Fall 1988, Volume 5.2

Rita Kiefer


It's almost winter. Late
afternoons - look - black
trees won't stop having ideas
on the gold horizon. Not a tidy scene
I think a CT Scan and naked dark
branches hold our story.

Outside, a single yucca pod
the salesman's desperate wife
shouts attention must be paid

and one by one each
evening salmon burst open;
an alchemy of sky.

This fall
I haven't
counted mistakes.


Certain Words

for Sister Dorothy Kazel

A fated choice brings us
to certain words.

Octavio Paz

The deaths, a matter of

Alexander Haig


Slim hints in meter: a caption,
strands of pearls on prom night, hair
delicate on a fiance's shoulder.
Those four years scattered through
dark leather: Notre Dame Academy.
Class of '57. Senior

President. Our Dorothy, most
likely to succeed.


Earlier strewings from trunks.
Tinted girls in pamphlets of
far times. Delicate shades.
At twelve we would imitate
them, hands crossed over their
new breasts through tunics
that showed enough for Roman soldiers.
Cecilia. Agnes. Perpetua.
Be it done to me
on their composed faces.

Saints photographed easy then.


Eighteen-year-old, from your blue Rambler
you view a Cleveland underworld,
streets raining a litany of
weathered faces. Downtown men in
oversized coats play with
their hopeless middle-age fixed
on stone benches in Public
Square, where bag ladies feed and
feed the pigeons.

Shaker Heights
wives in permanent smiles
point their Mercedes toward bourbon
tucked between cedar chest furs.
Hough Avenue
garbage doubles for grass and you remember
how Ceil Roderick signed and lip read,
her smooth long palms speaking to
the hungry black skin of six children,
a husband, part-time, numbing.


Tenacious as slow rain
words change a life.

I've no choice
you told Marilyn Chapas and
bartered the diamond on your left hand
for plain silver on the right to
sleep twenty years alone under
convent muslin. Your body absent as white,
winged over water fonts, as grooves
on mahogany prayer stalls where you cradled
predictable Lives of Saints
instead of children in your lap.


One look, a last wave. Then Salvador. The first Christmas you sent snapshots: Juan Pedro tiny and swollen between the collapsed nipples of Rosa. People propped everywhere. Against fences, fronts of infirmaries. On the steps of Escuela Libre. Free. Images. No words about killing.


That night, December 2,1980. A game.
Tag. Headlights like lasers searing,
polar and deep as the last star.
A game. Red-rover Red-rover
let Sister come over.

Flashlights, five drunken fireflies
coding the air

(and we are
children again trapping summer
insects in glass jars, watching
their bright Ohio release into skies.)

Then five games. Each had his turn
in your body. One bullet wheezed
your blond skull exploded.

(Ring-around-the ...
ashes . . . ashes. . . they all fall down.)

Reports, clear as shots villagers remember. The women broke barricades on a deserted road. Rifles fired for warning. Violated law. The law! Hours of hide-and-seek. Then found under common leaves: you, the three others. On near stumps the blue heat of flies waking as workers raked death in dried blood, pulp, hair. Some blouses backwards, half a face blown away, ankles ringed with underclothes twisted as new versions: Misguided soldiers. They will be apprehended. Ambassador White dismissed for: Truth, not cover-up. Haig's response: case closed.

Back in safe states, wrapped in
Montaldo's pink plush,
Southern Comfort in crystals
on our bedstands,
we watched your face swelling
the screen. No eye able to hold
you, no shutter enough for
gathering the pieces.

Now some nights in sleep we rehearse
rifle music or wild birds violating
roses. Jeep tracks at the side of a road.
Some nights we gather in dreams
Chalatenango, your last unraveling:
I am here to give hope
to the children.

Mama! Mama!
Tell my best story again.
The one of the man
they found under the world,
and a locked box just
certain words would open.

Once upon a time I knew this woman ....

From Your Unknown Friend Across the World

for Irina Ratushinskaya

Crystals ice your scalp and cell
every winter those shaved years.
New stubble at 29 sprouts grey.

Across the world, I know a husband
(you, three years without yours),
the pink comfort of sheets,
cream sherry lacing two crystals
delicate on our nightstand.
Sometimes, after love, your words:
I am not afraid to die.

Today, just before Reykjavik,
someone gestured and you breathed
the first air of Kiev
three years after the interrogator
coiled your lines.
At the trial they hissed.

In this room across the world 1 hold
a life carved those years into poems
with burnt matchsticks on
bars of soap small as the palm
of your hand and memorized
before you washed your body.

Childless Poet

When you have none
every face
you see
might be yours.