Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the "poems" category.

The Cutters

(from Scattering the Ashes)

(Martha Manning Dress Factory)
I was afraid of them, I think–
afraid of their white bulky underarms,
the way they handled bolts of cloth,
pulling them from the shelves
or tossing them on the tables
almost without effort,
how they smiled at the dock foreman,
how they called me “Pet”
and said I was shy.

Bent forward over fabric,
their backs hunched,
their shoulders pushing in their necks,
they gripped the cutting machines
with strong, steady hands
and paid no attention to me
as I steered the dolly
with a broken wheel
on a crooked path through the factory.

Only 13 and barely 100 pounds
I heaved 8-foot bolts
into the bins behind the cutting tables
and stared at their broad fleshy bodies.
I wondered if their skin
was soft or calloused,
if their breasts were as plump as watermelons,
if they had big veins on their legs,
if they had lovers or husbands
whom they surrounded with their embraces.

At noon they sat at the same tables
with the men, in the shade
of the oaks outside Taystee Freeze.
They chewed their burgers vigorously
and ate their extra thick shakes
with long plastic spoons.
They cracked jokes
the other men laughed at
and I made myself laugh too.

Later while the dock foreman
slumped to sleep in his chair
or went to smoke in the alley
I stuck the invoices
on the spindle
and unloaded the smaller shipments
that came on the trucks
from Mascoutah, Alton, Belleville.
I took my time shelving them,
resting in the bins,
where I could hear the factory
grow quiet under the hum
of the upright fans.

Insect noises came in
through the high windows
and the sound of trucks
slamming their loads
down the road out of Collinsville.
The cutters bore down
on their jobs,
creating patterns in fabric,
and the scraps on the floor
became a mound of cloth.


The Lives of Isaac

(from Scattering the Ashes)

I was born a Jew
who could sell a riddle
to the sphinx. In my mouth
nouns married adjectives
and entered the world
as a sales pitch–
a quick hard sell,
offer driven,
Big Value for a Buck.
I had fleshy features,
small sturdy hands
and sawed-off white teeth
that could tear small
pieces of meat easily.
I carried no insurance
and died eating.
Then I was born a dog
who lived off scraps
and sniffed the messages
the wind delivered.
Each time I stole
from my master
my tail betrayed me.
When the herds dwindled to wind
and the tents collapsed
like a city of matchsticks
I ran with jackals
warning off intruders
with low deep growls
as we ripped apart carrion
and snapped flies
from the dust-laden air.
Before I was 20,
my heart gave out.
Then I was born a laugh
and came out of a parched orifice.
I died in mid-air.
And I was born a mixed blessing.
My sighs grew persistent
over the years
like a cramp in the intestines.
My face grew pinched,
my mouth distended
around an endless vowel.
I passed away in sleep.
Then I was born 2 dice
rolling across pavement.
I came out snake eyes.
I came out a bad decision.
I was born an invisible bird
that nested in the chest
of a prophet
and flew out of his mouth
in guttural ejaculations,
aiming for the eyes of his enemies.
I broke down into molecules,
into atoms, into electrons
spinning out of control,
shot down a racetrack–
broke down into quarks.
And then I was born a desert,
a promise never fulfilled.
My tongue thickened.
My mother sacrificed herself
again and again
while the soup boiled.
My father laid me out
on a table, brandishing his blade.
He lifted the knife
above his head and I
could see the sincerity
in his dark brown eyes.
And so I lived on
as words live,
blocks of print
on parchment.
My mother conceived me
well into her 70s
and on the night of my birth
the star of my kingdom
lit up the heavens.
With each telling
I grow stronger.