Monday, May 1, 2006

Cream City Bricks

The grade school on 18th Street
had the same hard black brick
as all the others, charcoal outside,
soft and yellow inside.
The hallway walls wore
crayon meanderings, up
the warm, wooden stair to the third
grade, where Miss Schneider
read us stories—gave out
gold stars I coveted
in neat lines next to my name
on her clean white chart.

I didn't know about the
buttery insides of bricks till David,
the kid with buckteeth,
who died driving drunk
somewhere in Saigon,
threw stones at me and missed,
taking golden chips
out of the dark fa├žade.

The year they sand-blasted the courthouse
we went downtown on the bus
every Saturday
to see the next installment of gold appear,
like sunrise slowly crawling
over that domed horizon.

Even South Division High,
where I left my illusions,
came clean under the harsh interrogation
of sand and steam.

But always, in a year or so,
the dark effects of weathering
crept back,
smeared over the brick
like a scum of dirt and straw that
floats on new milk in the pail.

In the dairies, my uncles
skimmed milk, turned cream
into pale Wisconsin butter,
then came home to complain of cows,
low wages, and hippies
in the old neighborhood bars.

I loved those East-side bars—
biker bars squeezed between
the headshops and Watertower Park,
where you could get three good hits of
white-cross for two bucks,
or strawberry mescaline on Sunday,
where we learned to stay away from
crazy Pete’s weed laced with dust.

By graduation I knew three dead boys,
David and Pete and Michael.

Michael, all light and music,
danced his motorcycle
off the 16th Street viaduct.
My dad, who’d never liked long hair,
chanted a new lyric about

But I remember the vibration
between my thighs
on one forbidden ride
and the heat
of pale, creamy skin

under black leather.

Originally published in Penguin Review, Spring 2006

Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women

We knew them when we saw them,
the ones our mothers
warned us about,
sauntering down our
bare suburban afternoons,
their Marilyn skirts drifting upwards,
lifted by the
light-fingered breeze.

Oh for breasts that touched the sky
at those impossible angles!

If you’d pull two pins, their hair
would tumble down in waves enough
to drown a man’s resolve
and leave him
to all the saltier commandments.

(In our mirrors we postured, practicing,
while the grandmothers clucked their tongues.)

When they passed, we sucked in the
hot scents of Opium
and Taboo—and watched
the boys we wanted to know

Originally published in Penguin Review, Spring 2006

The Woman and the Wool

for Linda, who asked why, in the long list of those who must not
work on the Sabbath, wives were never mentioned.

I have never made a rug.
Never pushed steel hook through reluctant canvas,
or punched in patterns of ancient roses,
water-deep greens and honeyed yellow.
I have not cut yarn into finger lengths of black
for the final fringe.

I did not know the sheep, nor the shearer.
Did not watch the fleece fall
in waves from the knife, or see the lamb leap
free and naked in the early grass. 
But I do know what it is to drop the burden
of heavy locks that weigh down the head,
of a hair-shirt worn too long,
of my feminine sins.

When the time came to the wash wool, I was not there.
Other hands brushed and combed, shaped
long rolags, pulled fibers and twisted.
But I have heard the spinning wheel’s hymn
and tasted the baptism of dye—
the heavy scent of wet wool, of turned earth,
perfume of red madder, of  woad and weld,
the alum acrid as Protestant guilt.

Still the rug at the door is not my rug.
It belongs to the sheep and to the spinster,
to the mother of my grandmother—
she whose arthritic hands, twisted and hooked,
made those roses bloom on a Sunday when

no work, except by the women, could be done. 

originally published in Penguin Review, 2006