ream the river’s stall. The shot forward.
Your rammed knees bend up like a fetus.
Lunging at the coxswain’s scream, Gimme Ten Big Ones,
you’d pull monster strokes, thirty-eight lashings,
the ecstatic getting ahead—then back
as if gain without end.
It was rough, my oarsman, my husband of ages, admits.
He’s outraced one cancer, another lurks.
In rowing, no time outs. No stops for water or gulps of air,
always the gasp for more air. Always pain.
Needles of it drive into thigh muscles, forearms seem to split.
Repeatedly and without respite,
quadriceps, triceps, biceps, deltoids, latissimus dorsi,
abdominals, hamstrings, and glutes strain.
Small muscles hold an exquisite equipoise, a balance
that keeps the fragile shell on an even keel.
Hurt hammers on. When pain hits,
what does one do and how to do it well?
Grueling, this anniversary, our 50th, much
of its hours spent with doctors.
I take my husband’s hand, still steady
with the control and patience of a Zen monk.
Just us in the waiting room.
More than the boisterous victories—tee shirts
snatched from the backs of the vanquished—my oarsman
remembers The Swing.
Eight taut bodies
rocked back and forth like pendulums,
pulled unchecked, graceful, grave—fluid as one.
White blades flashed like wings of seabirds
in formation. So beautiful.
Synchronicity. A moonless evening.
Finishing practice, his boat glided
back to the shell house
through quiet and darkness. A “zip” and that’s all.
Pain cracks out of us
spilling by the inch and mile
into a long, white wake
of unanswerable woes
amazing us with our willingness
to push on and find
what furies may make or unmake us.
The Burlesque Queen Rents Us Her Bungalow
At last a get-away
from dilapidation upon dilapidation.
The bungalow, the burlesque queen promises,
is Capital Fantabulous.
She tossesher orange-platinum head.
Pleasure unzips, unbuttons,
shimmies in her airy Jamaican lilt.
Never thinking to lose our bearings,
we turn down
a bump-and-grind street past dull yards
filled with ghostly bodies
and bodiless ghosts of casualty.
The bungalow: no mystery. Paint peels
and small-paned windows brood
above strawflowers seared
in fissures of noon heat.
It is a prefab, mosquitoes indoors on the bed undead.
Nothing is readied; no flat screen and no broadband.
Furniture is Goodwill.
Allure struts off as we slip into the cleavage
of routine, unveil bland foods, carefully
measured meds—charms to divert
kidney dialysis and cancer’s return.
Time to lay an elegant
table with the lace cloth mysteriously
packed as if we might move back
to old breathless places
clinking their bracelets.
But we know
where we are—a duo
cast off to the same sideshow
of our own burlesque Paradise.
We share no apple this time—
slice a mango caught in the instant
of peak sweetness.
Longing for the Unsaid
Ask me again—
the way you did once—if
I needed help
as we jogged along Nauset Light Beach
when I cut my foot on chipped
shells lining the shore. The sea washed away,
leaving me to bleed.
The salt of my tongue stings.
I’m sorry for being soft, sorry
parts of me, thin-skinned, feel raw.
I wanted to be careful and strong for you.
Sorry, we didn’t see life’s waves coming
until unbalanced we crashed, collapsed.
Come, kiss the hurt away.
wildly, free and loud as children mud-mixing—if
you see a star fish.
Tell me, please, if you want me to search too.
Tell me where we may dig to unearth
the power of play.
Holler, say Help. Holler
back those days when we burned,
raised the red on our skins
from sun and spray
and our need to hold each other.
You. a child of a hard Normandy Beach soldier,
play mute, a muting that ends in grunts.
Battle on with emaciated arms
in sickness, never health.
Build me a sand fort and we’ll crawl inside.
Through the amber in your eyes,
tell me all the wishes of my mind.
Braid a simple phrase—
a heart-width wide,
a dream-length long—
tell me you love me still.
Who We Were Only Yesterday
Among Floribundas and Grandifloras
I was half-squinting in sunlight
when you clicked the shutter.
Behind me, Elizabeth Park Rose Garden
and out-of-focus relatives:
Aunt Jenny recited adages
to Grandfather who bent, tilting the world.
Momma’s hand assured my shoulder;
her solidity at the picture’s edge.
Then, I never thought
how easily she’d be cut down like our sheltering elm.
Our only child was running,
a blur of fast yellow.
How could I not have realized
her variety—sturdy, resistant, free-bearing—
would soon grow bright vines to climb away?
Head clouded by gnats stirred up by living,
I was hardly aware
that this was a day of Sweet Inspirations,
Pink Pollyannas, Rugosas, classic Peaces—
a time to inhale flamboyant hopes,
never mind how they wafted away.
So when you brashly snipped Taboo, a red-black bloom,
and sang out Happy Birthday!
I must have laughed. You caught me
flustered in the lens,
the rose-bumbling giddiness
of a schoolgirl, about to wish for happiness
For This You Marry
Along the beach, I pick up a bit of quartz,
rock-candy streaked with caramel.
Where were those buildings—ocherish—
colonnaded—their fronts hot,
as if sassafras wood were baking? I ask.
You could smell the yellow of them.
That was in the piazza at Como, he says.
These days when friends
with snapshot smiles
drift easily in and out of ken,
I need his mind, multi-colored,
picking up light
from our past,
to focus soft-edged images,
confirm my flesh.
Do you remember, he says,
next morning in the Alps
I skid across that gravel slope and
brought back . . .
Snow, I say.
Snow from the glacier for me
to eat like gelato.
It’s tough work. Feet set for the step-step; step-step-close.
Bodies bold for each other, they wait.
Music. The mood sentimiento.
He approaches, a sweep, a stance. At his touch,
she who has trained herself
to hover above ground and match him change for change,
straightens shoulders, back. Chest rising,
she steps forward, accepting his hand on her waist. He pulls
her toward him. Unblinking,
she lays her practiced hand
just above his biceps—pushes against him.
Desire gives and takes.
Is this dance intimacy? Or intimidation?
They start turning.
Out of the turn, she enters the space between his feet,
and brushes his chest, winds into him,
close, closer still to his heat.
To his step forward,
she leans back—her leg extends behind, far without falling.
How do they sustain the plunge?
read each other’s tensions, tenderness
as they float and sail into small steps or long strides?
How they love when her toes run up his leg, along his thigh.
So they marry.
They rotate, bend, flow to dotted rhythms—oh, the grand, long
steps, the posturing, the need
for grace, the need for large spaces.
They learn to grasp opposites,
opposed to each other, not to unity.
Unswerving, they count the strains, hard landings,
the collisions—children of their union.
They smile, smile,
and scroll around the room where they’ve loved most.
Sweat pearls his skin, runs into her hair,
and she feels only him, his sweat on her forehead,
feels his body put her into a spin.
She closes her eyes.
How strange to find themselves viejo
slowing under the operatic moon.
compatriotas still dream-dancing—
swift, then slow, swift-slow,
Granddaughters quilted this handiwork of pieces:
our daughter’s fire-fighting emblem
violent red; the black insignia of your army
corps; white shirt pocket I embroidered.
This spread of living is an antidote,
against the terror
of being forgotten—
the joy and aches and delight and loss,
the small marks we made,
erased and vanished.
The quilters invented from scraps.
They created, plotted, saved, observed,
designed, set down and sewed their imaginings.
Seeing their work, I imagine
fossils folded into nature’s throw
of creatures, layered in sediment,
preserved a million years.
When I drift off under the patchwork,
you cover sweetly, bodying out our years:
the colors of your voice,
your slender fingers blurred to nearness,
your arms stretched toward me,
no world beyond your mouth.
Sleepy, I feel your heartbeat even as you died—how
I placed a hand on your chest
to never forget the last few beats.
It was like that first moment
hearing our newborn’s heartbeat,
our lives joined to another.
Loss, let go, flies off, a golden beetle
with tough black wings armored
to whir memories
for others to grab hold,
hold tight chunks of gold.