At the Bottom of the Evening
How easy it was, at sixteen,
For the earth to tilt on its axis –
A slanted glance, a mean word
Overheard, an arm withheld.
Then the bottom of the evening
Would fall out, and if I could have,
I would have sold my mother’s love
For sex, drink, and sham affection
To keep a moon in orbit around me.
The stars all looked away.
Even I looked away from myself.
Shame was the best bedfellow,
Shame nuzzled its face into
The soft spot between my shoulder
And chin. Now I listen to my daughter
Cry in the shower as she rises
To her own exaltation of hurt.
I did and still do wonder at the wisdom
Of the gift inside this – that we are
Made to feel and keep on breathing.
Lady Godiva Decides to Stay In Bed
We’ve all been spat on the earth,
Coughed up to clear the throat
Of an enormous machine I cannot fathom.
I’d work at it, learn which levers to pull,
Get grimy and greasy, read a manual –
If I’d get paid for my time.
But the company is broke, declared
Bankruptcy years ago, and no one
Is home at the union. There’s nowhere
To turn my Green Stamps in these days:
It was a quaint idea, anyway – as if
An umbrella might shelter me from hurt,
Or a camera, help me see the world’s colors
Right. Saving speaks of fathers long dead,
Miscellaneous drawers cluttered with
Wooden clothespins and extra keys
No one can remember what for anymore,
Pieces of string too short to bind anything.
Now we pay our bills with cash –
That many checks have buoyed and bounced.
The children yearn with open mouths.
Riding horses won’t change the tax levied
On a woman’s skin, the way the body
Is eaten by life when one chooses the usual.
These past few nights, mice make mice trails
Through the house, scattering cardboard and crumbs.
They must have multiplied, like love
In early marriage – Where there is one…
Winter’s nearly over, but I pull the spring back,
Set scented bait – fake, a yellow plastic cheese.
I place the traps in dark corners: Prayer vessels
My children cannot reach, mouse hovels
Even the God of Mice could smell.
Gargoyle, gar-girl, woman-face set in stone.
Who knows how blood flows?
Not I, sings the window.
Not I, sings the chair.
Not I, sings the mourning dove legato-ing the dithyramb
Only the dead can sing, mouths full of dirt.
Then, out of the cathedral’s stone-quiet corner:
I do, whispers the mouse –
Making not a thankful sound to the Lord.
I imagine God laying palms as white as the shiny side
Of honey on my stomach, throat, brow –
Crawling into bed with me where I’m groaning,
Curling a belly against my back, saying, There, there –
Running one finger along my lips, like food beyond
My teeth and inside my mouth, touching tongue –
That I might speak well to my children.
After Edward Weston
Embers whisper crisply now the blaze is gone,
Extolling statuary among a ruined temple’s pillars.
The enigmatic Pythia lisps a prophecy in tongues
While shrouded crows shuffle black cloud incantation
In branches, spreading and stretching night-time wings:
Excited in the silent, still cypress – but staying put.
If I dream right tonight I’ll wake later to insight,
My body and brain cracked open, a pine cone on fire,
One Pythian syllable settled like a seed in my throat.
I was alone in a body I forgot to cherish –
Though I did not know
Until you came in a glory of frustrations.
Then what I’d neglected bent a knee and I listened.
Now you are a tree spreading root in my chest,
A blue flower in my throat blooming out – a scent.
Spring pushes its green shoot up through me
As Venus settles a full-moon dress about her white waist.
Susan Whitmore is the author of four books of poetry: Your House is Floating (Liquid Light Press 2013), The Melinda Poems (Pudding House Press 2004), The Invisible Woman (Singular Speech Press 1991) and The Sacrifices (Mellen Poetry Press 1990). Her poetry has most recently appeared in 34th Parallel Magazine, Glassworks, Melusine, Poet Lore and Stone Highway. She is the current Vice President of Development of First Call, a nonprofit organization in Kansas City, Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter (@susan_whitmore)