Mary Biddinger (Akron, Ohio, USA): Three Poems

ENLIGHTENMENT

One day you’re busy peeling the leaves
from a stalk of broccoli, then the next
slicing your garments with a jackknife,
as if you could choose another place
to wear a halo. Every new loaf of bread
is as unsatisfying as the last, pocked
with holes that collapse as soon as you
insert your fingers. Sometimes I wonder
why I wonder. It’s easy to close your eyes
and relive the disappointment all over
again, the last gift unwrapped and it’s not
the shotgun you asked for, but instead

a quivering garden rake painted green
to match someone else’s eyes. It’s isn’t
the collected works of George Herbert,
two rusty harmonicas, or just enough
Quickrete to make a summer in rural
Oklahoma magical. She promised you
in her particleboard cubicle that smelled
like lemon air freshener: Every day
is a gift
. There was no way that you

could have foreseen my steel-toe boot
and a handful of her teeth waging war
like those movies other people’s fathers
watched with the blinds drawn. Really,
you are happy I know my way around
a baseball bat. This is what you have
always loved about me the most. Not
the way I hate scones, or see in the dark.
You will not have to worry about
leeches when you sink to the bottom
of this river. Every windmill you ever
wanted to burn to the ground is here.


WHERE WE WENT FROM HERE


You tried to wear it like a beard
that didn’t fit. You ransacked the pastry

case, said you were picking out a new
whore, even if she was ringed in almonds

and drunker than a ladyfinger could be.
We were under unusual circumstances.

The floors were never quite strong enough
to hold us, but we used them anyway.

It sounded like you said, Put your harm
around me, baby
. That was before

our pinstripes outgrew us, trailed off onto
the bedspread and out the window.

It’s nothing that either of us predicted.
I could count all the times it didn’t

happen, like retention ponds you speed
past on the highway, knowing you’ll never

dive in, or fill your thermos with the murk.
How can you count what isn’t in pieces?

You asked for the key to my pajamas
so you could lose it, and beg for another.


HALF KEROSENE, HALF HAMMER


He can drive a hatchback straight
through a blizzard, wears wool
like a farm kid, even if his mother

never stitched him into underwear
in November. He’ll unbutton
your shirt while he levels the wet

plaster on your dining room wall,
slip his tongue into your mouth
while talking on the phone, not

missing a word. The kind of man
who’ll tarp your car before
the sleet starts, wake at midnight

to plug the engine block heater in,
surprise you with cold fingers.
The man you’d always recognize

from across a field, even at dusk,
or through a blindfold. Your hand
is half the size of his. He’s half

kerosene, half hammer. Tore a room
to bare studs when he was fourteen,
same day he tasted his first Budweiser.

His favorite animal was always
predatory and quick, even if he
was never the first out of the gate.

You expect him to rise out of every
snow bank, bet twenty dollars he’ll
push your Volvo all the way home.


© Mary Biddinger 2008