Along the wide, empty street out of town, away from the railroad station, the red storefront gleams. It’s a welcome sight among the plate glass and faded displays of canned beans, motor oil, tools, or decades old sewing patterns, depending on the store. It is also a welcome sight beneath the infinite sky, beside the bay that is just the …
That year cicadas found us in Silver Spring,
the concrete island where we stood marooned,
the closest we ever came to the swimming city.
I don’t remember the thrumming
amid horns honking and bulky men
hawking strawberries from their red truck.
I remember bugs flying past the few trees,
all with sharp leaves, through June’s
thick air, past the abortion clinic’s
barred windows and the sidewalk
where every Saturday girls from Holy Cross
shuffled past and mumbled entire rosaries.
Lying on the white wall-to-wall carpet,
listening to a young Annie Ross shriek
as if wings had grazed her bare shoulders,
we joked about eating cicadas.
We ate anything then: steak burritos,
lamb rogan josh, squid nigiri,
but cicadas on brown rice would save us.
We’d buy them at the corner store
from the man who gave me advice.
Curled up in one cell of the concrete island,
we imagined ourselves becoming them
having waited seventeen years to emerge
in this place and no other.
A hot case of “you are what you eat.” – mh clay
I remember colored toilet paper,
pale pink sheets fluttering
into the toilet bowl, genteelly
staining the Nashua River red.
In some homes, they matched
the toilet bowl, sink, tub, tiles,
even towels and shower curtains.
But no woman
in my family was the slender
woman in the pink nightgown,
perfumed curls as soft as Charmin.
None of us lived in the ranch houses
curled around cul-de-sacs
on the other end of town.
We lived in older homes
where not much matched,
especially toilet paper.
One day, more recently than I’d realized,
colored toilet paper disappeared.
I don’t recall seeing pink paper,
even at Smitty’s or Marsh;
I don’t recall seeing
sheets that tainted groundwater
and matched nothing in my life.
If we ever find pink fossils, maybe then we’ll recall. Until then, white’s all right! – mh clay
Once again, I stand in my mother’s
mint-green raincoat from
RH White’s, too-thick hair
spilling far past my shoulders,
a stain on this prim coat.
In this musty record store,
dark even at noon,
I flip through crates
of $1 albums,
almost all faded.
Here I find a black album,
all outline, no color,
large dung beetle, holy symbol,
shuddering bass, tenor’s yelp.
Nothing I am looking for.
I hold the album between my hands.
Colors emerge: iridescent purple
and silver. Then green
to shimmer like leaves.
I wonder what I will hear
when I play this album
on the blue Radio Shack
record player I still own
in dreams like this one.
Some nights I put
the album back,
fearing bad guitar,
worse lyrics. Once
someone had slipped
disco into the sleeve.
That night a siren sounded.
Men dressed like cops whooped.
Across the hall my brother
snickered, then chanted
DISCO SUCKS, DISCO SUCKS.
Tonight I try again, hoping
for Richard Thompson, hoping
for Los Lobos, for A Tribe
Called Quest, not daring
to imagine women’s voices
on the album called Transmute.
Vinyl verity in dream sleep reveals your music in mind. – mh clay
Having overslept yet again, I wander
the aisles of a Barnes and Noble
that magically expands to an art gallery,
a toy store, a supermarket, all
without selling the book I want,
nature writing set in the hill country,
all that I will miss on the flight home.
Without that book, I walk out
to the shores of an artificial lake
large enough to be an ocean
with saltwater taffy and a Cyclone
at the end of the boardwalk.
I walk past the bare-chested men
and high-heeled women
who clog this path,
singing, smoking, swigging
beer from brown bottles.
I wake up gasping.
Eyes open with loss not lost. Whew! – mh clay
The first time I saw
the man with the wispy
beard and the flapping silk
jacket, he was coming out
of Healthway Foods with a
chalky carob bar
in his pocket.
I did not tell him
the truth. I feared he
would discern it, his eyes
and accent blazing.
The last time I saw
him, he was clean-shaven
and had cut off his pigtail.
I remember advice he gave,
having seen me walk
afternoons away from school.
I thanked him.
We moved on. He would
stay near this magic city.
I would not.
If I saw him now – no
longer the little sister, I
wouldn’t tell him the truth.
Magical tradecraft, never revealed. – mh clay
A poem is not a mirror but a sky – Thade Correia, “Manifestos: Aphorisms on Poetry”
The closed system of Tuesday resists all
your efforts. Look for something, anything,
images, words, irregular pulse, rhyme.
White space cloaks notebook pages. A gel pen
leaves only scratches. Weak, pale light seeps in
from somewhere, probably the east, source of
yellow, source of wisdom, source of dawn. Clouds
turn gauzy, turn gray. You remember your
own family’s four directions: the cross
at meals and Mass. While you do other things,
the sky splits, like a seam of cotton pants.
You can’t see blue, but you do see light, bright
enough for sunglasses. Clouds imitate
Sky as you will, keep your shades handy. – mh clay
One beady eye sees all. Tabby
is dozing on a pile of clothes:
a winter hat, socks, spring sweaters.
In sleep, her cheek nuzzles a book
of a poet’s letters from Brazil.
It’s almost fall. The bright edges
of locust leaves, roots in thin
soil, yellow. Summer’s clouds clear
out, leaving skies free for birds.
The calico guards the kitchen.
Perching on the back of a chair
that, never used for guests,
is just for cats and coats,
she glares at all that cross her path.
The bird now raps on the glass,
his beak a cat’s paw, a fist.
He cocks his sleek head and pretends
that he is ready to fly through
the house of cats. The tabby snores.
The calico will never move.
The bird flies off. He seeks
a seed, a crumb, a drop
of water, open windows where
humans and cats are not.
An open-space opportunist, unable to arouse interest. Away! – mh clay
Under a metal sky, walls blaze.
Unreadable script glints, a sculpture
whose angles clash, whose edges bristle.
No one touches the bricks,
as if fingertips will make them disappear.
A short-haired girl puzzles over
flames like feathers, feathers like flames,
leaves embroidered on shadow-colored cloth.
On the next wall, liquid white flowers
and thick purple leaves sprawl.
No need to puzzle over them.
Just take pictures.
Imprint now, interpret later. – mh clay
Inside the darkened storefront that would soon be
a bright Asian restaurant, fading album covers
from just ten years ago armored the wall,
protecting clerk and customers from the revolution
outside, jazz in the doorways on Mass Ave.,
and soft rock in the offices upstairs.
Customers’ blind fingers searched
through the dollar bin
as their eyes heard the songs
on each album. I don’t remember
what played up in the front.
I didn’t know those songs yet.
I do remember stopping in these archives
that used to pop up all around the city.
I remember paying a quarter for one LP
I played for years.
Later after moving to Indiana,
I found the college town’s archives,
a building adorned with primitive paintings
of dead rock and pop stars,
some of whom would never have been
honored in the archives back in 1978,
some of whom had been kids my age.
By then, the archives on Mass Ave.
had become a bank with Boston ferns,
plants and children’s pictures on every desk.
I don’t remember what I listened to
on my first visit, but I remember
what I had heard at lunch
at the grill near the med school:
The Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River,”
a crack in the archives’ façade.
Searching the stacks for proof that what we were makes who we are. – mh clay