While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.
The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.
At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.
Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.
At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.
The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.
Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.
Poems often are about
exactly what they are not about.
This poem, for instance,
is not about the person
all those other poems were about.
Good writing habits forbid my telling
what this poem is about, but I
it is not about
what it is not about. Here
you see no mention of smooth hands,
no sly references to sex disguised
as descriptions of long train trips,
rivers slamming into bridge pilings,
or autumn trees bursting into flame,
no metaphor comparing that person’s eyes
to whatever the next best thing was.
Not even anything like a simile.
Not in this poem that is not about that.
Well, we’re all freaks, of course, one way or the other.
THE MAN WITH NO WRISTS
cannot twist a poppy to pluck it
nor see in a single movement
the entire surface of an apple held aloft.
He admires the resilient wrists of women
washing clothes in the river,
the blurred wrists of pear packers,
the sturdy wrists of boys playing tug-o-war.
He watches the violinist’s bow arm
dance its sexy hula,
sneaks a look at anybody’s watch
at every easy chance.
Drunk, he slobbers over his mother’s
until she powers a slap
to his wet cheek.
The Amazing Man with No Wrists!
I bought a ticket to see him.
In the audience a woman waved,
her arm a fluted column,
fingers swaying like palm fronds.
A man threw pity like a discus.
Where can he see his heartbeat?
I wondered, looking at my slender table
with its feast for slicing.
Minus five degrees Fahrenheit at the gas pump
and now I’m driving
shuddering into fifteen degrees in the truck cab as the sand dunes
of grocery bags shift gently beside me.
I grip the stiff blue wavelets on the steering wheel as I surf
the ice-covered parking lot.
There’s a damp warmth where my thumb bends
and I huddle toward it without moving
the way a lover leaps in spirit at the flare of a match.
I follow it home
a thermal conductor to my warm kitchen just six blocks away.
Standing indoors I pull off lined leather gloves to see
blood in a smeared map of South America flowing
from a dark Amazon. No pain yet. No recollection
of pushing my tearable flesh against something firmer.
Only a moment’s understanding of our need to linger over wounds
for the comfort they can give us.
–for my mother
had left the party but the music was still throbbing
away from me
had my blouse half undone–
that’s the light
smelling of alcohol
dangerous with its promise of brilliant regret
heavily clothed into the water
for lifesaving practice
and the water
reflections subdividing like amoebas–
that’s the distance
my arm’s length
resonant with resistance
on Trinidad Head
alone on black wet rock
by the sudden
of ocean too close–
that’s the texture
where anything to grab onto
even if it tears your flesh like a cat’s claw