Laura Lee Washburn (M.F.A., Arizona State University) teaches at Southwest Missouri State University. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Carolina Quarterly, Pacific Review, and others.
Whenever the Moon Is Happy
for Jeanne Clark
the clouds come down from the sky.
They climb monkey-fashion on slick strings.
They come leaving bruises
against the pale spots of where they have been.
The clouds rub pea-soup trails
on the sidewalks where they fall.
They stick like snails to hospital walls.
A child beads clouds on her string.
She ties them in a noose around her wrist.
The girl lies on her white bed.
She sleeps like an old woman,
with small breaths, with folded hands,
with her feet numb, with snowflake legs,
and hair like climbing vines.
One day the clouds gather each gray pearl
of themselves, and they leap,
with the legs of four strong jumps
away from her, back into their animal movements.
Her blue blanket is a safety against loss.
She rubs its sighing edges before sleep.
She drifts out of herself, a beached blowfish,
but this costs her too much breath
because her mind feels the skin's lines,
oyster shell ridges grown into her hands.
Her vined hair dries up and peels back dead
away from its trellis. She gets breasts
like the bread in bags of unbrowned dinner rolls.
Her dried lips feel their skin dying,
and inside themselves, a match's burning.
Is she returning to the sea?
Has her body gone back, rubbed
against sanded paper, to thick fluid
and the slow beat of an older woman's rest?
No. Her heart is the sky and there are bruises all around,
bruises round, no bigger than her breasts.
The boy holds a dead brown moth
in his dirty fist.
He has dirt on him
like only children can.
in one corner of the cold stairwell
are the bodies of twenty
or so brown dead moths.
Only the boy thinks to lift them up
and send them flying
between his thumb and finger.
He knows there might be something sad,
but he isn't sure what.
A woman told him
that moths fly into fire,
but he can't imagine it
and doesn't believe her.
He says, No, they just go close
and come back out.
He is only three,
but his mother always reminds him
he will die. She asks him
who he wants to live with
when Mommy and Daddy die.
She asks him what will happen
when he dies.
Sometimes she tells her company
the answers. Tell everyone
you said you want the birds
to eat your body when you die.
He reminds her he doesn't want to die.
If Mommy and Daddy die,
he will live with them, he will save them,
they will not die.
In the corner of the cold stairwell
are the bodies of twenty or so
dead brown moths,
and some of them are small
like children. At home this boy
keeps a collection of rocks
on the window. One of them
has the shape of fish bones in it.
Lady bugs are outside
and also bugs that sting,
bugs he does not like,
and all around the driveway light,
little bugs are circling up:
Why dragged, why, into light?
for Jan Donley
Don't take me seriously.
In old movies the women knew
the way to act, never saying much,
keeping it quiet, elegant,
and this was the way to have romance.
I can't be like those women,
and if I'm not careful,
I'll tell everyone the truth.
Then they'll all go running,
horror movie parody,
hands lifted up in the air.
Her hair is short,
and she wears expensive glasses.
She buys them each year
in one of the big cities.
I imagine sitting together for breakfast
like a cereal commercial,
heavy white robes, and short glasses of
orange juice while we watch
the crows walk our green yard.
We danced and there were women
all around us dancing, too.
It was like any bar, people alone—
I wanted to be touched.
In other times, I watched her
brushing her teeth. I said
funny things in the morning,
tied scarves around my head,
went for the jokes, tried to be smooth.
When I woke up late
and she was gone, I wanted to know
where. I am too much need.
My hands drift up across her spine,
each bone like a wish on my fingers.
Her neck is two runners stretching,
white, your eyes going blind
in a movie desert's sun, then
waking up later, holding her hand.
Fingers like a promise, her fingers—
that wasn't what I want to say—
her fingers are like bones.
I make her pasta, garlic, oil, parsley.
The garlic tastes like green, strong.
It smells like sex. When I slice it,
I find the beginning of a new plant,
stem ready to be born,
but I cut it. She is thinking
about taking out her uterus, leaving
it behind like so much uncared for sex.
I'm open, split from the sternum down,
sorry and wanting. I need to be filled.
I once saw a painting of a cow.
Its side was like an open porthole,
and there were trees, a forest, a river inside
Not what you'd expect in the cow's dull eyes.
A space in me needs another woman,
someone with solid bones. So I can feel.