the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




JoAnne Growney

No One Expects Poems From Me

Thanksgiving afternoon at two o'clock
a rat runs through the restroom at Perkins,
one wall from chandeliers with green fluted globes,
dim against November grey. Seven people
order fish and eat indifferently.

In a booth across from Ma, I dream a stick-up,
Give me all the dollars in Mellon Bank.
Kids first picked on me in sixth grade, the year
Uncle Jack got threats from the Black Hand.
No one called police; no relatives were on TV.

My family picks up the pieces, seems as sane
as seashore towns on winter Saturdays,
lean and empty—as if Pied Piper recently
passed through. But even whispers leave a trace—
and points of view misquoted, or written and erased.

As I help Ma finish her catfish dinner,
my silence hears secrets from the other diners.
Sliding from his booth, the tall one says, After a leak
I'll play red music.
Perkins pulses with a fiery beat.
I pull my red poems, Listen to me read—or I'll rat.


Which Way?

Fay is a fairy,
or name of a girl,
or to make exact
fits when building ships,
or faith—but what's that?


As she explores back country roads, Fay
looks for walls heaped high with stones. She likes
the practicality that uses
rocks from fields to fence the fields in which
they surface to counter plows of spring.
She contemplates her death: if stones live
on in second homes, it's logical
that flesh and bones will fare no worse. Why
fear Hell's fires? I'm not going to die.


An editor is missing, his empty boat
is found. A seasoned hiker sets out along
a well-marked path, but does not return. Fay stays
at home—wipes noses, drives carpools, contemplates
Wakefield—gone for twenty years and then returned.
She vaguely fancies roads to take or reasons
to quit her self to wander futures unknown—
but those thoughts drown in waterfalls of silence
in rooms void of her chatter. Versatile,
she stays in place, constructs an inner secret
self that doesn't always have to wear a smile.


July sizzles. Sweat darkens Fay's white travel shirts
to shades of sand that frustrate clumsy launderings
by hand in broken bathrooms. Wrinkled, faded, bored:
if she wore blue she'd twist the wind through her dull mood,
wring herself in spirals, and agitate. Soft eyes
would open wide if she wore green—while she scrubbed deep
for truth in verses by Balkan poets whose words
are camouflage. In black she would fold and go home.
In yellow, shrink from disaster. In red she would
blouse in the wind and wink at the shadowy man
who presses a habit not easy to master —
warm and open intercourse without unmasking.



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