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Spring 2000, Volume 17.3

Poetry

 

Laraine Wilkins photo of Laraine Wilkins.

Laraine Wilkins claims Idaho as her home state but has lived most of her life in Utah. She has worked as a language teacher, technical writer, and software support technician. Currently she is a Ph.D. student in German literature at Harvard University.

 

How Long

How long 
since I last saw my younger brother grown
two heads taller but maybe that's only because
he's grown five layers thinner. Come up
from San Diego to Salt Lake City to be redeemed
dried out pockets cleaned the cobwebs of his palms
catching in my hair as he bear-hugs me whispers
"Just a month." Car retrieved by the repo man
who's glad my brother's honest now even though
it means he wants to borrow the BMW in the driveway
with the JSS license plates (dial 9 for Jesus)
so he can find a job again since the first one lined up
didn't work when they let him go and he came home
to sleep it off for a few days with milk and ashes
and the missing bread turned burnt now and then.

His eyes in my kitchen framed by a profile
of gaunt cheeks hollowed eyes and slackened pants
I ask him if he's had an AIDS test yet. Not yet they
charge for it here how long can they expect us
to come in when you have to make an appointment
two weeks ahead of time and even have to pay.
Besides I know I'm going to live forever
I just know. And Michael is lying
when he says he's got HIV he does it just
to shock me he says wrists limping stiff
against his ribs. His coat reminds me
of the images of Jews in old war films
wearing stars on their wool thickness
placed gently as lambs below fur collars.
Nobody in Utah wears coats like that.
Did they resurrect him from Auschwitz
and bring him here as my dead brother for me
to wonder how long his luck will run and how long
his nails are.

At night in bed I listen to his deafening pleas
on the phone chidings to Michael left behind
who's moving up here soon he just doesn't know it yet.
The phone bill's arrival thuds me to my feet
when I read there's a price to pay that rivals
human grief and pull to go again and not give in.
Perhaps he's used to those jobs for the cable
companies that hire phone solicitors by the dozens
because business is booming. His gift should be offered
to the Blarney stone so that twice the number
of tourists will come to finger the stitch in his side
and smell the soapy menthol in his hair. Or
perhaps twice the young-girl neighbors
ready to celebrate his birthday two months later
with admiration for his enthusiasm that inspires them
all the more as they remember their children whose fathers or grandparents
have custody and they learn to make it on their own
clean and dry. And by now Michael's here and shares
with my brother the pull-out futon in my living room
that smells like a used up gym every time I come home
from work wishing I could do something
with my yard but knowing it's better if I help
my daughter with her homework or spin a tale
with her before it's time to sleep. Because we never know
how long.

 

Breaking Bread Above the Waters

Sunday evening flights are often full,
but one empty seat opens up the space
between me and another passenger.
Legs tightly wadded around my bags
I eye him from the side to note his early
middle age, black jeans and shirt, gobs
of gold to bedeck his hands and adorn
his neck. So much forced conversation
with strangers in the last two days, I want
now to blot out these new distractions,
potential communion with persons
knotted in yet other relations.

The walls of my book bury me until dinner
is announced. Cold chicken or hot, salad
or teriyaki. Senses stimulated we begin
to raise our heads, crumble these ranks,
roll away stones to break bread. My turn
to order, I choose chicken, hot or cold
she asks, I say hot. Before he begins to eat
my seat partner bows head and ends with hand
to cross his chest, lifts his lids and asks
if I'm from Salt Lake. He explains
he is going to school for railroad switch
training. What is there to do? I tell him
Temple Square and Mormons and Red
Iguana Killer Mexican Food and
Cathedral of the Madeline, my best tips.
He's from Chicago and I look closer
at the shining medal below his chin,
an anchor, the sea of Mary, la mère. His
two children are smart, one learns fast,
the other a smart-ass. He didn't know
you could get Mexican food in Utah, didn't
know who Mormons are, didn't know
his company cared enough to pay for him
and one other guy to part the lake back home
to discover salt out here, didn't know a life
could change with a parcel of cheap land for boys
to come play in the wide dry desert air.
I ask about his life in the City didn't know
the neighborhood church would go down
in graffiti, didn't know on the other hand
the Italian, Greek, Polish sections of town
would flourish. Great food, I think, that's
the reason, as I tear another bit of crust
from my roll.

Soon the meal ends, and I return to my book,
but didn't know the view outside would
pull me in. The land of a thousand lakes
has receded behind and I wonder who else
in the cabin feels the tugging sensation.
My nose pressed lightly against the hard
plexi-panel, I almost feel the two drops
of condensation streak down the inside

of the outside window, first one, then the
other, in precisely the place where two eyes
might be, as if the pane were a face, as if
it were a mirror of my face. Having lost
my place in the book, I turn to the skies
and loose a defiant heel toward heaven
to reach for the unknown holder of my
fate far below.

 

Make Yourself At Home

Over two years now, and still
you sit on the edge of my couch
with such politic presence,
feet planted properly, hands
folded neatly as the napkins
scheduled at your taciturn
insistence at every breaking
of bread.

I want to be
enfolded by you, overwhelmed,
flooded, wrung out by you,
smothered by your world,
the neat folds coming
only after years of tangling
and knotting ourselves around
a weighted, shifting balance,
untamed,
until we each have been
each other's time,
each other's baby
and feel each other's corners,
anticipate the cries
and know to dance in step,
dance in step, dance
to any tune
or any fret.

 

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