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Fall 2006, Volume 23.1

Poetry

Nancy BurkePhoto of Nancy Burke.


Nancy Burke received her PhD from the University of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Rhino, Green Mountains Review, Seattle Review, River King, Alligator Juniper and Mangrove. She has published in psychoanalytic journals on such topics as the anorexia of language, women and solitude, psychotic boyscouts and internal separation anxiety, and is the editor of Gender and Envy (Routledge).

 

Lessons

My mother said:
This is how to love spinach,
And vacuuming, and spiders.
This is how to love the color beige
And herring, all those saltwater fish and
The smell of your grandfatherís sweat
And my thumbnail
Pulling and pulling at the knots in your hair,
Tying the loose strands back
In a tight, dung-colored bow.
She had so much faith in me,
Was sure I could embrace
The ghoulish figures in the
Grain of the closed door,
The creaking that came down
From nowhere,
The widening bedsheet tear.
I disappointed her;
Never showed even a glimmer
Of progress, though recently Iíve wondered
What might have happened
Had she been less ambitious, and
Started me on easier things,
Crayons, for instance,
Or Old King Cole, or the
Tall proud grasses that, all along,
Had fringed the weathered porch,
Singing softly of hope.
How far back would I have had to go
To love her now,
To look, without suffering, at
Her forearms on the bedsheet,
Circling the place it had been sown?

 

Hands

One of my hands
Is a child,
Pliant and grasping, never still,
Anxious.
Always pulling on something;
The other can barely stand it.
That one is crumpled, and
Wants to forget
The texture of windows,
And water,
And resents the swallows, with their
Swiveling heads,
Their feathers smooth as sand.
How will they get along, those two,
When each finds the other
Insufferable,
And each has its scars,
One fewer, one more,
And the weight is far greater
Than they can lift together?
Everyone pities them;
I do, watching them squabble
Like a mother and child,
And the swallow, who leans in,
Pressing its beak to the glass,
Aware that what
Falls through the
Spaces between them was once,
And still is,
Food.

 

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