THE PROSE POEMS (NEWEST P. 4)
PAGE 2 PROSE POEMS BY: POSTED 1/27 Walter Bargen; Brigitte Byrd; Carol Dorf; Seánan Forbes; CJ Giroux; Howie Good; S.C. Hahn; Denise L. Hayden; Susan Koefod; Kathleen Kraft; Mark LaMonda; Adrian S. Potter; Misti Rainwater-Lites; Jonathan D. Rodgers; Mary Harwell Sayler; J.R. Solonche; Christine Surka; Patricia K. Szuhaj; Christos J. Zevos         

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Kathleen Kraft

Ode to the Dearly Forgotten

The kindergarten picture curls in my hand. I am smiling and wear a light pink collared shirt, age five and sunny. The half of the girl next to me, doe-eyed in big glasses, was her name Colleen? Another picture: Jean Claude, my mini boyfriend, and I dancing cheek to cheek. Where is my teacher — the beloved Mrs. Fine — who my parents laughed about as though she was Mary Poppins? And the boy who kicked my mother at the end of our play date? Still alive? Was I really a pea in the play? Was Jean-Claude? Where are my rest mat and Dixie cup friends now? My friend Aileen remembers those days well, especially the boy who made fun of her diamond-shaped blanket. Oh I remember him, she says, her eyes narrowing as she looks into that graveled tunnel of memories. I want to peer, too. I trace the bumpy outline of a flower I drew, stare at my backwards written name. I look at the pictures again. Barrettes… Where do they go? I file them away as gluey paper bits stick and stray. What to do when I want to reach in, climb on the tiny chairs, take the collage (a boat made of triangles?) off the wall, find my name, my cubby and put something in it.

 

 

TWO by S. C. Hahn

Three Small Pins

Hatpin
This narrow velvet box is stuffed with costume jewelry: earrings, brooches, necklaces that wouldn’t fetch a ransom except for the joy extorted from children playing dress-up. And then this hatpin — outlandish bird of some imagined paradise, with rhinestone eyes and Bakelite feathers impaled on a steel spit — by which Grandmother affixed her dreams securely in her head.

Safety pin
Grandmother, lacking staples, attached her recipe notes with safety pins, of which she had a surplus after seven children in diapers. After seventy-seven years in a cookie tin the pins have rusted and streaked these lined papers, lending them the authority of medieval documents furnished with seals and ribbons. Here, decrees her note for bread pudding, nothing shall go to waste in the face of need: not the stale butt of bread, the pint of milk gone sour, the apple abandoned in a pantry corner. Dated this 3rd of October, 1932.

Clothespin
It’s the old wooden kind, the mannequin-looking sort that has no metal spring. Grandmother kept a squad of them in her apron as she hung up wash on the clothesline: white socks fresh from bluing, Grandfather’s denim work-shirts billowing like thunderheads off toward the Pawnee County line, her unmentionables tucked inside a pillowcase. Each clothespin straddled a corner of feminine linen, sheer material pinned between wooden legs.

 

All My Children

I have no daughter: I desire none.
       — Weldon Kees, "For My Daughter"

The pencil in my right hand scribbles a grocery list. The fingers of my left hand, on the other hand, fidget at the thought of idleness and pluck a stray hair from above my ear. But then they were raised as sadistic humanists. The right-hand fingers — earnest Protestants all — continue to spell out life’s necessities: bread, coffee, a carton of eggs.

Onto a white expanse of paper drops the hair — black, middle-aged, wispy, filled with my spore: Swabian, Hanoverian, Pomeranian, the occasional Slovincian (language: extinct) who played a bit part in the comedy. The dark-colored root curls itself into a den, and within it squiggle my little DNA snakes, dreaming in their genetic hibernation. I fold this paper with the hair in place and slip it into a cookbook, leaving it for posterity to sire my tribes.

- S. C. Hahn
 

Denise L. Hayden

Riding

If I squeeze my eyes shut I am on the train, the Hudson River on my right, riding from Cold Spring to Manhattan, instead of in the chicken coop. The rumbling and clucking make me tired. Leaning against a nesting box I disturb the broody hen. She shakes her feathers and pins me with her tiny eye, “Get back on the train.” I can follow the tracks of your stolen sips just as the train follows the river past Garrison's Landing. I don't talk to anyone on the train and I won't tell you I found your bliss clinking between two large brown eggs, still warm. “Tickets, please.”
 

Brigitte Byrd

(expressive movement with sensation)

After spinning downward to the ideology shouting floral nonsense I simulate a luminous edge. Something else that is not questioned. My eyes follow words stringed like constellations on a page and I hear them calling me. Perhaps what is mysterious is the background. There are always pictures to hang on a wall when a new round of grief distorts the light. Imagine someone thinking. When her sister waves from a historical slur like a lifeless puppet I know there is a subplot leading me to fall into her nightmare. Imagine a piece of music. When she opened her body to feel his chest throbbing inside hers like an open wound she knew they could do nothing but dream. Something that actually takes place in human life. It was not a song. It was not a movie. More blurred and less pronounced. She knew the quickening of a breath signaled the end and I heard the sound of their bodies shattered into oblivion. This is not a trick in logic. This is not my hand feeling tempted to draw them. This is me saying These poisoned days won’t last much longer.

 

THREE by Walter Bargen

Curried Sadness

Lunch: he’s sitting at his desk eating, half listening to the radio, half reading something that demands more attention than he gives it, half-glancing at the computer screen, vaguely waiting for three halves to become a whole. Stanley recalls a photograph of a reclining bronze and gold-leafed bull, canopied in the center of an ornate temple complex in India. Marco Polo may have visited this place nearly eight hundred years ago and watched a similar ceremony. A priest stands on scaffolding that raises him the height of the bull’s head, two stories off the foot-beaten bare earth. He leans over and pours curried milk, a color halfway between lavender and magenta. Bucketfuls are splashed onto the bull’s back. Its eyes cry milk. Its nostrils pool milk. Its lips run rivulets. Its neck wreathed in milk the color of a God’s blood. In the lunch heat of South India, he’s dizzy with the curdling.

The heat will only get worse. Once there were twenty-plus species of honey creepers on the islands of Hawaii. Now there are thirteen species left and one of those is represented by three individuals ― all but extinct. Sure there are a complex of causes, and he could blame the victims for their own extinction: too highly specialized to a too suddenly changing environment with snakes, rodents, goats, whatever else followed shipwrecks to shore. Then there is the pig gone wild that grubs the tropical forest floor and eats all the ferns, leaving a potholed landscape filling with rain that breeds pools of mosquitoes. Malaria and West Nile abound. The surviving honey creepers with their gaudy splashes of green and lavender feathers, and their lovely, outlandish curved bills, all survive above six thousand feet these days where the temperature falls below fifty-six degrees Fahrenheit and the malaria bacteria doesn’t survive. But each year the earth grows warmer and the honey creeper must move higher into the mountains that go no higher and, therefore, farther away from Stanley’s like, and the curried sadness of Pacific sunsets.

 

 

Math Allergies

A wall of green has grown up around the house. Seven-feet high wild lettuce stalks block the view from the kitchen window, as if the whole house is a tossed salad. Sunlight and a lattice of leaf shadows criss-cross the linoleum that’s rolling in disembodied cat fur. Leibnitz sits down for 4 to the 4th power days in a row to eat oatmeal with 11 halved walnuts and a single tablespoon of maple syrup. But not for long, first he has to sneeze, then sneeze again. God has to work overtime with blessings. Then he gets up to pull a tissue from the box on the counter by the door to blow his nose, then a second. He takes a sip of coffee hoping that it will settle him down. His sinuses feel like a welling up underground aquifer. The Ogallala has nothing on him. He reaches for another tissue. The early summer morning is densely humid. Pollen-spangled light streaks through the room. He reaches for a handkerchief, inhalant, there’s calculus in the air.

 

Evolution of Morning Coffee

At winter’s end the lake loses its white wings and grows legs. Charles turns his back as the lake runs for its life toward the river. His boots are sloshing through melting ice in a morning finding its heat. 
He’s chasing a lake as he sinks into wet sky. Soon he flaps his arms as his reflection brushes the tops of pines. Exhausted, he crawls through a quaking bog, wallows in moss and sphagnum. 
He’s forming and reforming: gilled, scaled, a clawed–primordial descendent. Charles gathers and scatters. He fins chance currents hurtling between deaths while asking for a refill.


- Walter Bargen
 

Adrian S. Potter

Depression

Soon, the subtle forms of secondhand inspiration start crumpling like bows, imploding beneath the weight of squandered chances. Singing the dead from their graves. The white from our linens. After awhile, even the dog won’t sleep near me. Nightfall, a man fastened in a chair. A chair fastened to the floor. Before hope vanishes, I wear pinstriped suits and mention salvation, deus ex machina. My optimism transient, translucent. Letdown when I search for something that doesn’t suffer from the inherent sadness of broken things. When doubt lurks outside with a baseball bat, trampling the azaleas. The devil within as I swoon under pressure, while I try to ignore it, continue to feed it. Until my soul begins cradling sadness like cargo. Until sorrow sews my psyche into a slit.

 

TWO by Patricia K. Szuhaj    [from a series entitled Beach Poems]

Letting Go

Sand sloughs off time-worn skin, leaving a soft underbelly. I am vulnerable, yet infused with the energy of the waves. The water slaps at my ankles. I don’t dare to venture; I stay close to shore. I write with my toe — my name, my husband’s name, my son’s name, .and see the water destroy my family in a moment that’s too short for memory. I hesitate, let my eyes wander to the horizon line, imagine ships, seagulls, sea monsters, mermaids, waiting there for nightfall, for the beach to empty, to soften, to quiet. They flock to shore, to an empty beach. I open my eyes. A wave catches me, steals my breath in its icy grip. I head out, gingerly, waiting for the rocks and shells to tear my feet, for an unseen fish to cling to my thigh. In an eye-blink, I am lifted by the wave, at its gentlest point, carried out from shore, far away from the mortals that mar the sand’s surface. I dive through a wave, come out the other side, cradled in the water. I close my eyes and turn my face to the sun. Let the wave rock me, lull me.

 

Night Sea

The beach at night is like a lovely woman whose curves and softness come out only in the moonlight, whose voice fills the air with a lullaby. I walk in the deserted darkness. My husband and son walk ahead of me, laughing, playing in the surf. My husband proposed to me as the sun set on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey. He knelt on one knee in the sand, held my hand. I screamed, hugged him, and we called our parents from a pay phone, then walked on the beach. Now, I linger behind him and my son, just out of reach of the water. Crabs scuttle out of my way; the sand is covered with seaweed and shells, gifts from the high tide. I do not touch them. Instead, I walk, savoring my steps, in time with the ocean’s song. She is fearsome by day, yet tender at night, a tigress defending her young.



- Patricia K. Szuhaj
 

TWO by Christine Surka

The concrete was much softer this time

(I) The concrete was much softer this time. It was difficult to walk without sinking. There were thousands of little key sounds behind the main sounds that we usually hear because we are not chewing that deeply. Oh god, I feel every word but when you live like this every letter is identical, a twin to its past self and I am the one making them sink into the trenches and waters of chips and pixels. This is the softness and the warmth making its nest with me. This is me not saying no because this is the fate I’ve been begging to carry.

(II) Rosette wears a red rock charm around her neck and red plaid dresses. Her mother likes her to grow up beside her name like a companion, never ignoring roses and strangers and a brilliant expensive charm, the sort that Rosette’s parents wanted to put her in and keep that charm around their necks and strangle themselves with it, and everything would be completely coherent and rational, an ordered consequence.

(III) I’m sinking into the fall hummus now, the sort you eat and the sort that grows on the forest floor — no, it just rots there forever and because it rots it is good and it is healthy. This I don’t understand, though I have eyelids, though I’m in an eye, like screens that only show the inside of your life when you agree with processing the film.

(IV) Dorris was tired of having a name that was dying with her. It felt like more agony than dying young with half a career and the other half waiting in the study. This I find myself telling the young prince, he’s betrothed to gods, will never meet his apparition-wife. & life's dug up bitterly. But my father used to show the planets & eclipses with tennis balls and flashlights. Still he watches the moon, and studies the galaxies until only he finds them.
 

On the Rocks

(I) A comet was passing, it was really close but still most people missed it. I think it was so close that you could see the individual parts, such as the rocks and sparkles, and the gas and the flames, and whatever else you think might fit into a comet. It flew too close, and still most people missed it. They were at work with the windows and doors and airways closed, at work when outside that very work was threatened among other things of possibly greater significance. This I admit in case you don’t remember:

(II) the ceiling was leaking warm water and brown mud, the ground’s water was falling off in the wrong direction and the wind seemed pretty pissed. The next day umbrellas were fallen and gloves, and trees were fallen and you kicked me out, and I slammed two doors shut but right before I left you slammed one of them back open.


- Christine Surka
 

Misti Rainwater-Lites

Out of the Cage

For one week in California I was out of the cage. It was June in the Year of the Tiger. I rode BART alone. I carried a garbage bag filled with my clothes and maxi pads up and down those mythic streets. I ate a bacon cheeseburger and fries and a pickle spear in a diner. I left a generous tip. One night I got so drunk I thought I would never die. One night I got so constipated I wished I would die. My last night in California I sang karaoke in Santa Cruz and hoped my plane would crash. I was thinking of the cage that awaited me in Texas... all those molting feathers and the smell of my own waste.
 

TWO by Susan Koefod

Patron Saint of Panties

Clara’s devotions were folded into each of her undergarments, her fingers delicately interpreted the fabric as if it were a sacred text about to be blessed by a miracle. This was the boundless beauty of Clara’s simple faith, she prayed over her underwear and christened each delicate piece. Her thick girdles she named for the protectress St.Caroline, saint of rape victims; the granny whites she knew as St. Angela Merici, founder of schools for chaste girls. St. Angela was so devoted that even blindness couldn’t stop her in her holiest journey, which was why she earned both a miraculous cure and a sainthood. Clara dreamt of having such fortitude and being rewarded with sight. Sigh. Then there was Clara’s collection of florals, laundered so often the flowers faded and the fabric dissolved almost to a tissue. These were so frail that Clara’s fingers trembled when she touched them, and in her quivering she contemplated the endless days of prayer and fasting that brought the saints to ecstasy, like that of St. Dymphna, virgin and martyr, who fled a father who desired her. After her death at her father’s hands St. Dymphna became the patroness of the insane, and the truly faithful believed venerating her could cure mental illness. Bliss. These pretty faded flowery under things Clara wore on her most fragile days, and she too believed that it was possible one day she might be healed.

 

Unfinished

A faint outline is scribbled on a stained napkin that’s dribbled with soup, crumpled and crosshatched, drawn by a bushy eye-browed and jowly jawed diner, his fallen skin pale and pock-marked. This was the doodling gentleman had his eyes dawdle on me, I'd felt him lingering over every inch of me, even though I’m at the far end of the bar; oh I know how these guys are, I’ve seen it enough and when I looked up to catch his violation, he’d quick look away and back to scratching, thinking he hadn’t been caught but I can always tell just by his slouching in that worn tobacco brown jacket, and when at last he slumped by to take his leave I could smell that male intersection of cigar, whiskey and aftershave trailing and I knew the bloodshot heat in his eyes. I listened until I heard the door creak and clank shut behind me, then I could see the napkin he’d shed his drawing on; he’d lain it carefully alongside his used spoon, leaned it against his empty whiskey glass. The careless busboy, clumsy in his chores, brushed it aside in his hurry to gather up the tip and the dirty dishes. When the boy trundled the bus cart away, I crept from my stool to steal the wadded sketch, then stole back to my end of the bar. It’s late. The diner is pretty much deserted. They’re about ready to swab the spattered linoleum, but I’m so confounded raw by that gent’s eyes on me for the past hour. Now this proof I’m unfolding in my palm, I can tell it was laid down in a leaking rollerball, the kind that stains the calloused hump of the middle finger. I can see a few blue bleeds through layers, and there are my eyes, black hot pupils with shards of highlights, yet he only got so far as the vague rest, though he’s made a point of drawing what he imagined under my clothes, and now I know what he was asking even without saying one word about it. That is, do I let myself be defined by his need of me, unfinished though it is in this picture. Is this who I am? Who I should be? I look to see if he’s waiting outside, at the bus stop, or down the street. Is he still out there measuring me, drawing what’s inside my clothes, what’s wanted of me?


- Susan Koefod
 

Mark LaMonda

Our Mother

“Don’t tell your father.” “I won’t.” Hallowed be thy name.
It was an incantation between my mother and me.

Sitting quietly against my mother’s thigh while she chatted with friends — “He didn’t.” “He did.” “Have another cookie sweetie.” “Don’t tell your father.” “I won’t.” Give us this day our daily bread. I grew fat, silently, nobody taking notice, like the cancer in my mother’s body.
“You didn’t.” “I did.” And forgive us our trespasses.

My father was a hot knife, my mother, butter. I was their white toast to slather with their coupling. “Don’t tell your father.” “I won’t.” But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 


 

TWO by Howie Good

A Flower Is a Fox in a Hole

I crash a half-empty auditorium of G-men, their pockets stuffed with incandescent ampules of evidence, while you slowly circle the mall parking lot, looking for a close-in space. We’re the ghosts of our own thoughts or a character in each other’s stories. Some small and unsuspecting leaf goes whirling down the creek. All things move toward becoming one thing, a bright red wound that seems to you shimmering blue.

 

 

Uneasy Dreams

1
Mix a little gunpowder with saliva. Memory is a building, a fountain, a madman who becomes calm on seeing a sheep. In floats an empty word balloon. It shimmers like the ashes of some extinct halo.

2
You dread the cough of a stranger. Agents sent to investigate force the prisoner to kneel. The hand that stops moving still holds a pen. Your ancestors saw so many witches they ran out of stakes to burn them all. I wipe my eyes; I was once a fan of riddles myself. Tiny flying things with grinning monster faces continue their dance.

3
Fireworks in my chest, and there's a fresh dusting of snow, a white hare without fur or bones.


- Howie Good
 

Jonathan D. Rodgers

The day speech began to materialise

The day speech began to materialise came as a shock to everyone. On its sleepier side, the world’s blankets were feathered by unconscious vowels and crumbs of sleep talk. But when those first long yawns muscled their way out and fell on the carpet — there was panic. Words sprayed all over conference tables and shattered bathroom mirrors in a thousand forms. Lovers rifled through the icy piles at each other’s feet, scrabbling to put things back in order before they melted into the rug. Teachers exhaled reams of bubble-wrap letters which their cross-legged audience couldn’t help but pop. Letters hung from politicians’ lips like venomed honey, before stretching apart under their own elastic. Would-be muggers were impaled by the steel-edged points of their victim’s shuddering “A”s. Some sentences evaporated in the space of a shiver, twisting into the breeze before they could seen. Others took four or five days of lock-jawed delivery. Many stopped opening their mouths for good, sewed up their lips and drank vitamin smoothies through straws. Others held out their palms beneath their parents’ dry mouth-holes, trying to catch their final porcelain syllables.

 

 

TWO by Carol Dorf

In the Lost Laboratory

My past evades me like a feral cat racing through backyards, then returning to linger by the garbage can. Vistas and viewpoints, tops of the trees. A dog would dig out the bulbs, but this cat just paws at the greens and displaces enough dirt to cover her scat; the way I tossed a box of my adolescent journals into the leaky garage to molder, not courageous enough to dump them outright. In the lab, test tubes, centrifuge, then long sheets of color separations to pull apart the elements of blood. What did I learn, bottle washing intern? “Soap is a poison,” the doc repeated. Today there is a machine for that job.

 

Plotting Hours of Daylight

Already there’s a perceptible change of light and darkness, the rush of time that speeds up around the equinox — and one doesn’t feel quite ready for the change. That’s how we always imagine infinite, as though we believe the proof that maps all the real numbers into the space between zero and one. She holds out her hand, and we expect a gift, but instead it is a small frog, the toxic slime about its skin shiny in this light. How did she become immune? One smiles, as running is not an option and then a bell rings and it’s time to go to class; we are all in that infinite high school where every moment presages disaster, and we always want to tell more to our friends than will ever be safe. Between light and dark, twilight, which always used to frighten me, because the approach of night was more of a problem than darkness itself. When I switch off the light shadows lengthen and lose form, the way the lost are everywhere filling the corners of the room, calling out: “Look at me, stop that purposeful forgetting.” There’s pressure to rejoice in winter as though crystals encompass perfection. I used to fear the melt. Where were you then? The way we walked hand in hand, spooned together through night, like the infinite colors of another country.


- Carol Dorf
 

Seánan Forbes

The Fire

The fire curls its tongue around the walls, savoring the flavor of photographs and furnishings, the fine curves of the piano, the lacquer on the dining room chairs. It furls the sheets, frees and flames the feathers from pillows and cushions. It peels veneer, eases the carpet from the stairs. It pauses in the kitchen, roasts the coffee, shatters glasses, seethes standing waters to soft clouds. For a moment, the children’s toys dance with hitherto imagined life, spreading arms — plastic, furred — in brief welcome, waving farewell. On the roof, under a celebration of stars, the fire exhales a sated stream of post-coital smoke, stretches its toes into the guttering eaves, and awaits cessation or the embalming fall of rain.

 

CJ Giroux

Ecosystem

Angled, like geese in an Escher sketch, flying both north and south, bricks merge in interlocking single file, run, up, down, back, forth, a sea of concrete, clay, cement. They abut against square islands, where saplings, thick as a child’s thigh, stand their ground, peeling bark protected by corrugated plastic and the trumpets of hummingbird vines that have collapsed upon themselves, deflated. Streetlights slowly rouse themselves as cellophane wrappers somersault down the street, shivering, shimmering in the falling halogen glare. These plastic leaves wave to weeds, butts, paper cups pinned against the abandoned Costco, where television transmissions slide into the curve of its satellite dish. I imagine the unused signals collecting, pooling, overflowing its edges, like an open tap in an unwatched sink, the topmost glass in a champagne fountain spilling over. Cream-colored, fixed, the dish stands guard on the roof, like a blue moon on the eastern horizon, another satellite watching over suburbia.


 

J. R. Solonche

My Funeral

At my funeral, I want no words spoken. I want no words whispered at my funeral. At my funeral, I want silence, total and complete and long-lasting. I want a dumb-show at my funeral. At my funeral, I want all in attendance to contemplate their own deaths. I want all in attendance at my funeral to sign a paper that they will contemplate nothing but their own deaths. At my funeral, I want no rabbi officiating. At my funeral, I want all in attendance to sign a paper that they will contemplate the meaning of regret for three hours. I want no music played, no elegy read at my funeral. I want all in attendance to sign a paper that they will contemplate the meaning of the failure of the imagination. At my funeral, I want no flowers except blue cornflowers, the flowers of the imagination. At my funeral, I want all in attendance to sign a paper that they will stare for one hour at the moon, or if there is no moon at my funeral, sign a paper that they will stare for one hour at the blackness where it would be if there were a moon to stare at. At my funeral, I want no ironies, no ambiguities, no weather. I want my funeral literal.

 

Christos J. Zevos

A Toast to the Woolly Mammoth’s Absence

You set up an expectation and break it. It was cold outside and I was near a liquor store. The rest of the narrative wrote itself, which gives me spare time to enjoy the technicolor timbres of false harmonics over pedals and twirled copper. The narrative wished to inform you that it was whiskey, irish whiskey, it always was. Also it was nighttime. Dusk. The moon turned the contract down, and therefore, did not show up. Instead, the wind became a wall and stuck to me like it was the floor at the narrative’s end. Unconscious, like glue.

 

 

Mary Harwell Sayler

Hapless Holiday

I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can shut the door you bolted on the other side. Keeping out weather is one thing, raccoons another, although I know there's nothing below the kitchen sink they might find appealing — blackened banana peels, black coffee grounds, and those eggshells I keep on breaking as I walk.


© 2011 The Prose-Poem Project
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