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Fall 2004, Volume 22.1

Poetry

Cynthia L. Monroe

 

Cynthia L. Monroe, (BA Arizona, MLS Maryland) was born in Virginia, grew up in Arizona, and now lives in Connecticut, where she is a freelance writer, indexer and editor. Her poems have appeared in Antietam Review, Greensboro Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, The South Carolina Review and South Dakota Review.



Grounded

And then there was that time Kim and I were on the Ferris wheel, lights
all a blur around us, crowd noise at a distance far below. We were having
a good time `til they decided to stop the ride with us right at the very top.
There we were, swinging back and forth, nothing around us but the night

air and the stars. I began to shout, "Save yourself, Kim," over and over
because I knew I was going to die if we didn't start moving. Kim was
laughing madly, letting go of the lap bar, raising her hands high, making
me scream even louder. After a few more spins, we were on the ground.

As we walked away past the ticket taker, Kim punched me in the back.
"Fool," she said, and she was right. I don't know why fear gets a hold
of me sometimes. We were just visiting Red Lake Falls that July, thank
God. It's way too cold up there, in my opinion. When folks said Kim and

me didn't look that related, I just told them we were. How was too much
trouble to explain and, actually, nobody's business. Late that night while
we were curled up under quilts on the living room floor, watching TV,
my cousin said she was just certain there were new kittens somewhere

in the barn. Everyone was up at dawn, down in the kitchen, even Kim
and me. As we were sitting there, eating our eggs and bacon, I thought
I heard the sound of geese. I took my toast out to the porch for a look.
They weren't geese at all, but swans, flying in a jagged V. The biggest

birds I'd ever seen, bigger than the heron I surprised once dipping into
a stream. Bigger than eagles or vultures, even. Each swan had its neck
stretched out straight and was flapping its wings like Pegasus from that
legend, strong and white against the grayish sky, heading east for some

reason. After breakfast everyone rushed off to do what they had to on
the farm. My cousin wanted to show us the calf she was raising, so we
followed her out to the barn. She pet his ears and said she hoped he'd
get sold soon, then ran off to weed in the garden, like she'd been told.

Kim and I decided to climb the loft and see if we could find the kittens.
We slipped and laughed a lot, but never did spot them. We heard them
though, plenty of times, mewing with their tiny, mice-y voices. We left
after we saw the momcat with a rat in her mouth, heading across a beam

to a crack in the hay, her secret way to get to the place where she had hid
them. Even then, I knew it was bad luck to interfere too much with nature,
so we decided to let them be, figuring that they were probably doing OK,
and if any of them weren't, it wasn't really up to us that day. Later, sitting

in the back of a pickup, wearing the flowered shorts I made in Home Ec
class and my worn-out tennis shoes, my cousin at the wheel, idling at
the edge of a wheat field, I had to wonder about the kind of land that goes
on so flat forever—how it stops one man dead in his tracks and not most

others. There's nothing special about geography, not when you've been
around a bit. And it's not the weather; elements are the same everywhere
to some extent. Maybe it's just some people have a knack for knowing
where they're supposed to be when they get there. Others go round and

round until they meet some thing that grounds them, like lost relatives
or a legal fix. That summer, Kim and me got into tons of trouble. Wore
our shirts half-buttoned. Lazed in a hammock when we should have been
helping. Kept in our bare feet around the "dangerous farm machinery."

We flirted with the older boys, let `em kiss us and some other things.
It took me weeks to lose the fake Canadian accent, but Kim still says
a few words funny. Well, naturally—she's got more than a little French
in her genes. If you think about it, all of us is carrying inside the strange

and inexplicable ways of a lot of folks we never knew. Might come out
as a hatred of tomatoes or a pull toward the sea, a fear of heights or
a tendency to motion sickness. Here's how it is with me. I need more
than stars to keep my bearings. I need a mountain or river, some rock

or a tree to set in my view, something to keep me from getting dizzy
with all the traveling we do. Deep inside I know the place I really come
from is not the same as any place I've ever been, and someday, I'm going
to get there again. By fall, we were home in the desert, and Kim was over

for the holiday. After the meal, my dad fell asleep in his reclining chair
in front of the Vikings' game. Kim said it was from all the turkey; wine
is what I was thinking. She leaned over toward me on the sofa and said,
"Next month I'm moving to Alaska. My mom got a job there with real

good pay." I was speechless. "Come on," she offered, "I'll help you do
the dishes." She wet the sponge in hot running water and handed me
a towel. I wiped a few plates, then I couldn't help it. I gripped the rail
on the oven door with both hands and began to cry. "You know it takes

money to live. There's food and tires and rent and shit. You gotta go
where you can make it." "But, Alaska?" "Sand and sun is everywhere,
no different," she said. "But, it'll be cold there—maybe fifty below."
Kim shrugged, "There's things in this world you just gotta get used to."

 

Sanctuary

Late Saturday night a truck ran off the road and careened
right into the neighborhood, taking out six lengths of split
rail fence, two tool sheds and a doghouse before finally
coming to rest on a freshly dug flower bed. Whole families

woke up and ran to their back yards, the belts of their robes
left undone, flashlights flailing. This was the third accident
of the day on Lookout Lane. The first, just some girl going
too fast; the second, an old man well-known for drinking too

much; and this one, caused by a guy too tired to be driving
and down on his luck. The truck gate had come unlatched
from the force and flew open. In the weak light of morning
just coming on, at least a dozen people came tumbling out.

Overwhelmed by the strong smell of bodies long kept in
confinement, some parents yelled at their kids to get back
in the house. One man from the truck stayed to help those
who'd been hurt, and the rest scattered off into the park.

The man said they were promised work in a chicken plant,
that they decided to leave when they were sure the mines
were played out. No more silver or zinc, no more copper
or lead. No more of the bitter tailings dust that found its

way into everyone's breath. When the cops arrived, they saw
the driver was dead. The injured were spread out on the grass,
draped with pastel blue blankets and cloud printed sheets. No,
nobody had seen a thing, and they said so, as a wrecker with

rotating lights hauled away the massive metal truck remains.
At breakfast, a mother tried to explain to her son. "The law
says they have to go back where they came from." "But what
if no one can find them?" "Well, then, I guess they can stay."


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