THE PROSE POEMS
PAGE 2 PROSE POEMS BY: Carli Brosseau, Jesse Millner, Stephen Oliver, Mark McKain, Danielle Mebert, Denis Robillard, Robert Miltner, Nancy Kline, Kelley Clink, Susan Terris, Jackie K. White, Tania Hershman, Michael Estabrook, Mercedes Lawry, Cherie Hunter Day, Kip Robisch, Sarah White

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THREE by Sarah White

I, Onion,

am not to be peeled like an orange or an egg. I don't have skins. I am skins. Reveal me, tier after tier, hue after hue, from papery yellow through pearl-like, chalk-like white, down to an oval chamber that, once entered, vanishes. Curled shards — my skins, my selves — teeter on a white pine block crafted by inmates at a Maine state prison. If you raise your knife over the debris you'll hear a moist and fragrant moaning.

 

Preamble to the Book of Paragraphs

I've toppled my little towers. They lie on their sides like felled trees. I knocked them down to see if there had been any real advantage to building them with several floors. There had not. In fact, a few of the dull ones even gained by being squashed and tipped over. Their longer, more random and raggedy lines remind me of branches on a downed trunk, sprouting new leaves, attracting birds, vines, and veils of lichen.

Just to see what happens, I will stand this one up again.

          I've toppled
          my little towers.
          They lie on their sides
          like felled trees.
          I knocked them down...

 

Union Station

As I reach the platform, the 3:55 is pulling out. But New York trains run from New Haven every half-hour. I can surely get there in time for Ben and Angel's engagement party — and if not their engagement party, their wedding, and if not their wedding, their first anniversary, and if not their anniversary, little Abby's christening, and if not her christening, her graduation, and if not the graduation, poor Angel's funeral, followed by Ben's a few days later. If I miss that, I'll call up Manhattan Mediums and ask Mrs. Bardo to put me through to Angel: I'll say "I'm sorry I missed your events. I've been waiting all this time on the platform."

Angel, from where she is, will have a clear view of where I am. She'll see the 4:25 pull in and leave without me, as it always does.


- Sarah White
 

Kip Robisch

A Blue Deer

runs in the oldest part of the forest, on narrow paths of its own making and over meadows of wildflowers in the sun and then under the moon and through the mists of dawn and the brooding assurance of dusk. A buck. There should be a blue doe. They feel joy and sorrow. They have never been seen by any human being, because a city with a god is a terror to the world, and a city without one cannot survive.

 

TWO by Cherie Hunter Day

Collectibles

When you have much to put into them, the day has a hundred pockets.
                                     — Friedrich Nietzsche

Crows string their dark lights over the landscape. Surveillance is in pairs from atop a lamppost or a threesome on the rain gutter of a classroom. They ruffle their feathers and whet their bills on any convenient edge. A call goes out. They repeat the same verse and wait for a response. Our mouths are dry. We have no syllables for them. We are ragged even to the wiring. The fervor of the flock is autumn's wild nerve and part of the interrogation. Another dog-eared message from a spent wrapper — if anything is going to happen it better happen soon. The shine of the day vanishes into long shadows, a drop cloth to catch every leftover. Crows straddle a puddle on the road and stoop to sip sideways. This is how we kiss good-bye.
 

The X-axis

The succulent puts forth a single flower stalk strung with bell-shaped, coral-pink blossoms. Lacey is seventeen and wishes she was twenty-one. Buried in her jewelry box is a glass unicorn with a broken leg. She saved all the pieces. On her right thigh she has a crescent-shaped scar, which puckers and is paler than the rest of her skin. It reminds her of the creamy portion of the succulent's blossom where it flares open.

- Cherie Hunter Day
 

TWO by Mercedes Lawry

Spoons

Behold the spoons. And the soup and the pudding. Notice the happy babies. Outside in the heather, the hum of bees. Hours collapse to shadows as morning becomes lunch. The taste of sweetness and the muscle of salt. Pale girls are feeding the children, singing between bites. With their fingers, they make nervous alphabets on the soft green wall. There is plenty to eat, and when a knock comes at the door, no one hesitates to welcome a small crowd dressed simply, hunger pleating their eyes. Spoons are passed out and they gleam in a crust of white light.
 

Yellow Chair

The mother barked. She was not a kind mother though she tried on Tuesdays. The children scattered like winter rain and the bronze cat slid beneath the yellow chair. On occasion, the yellow chair could be two horses. Or a place of punishment. Or just a chair for reading a book or watching TV. You could see into the kitchen and if the back door was open, out into the yard where laundry might be hanging along with a white cloth bag stuffed with wooden clothespins. Back against the stone wall, roses bloomed. These could make the mother smile. The boys were loud most of the time and broke things. It was better in the summer when they would be outside all day except for meals. Most of the time their sisters thought them horrible, but in a pinch, they were useful for playing board games or cards.

- Mercedes Lawry
 

Carli Brosseau

Cleaning

All day, we scrubbed. Pink water dribbled down our forearms as we scoured the stucco walls, crimson strokes and droplets fading out in small, silent circles. With vacuums and sponges, we followed the trail of our mother’s final days, her jilting, knocking journey from room to beach-themed room. The crusted silhouette of her final pose dissolved in Lysol in the rain-thrown south Florida light. We threw away the unsigned divorce papers, splayed open on the granite counter. The refrigerator’s sole contents — three packets of string cheese — fell softly among the hollow cigarette cartons and plastic vodka bottles. We solemnly traced the grouting and each fault line in the floor’s slate tiles with a sponge and then a fingernail and wiped cigarette ash out of the folds of the couch and the heel of each worn sandal. While working, we listened to our far-away voices unspool from the answering machine, messages left when we suspected it was too late.

 

TWO by Robert Miltner

Walking after Midnight

that’s me, walking back through the door I had walked out of — into the house—after I left my marriage — to get the books and objects that once defined me — how peculiar — my familiar now so foreign — it was like I was my own phantom — and feeling what? — hesitation? — like an intruder into my former life? — the oddest things I carried to the car — it was like I was picking through a dead man’s life put into cartons and left on a curb — like I was taking it to the dump — some dump: my new apartment — another door — that’s me too, the ghost carrying the boxes 

 

In the Orchard, 1891

after a painting by Edmund Charles Tarbell 

What a time we had that afternoon: four wooden chairs and a table carried outside and set up under dappled shade. Around us, the trees were filled with apples and pears, thrushes and wrens. Everything was a figure in a bright landscape. The women wore their dresses long with boots laced high. Men picnicked in straw hats, ties, striped coats, and moustaches. It was an era of redheads and brunettes, pomade and parted-down-the-center hair. A world filled with meaningful looks, gestures. A wistfulness of wrists, an erotics of necks. One woman stood, a hand rolled in her apron, the other on her hip. She shifted her weight imperceptibly and a century changed: from earth tones and pastels, lavender and sienna, to the black and white of zinc photographs, as monochromatic as the motor-sound heard coming down the road, spooking the horses which leaped the fence, leaving a rough tear across the known canvas.

- Robert Miltner
 

Nancy Kline

Open Studio at the Artists Colony
                                                                                                           February 14, 2009

The visual artist in the studio next door is knitting stainless steel and silk. She’s disabused now, she makes prints of clothes unraveling. A dark skein stained. She’s knitting up the sleeve of care.
     Electric ukulele down the hall! A white piano plays itself (we all do, here). It has no hands. The trombone-player has composed an opera about an interstellar Po’ Boy. He slides us along. He sings us a valentine.
     I’m writing flash about my mother, while the writer on the other side of this white wall knits her long narrative of the Silk Road.
     When the undertakers wheeled my mother through the livingroom in a body bag, I turned my face to the wall.  But I’d already seen how fast flesh, absent of her, became trash.
     
This, despite the fact it takes so long to die. My darling friend Diana tried for months and months to do it, pregnant with her tumor. Death, it turns out, won’t be rushed. It takes its time, as birth does. My baby daughter was ten days overdue, I went into the backyard and jumped up and down. To no effect.
     
And yet. Thanksgiving night I went into my mother’s bedroom. She was weeping. “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” she said.
     If she had lived another week, she would have been a hundred-and-one.
     
I said, “I think if you can’t do it anymore, you won’t. I don’t know even what that means.  But I believe it.”
     Mother had a will of steel and silk.
     “Thank you, you’ve helped me,” she said.
     
Six days later she was dead.
     Across the pebbled courtyard, someone’s making art with smoke, with milk. The smell of linseed oil floats on the air.
 

Susan Terris

East Harlem Elevation

Up and down, down and up: here the elevators always break down; but don't take the stairs, honey, because they're dangerous and smell like old pee; so just as we're about to give up hope, the white truck gets parked outside and two men, belts clanking with tools, get out, and we laugh at their truck like way we laugh at the Erection Company van, because these two are getting out of a truck marked with another funny name; and then the guys stride in, prop the elevator doors open, pop the ceiling panels and begin to fool around with their tools and fondle those cables, but first — before the fooling and fondling — they put out a sign with their company name on it; and while they're there working, if we just have to go down or up, we leg it on the stairs, a whole posse of us at a time, honey, holding our noses and struggling past landings as those two bozos just keep banging for hours, stopping a lot to sip coffee and pee (most probably in our stairwells) as we keep on walking and waiting for those elevators to crank along again, until Sissy finally says to us she's changed her mind and doesn't want her big high school tomcat to even think for a minute about going to a college that trains men to fix elevators, because it can't be a fine place if, after hours and hours, honey, those contraptions are still stopped dead, because, you see, those guys — their uniforms say it and so does their truck — yes, there it is in bold crimson and white — that name, that college up north there, and what it says is: Harvard, Harvard Elevator Company.

 

Stephen Oliver

Baked Potato

    I take a bright kitchen knife, spear the baked potato from the oven, dry parchment rasp and pop, transfer to my dinner plate, then with a serrated little black-handled knife I saw down the middle, the potato steams and rustles. A Sybil’s grotto. Gasps its doughy breath. Then I cram in sour cream with a little butter, salt & black pepper grainy as beach sand. A votive offering.
   Then as I regard this construction, it falls open like a bible, tells tales to my tongue and palate; taste of fields, and memory of farms once measured by the chain; of morning mists rising over the stark and ghostly skeletons of poplars.
   Wagon wreck by the barn door, the barn with dishevelled loft. One barn owl. A scythe blade sharpened on the edge of the moon. Munitions hidden in heavy sacks of barley grain. This cautionary tale from the plosive potato slumped in the middle of my white dinner plate. Still and steaming, fresh as a cowpat on a shiny autumn morning, bleeding in its pool of sour cream with a little butter.

 

THREE by Denis Robillard

A Lone Pilot Landing

Her road maps are different from mine. Bits of primal memory torn from the Atlas of her right lobes geography. The hiss and babble of baby talk gurgles in her belly. She has become this perfect egg. A pulsating egg or brown protective airbag cocooning the form of the lone pilot within. His amniotic fluid pouch becomes a bundle of worries trans-mummified under the lucent glow of his mother‘s emergent skin. He is a stranger here, a lone pilot landing in this country of milk.

 

Cloud Movies 1

They scuttle across my vision closing the mind’s eye. The dark ones are always the most dangerous. They have the raven  in them. The matching presence of electricity. I approach, they withdraw, dragging their wounded shadows across this field. Clouds have cherubs in them. Dead Pygmy angel babies with chubby faces like half naked marble statues that help sailors. Gust-less voyages creating Aeloean sea changes with their innocent Putti breathing. They harbor energy. We photograph their movements.
On sleepy afternoons birds fly through them leaving a gauzy contrail. They are the billowy shelves where philosophers and Mystics have stacked their observations. Clouds create haiku for angels there. Hark the angels is sung there endlessly. Quintessence can be found  dolloped like endless ice-cream. We photograph the clouds to capture the  subtlety of movement. Like bodies enjoined, the flesh of our lives, land-locked entwined.

 

Cloud Movies 2

Clouds are a secret thing hood. Like a clevis, a hitch or a stitch. I yearn to cling cloud from cloudlike a dream maker in a blustery bubble scape. Become the latest climacteric obscure wanderer. Clouds are billowy edifices where cloistered angels congregate in their ice crystal decompression chambers. All day they stray in the atmosphere inventing candy flossed confections with sugar madness and murky marble markings. I can make castles there. Dream all day there inside my own private cloud movie theater. I can be a clodhopper in the sky. A clumsy ploughman in his Castle of Spain tugging at the skyweed.  


- Denis Robillard
 

Danielle Mebert

The Name Game

Usually, we play it during drives to Brooklyn, drives that are linear in that they get us from point A to point B and circuitous in that they are round trip.  Sometimes, I find myself playing it on my linear-circuitous trips to work. Today, I play it on the linear trip from Point Work to Point Home and I name you Steve.  You work as an IT tech for a small, moderately budgeted company. You are happy you haven’t been laid off. Not that there have been any whisperings that you will be, but there’s always a chance. You are not married, but you’re not really itching to be, either. Though you won’t admit it, you use a crock pot to avoid eating sandwiches for dinner every night. When I name you, you are straddling some Yama-Kawa-Mitsu-Honda-something crotch rocket that could zip-zoom circles around anyone on the road, but you decide to putt-putt along at sixty, not much faster than me. It’s funny, because your posture mimics the intensity of a jockey hungry for a steak, (who cares about the win, the place, or the show, if you are an underweight, purging man-boy?) but your clothes suggest a growing-old man with deck shoes, aware of his adultness, but reminiscing about being the little cowboy riding the yellow fiberglass pony outside of Woolworths. You were just as blasé then, maybe because something under your little, tan felt ten gallon knew of the linearness of life, how it’s all about stops on the road, getting to a final destination. Steve, I can hear the hollow, obese echoes of your little kid Velcro sneakers on the paint-chipped flanks of Champion, as your Garanimal-ed legs egg your steed toward the finish line. Even then, as today, your shoes didn’t match your ride.

 

Jesse Millner

Why I Love Florida

It’s mostly because I’m a pantheist: like the Moguls, I worship the sky, blue heaven that floats above me, like Whitman I worship each leaf of the St. Augustine grass, each blade a bright flag of this tropical world’s disposition, like Dickinson I worship the black racers along the dirt road I run most afternoons, those “narrow fellows” pouring their oily bodies into the weeds that line my journey west, which is the orientation Thoreau argued for, the direction he walked each day from his shack at Walden Pond as he looked for that particular oak tree, the one whose branches filled with the music of God, which is a chorus of the natural world, a kinship with tree, flower, root, and earth, the hymn shriek of the osprey alighting from the slash pine outside my window last Saturday, yes, God in every thing, manifest in cypress dome or pine barren, in saw grass or slough, in the summer cumuli that blacken to nimbus and bring the hard rain that is itself the only true baptism, that holy hard rain, which cleanses this despoiled paradise, which roars into ditches and lakes that disperse and collect, but do not wash away our many and collective sins.


 

Tania Hershman

A Scar Sits Above My Heart

On our muffled furniture, sofa straining under covers, we sit, my hand in your hand, her hand and his hand, and we watch the silent tick of snow on television screen, yet to be hooked in. Our thighs strain to the stillness, your hand in my hand, his and hers legs and arms and breathing, soft and long under the snow's cold fizzing. We welcome injury or collision to throw us from the seat, to fling us on the floor and leave us scarred. A scar, reminder of you on me, you burning, me deflating, sits above my heart. I slip my hand from yours, he sits, she stands, the television hushes, outside simple streets swing past.    

 

Kelley Clink

A Valentine (For Our Midwestern Childhood)

those years a mass of popsicles and Kool-Aid, the rainbow at the edge of the sprinkler and the sticky sweet smell of mulberries ripening in the sun; Saturday morning cartoons and roller-skating in the basement, clouds of charcoal smoke and picnic tables piled with potato salad; Hide and Seek, Pop Up, Rain on the Roof, and Four Square; the crunch of leaves beneath our shoes and thunk of candy into a plastic pumpkin pail, the tangy smell of burning branches and sparkle of a frost sprayed lawn; turkey, stuffing, football, and snow — a shared sled on a small but thrilling slope, the morning dark and scrape of shovels, powdered diamonds glittering under the streetlamp, red faces, wet feet, hot chocolate; tiny purple flowers beaded with ice and flares of crimson chests against a gray sky melting blue, blankets of fallen buds on the sidewalks and the trees whispered to us again

 

Mark McKain

Midden at Mile 4

after John Kunkel Small

Trees rush up to me — hickory  live oak  red bay  cabbage palm — strange and troubling personalities   Palms angle & lean against oaks constructing triangles    I feed on clouds
inscribed  by fern  magnolia’s rust green   Red-eyed vireo singing at the apex   Turkey’s red waddle disappears in silver-green palmettos  their sprawled trunks blackened by fire  The rich soil sifted with humus shell bone — a garden for tropical exotics: snake cactus  nakedwood  wild coffee at the base  mobbed by hairstreaks 

The questions come: Why scrub?  Why this hill of apple snails?  It’s a panharmonicon Emerson said: Here’s a pulpit — fine things, pretty things, wise things, but no arrows, no axes, no nectar…  Why nausea & spells of otherness?   Why do oaks go on propping up palms?   At midden’s crown where fires once kindled a hearth  many selves collapse into one   I touch rough bark and breathe the stink of swamp burn — why fire?  Hear palmettos rattle & saw — a cure? Turn back to river back to ferry back to parking lot   We decamp to I-4   back to:  flutter of small & big screens  glass plastic steel middens  sweet electric skin  trompe l’oeil self

 
Michael Estabrook

On the Deck of a Summer Cottage

We’re resting beneath the beach umbrella on the deck of the rented place down the shore, listening to the waves splashing in the distance, to the gulls cawing at the clouds. I stir my instant coffee, sense the early morning sun warming my soft, pale body, begin talking with my wife about Shakespeare. “Romeo and Juliet broke the mold on romance, passion, love-at-first-sight.” I sip my coffee, listen to the surf rustling like autumn leaves in the wind. “That's why this romance novel you’re reading seems so trite. It seems trite because it is trite.” A handful of fat, brown ducks flies by overhead, more lumbering through the sky, really, than flying. A rabbit scurries quickly across the drive. “Shakespeare knew that for passion to live forever it had to die while it was still passion.” My wife furrows her brow, chews at her lip. And I'm wondering if I remembered this sweet piece of wisdom from Mona Roth’s high school Shakespeare class 30 years ago or if it’s simply a lesson life has taught me along the way.

 
Jackie K. White

Split-Level Talisman

On the back porch, Kathleen tells me, “black honey is a laughing ghost. It is banned in Cuba. My husband paints there with flakes of dried skin, the barks of women’s bodies true down to their roots. When I lick the canvas,” she says, then falters, leaving me to finish, how it must be hot dark rum turned chocolate then pale. Knowing what we know now, our teeth spit out the red flakes of poppy haired other women. In the gloss of honey, black ghosts are laughing. They ban the husband; he becomes cuban bark. This is not a dream, this is all in the painting, shrunk and papered and laminated, hung now like a talisman around the necks of fledglings — then — “no, it’s not his painting,” she says, “it’s the wall of the house I stared at in a blurry childhood,” one of many walls she must re-visit, peer through, peel paper to frame. I’m cued, I go back, there where the prairie wind roars, where the pebbly grains that it swallows send ravens laughing. Leave the houses behind. I lick the black roots of the cohosh. From my neck, something falls. I begin painting bees and humming birds out of spare words.

 
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