And One For My Dame

A born salesman, my father made all his dough by selling wool to Fieldcrest, Woolrich and Faribo.

A born talker, he could sell one hundred wet-down bales of that white stuff. He could clock the miles and sales and make it pay.

At home each sentence he would utter had first pleased the buyer who'd paid him off in butter.

Each word had been tried over and over, at any rate, on the man who was sold by the man who filled my plate.

My father hovered over the Yorkshire pudding and the beef: a peddler, a hawker, a merchant and an Indian chief.

Roosevelt! Willkie! and war! How suddenly gauche I was with my old-maid heart and my funny teenage applause.

Each night at home my father was in love with maps while the radio fought its battles with Nazis and Japs.

Except when he hid in his bedroom on a three-day drunk, he typed out complex itineraries, packed his trunk, his matched luggage and pocketed a confirmed reservation, his heart already pushing over the red routes of the nation.

I sit at my desk each night with no place to go, opening the wrinkled maps of Milwaukee and Buffalo, the whole U.S., its cemeteries, its arbitrary time zones, through routes like small veins, capitals like small stones.

He died on the road, his heart pushed from neck to back, his white hanky signaling from the window of the Cadillac.

My husband, as blue-eyed as a picture book, sells wool: boxes of card waste, laps and rovings he can pull to the thread and say Leicester, Rambouillet, Merino, a half-blood, it's greasy and thick, yellow as old snow.

And when you drive off, my darling,

Yes, sir! Yes, sir! It's one for my dame, your sample cases branded with my father's name, your itinerary open, its tolls ticking and greedy, its highways built up like new loves, raw and speedy.

January 25,1962


I have heard of fish coming up for the sun who stayed forever, shoulder to shoulder, avenues of fish that never got back, all their proud spots and solitudes sucked out of them.

I think of flies who come from their foul caves out into the arena.

They are transparent at first.

Then they are blue with copper wings.

They glitter on the foreheads of men.

Neither bird nor acrobat they will dry out like small black shoes.

I am an identical being.

Diseased by the cold and the smell of the house I undress under the burning magnifying glass. My skin flattens out like sea water.

0 yellow eye, let me be sick with your heat, let me be feverish and frowning. Now I am utterly given.

1 am your daughter, your sweet-meat, your priest, your mouth and your bird and I will tell them all stories of you until I am laid away forever, a thin gray banner.

May 1962


Ma faim, Anne, Anne, Fuis sur ton ane . . . Rimbaud

Because there was no other place to flee to,

I came back to the scene of the disordered senses, came back last night at midnight, arriving in the thick June night without luggage or defenses, giving up my car keys and my cash, keeping only a pack of Salem cigarettes the way a child holds on to a toy. I signed myself in where a stranger puts the inked-in X's — for this is a mental hospital, not a child's game.

Today an interne knocks my knees, testing for reflexes.

Once I would have winked and begged for dope. Today I am terribly patient. Today crows play black-jack on the stethoscope.

Everyone has left me except my muse, that good nurse. She stays in my hand, a mild white mouse.

The curtains, lazy and delicate, billow and flutter and drop like the Victorian skirts of my two maiden aunts who kept an antique shop.

Hornets have been sent.

They cluster like floral arrangements on the screen.

Hornets, dragging their thin stingers, hover outside, all knowing, hissing: the hornet knows.

I heard it as a child but what was it that he meant?

The hornet knows!

What happened to Jack and Doc and Reggy?

Who remembers what lurks in the heart of man? What did The Green Hornet mean, he knows? Or have I got it wrong? Is it The Shadow who had seen me from my bedside radio?

while the ladies in the next room argue and pick their teeth.

Upstairs a girl curls like a snail;

in another room someone tries to eat a shoe;

meanwhile an adolescent pads up and down the hall in his white tennis socks.

A new doctor makes rounds advertising tranquilizers, insulin, or shock to the uninitiated.

Six years of such small preoccupations! Six years of shuttling in and out of this place!

0 my hunger! My hunger!

1 could have gone around the world twice or had new children — all boys.

It was a long trip with little days in it and no new places.

In here, it's the same old crowd, the same ruined scene.

The alcoholic arrives with his golf clubs.

The suicide arrives with extra pills sewn into the lining of her dress.

The permanent guests have done nothing new.

Their faces are still small like babies with jaundice.

Meanwhile, they carried out my mother, wrapped like somebody's doll, in sheets, bandaged her jaw and stuffed up her holes.

My father, too. He went out on the rotten blood he used up on other women in the Middle West.

He went out, a cured old alcoholic on crooked feet and useless hands.

He went out calling for his father who died all by himself long ago —

that fat banker who got locked up, his genes suspended like dollars, wrapped up in his secret, tied up securely in a straitjacket.

But you, my doctor, my enthusiast, were better than Christ; you promised me another world to tell me who I was.

I spent most of my time, a stranger, damned and in trance — that little hut, that naked blue-veined place, my eyes shut on the confusing office, eyes circling into my childhood, eyes newly cut. Years of hints strung out — a serialized case history —

thirty-three years of the same dull incest that sustained us both.

You, my bachelor analyst, who sat on Marlborough Street, sharing your office with your mother and giving up cigarettes each New Year, were the new God, the manager of the Gideon Bible.

I was your third-grader with a blue star on my forehead.

In trance I could be any age, voice, gesture — all turned backward like a drugstore clock.

Awake, I memorized dreams.

Dreams came into the ring like third string fighters, each one a bad bet who might win because there was no other.

I stared at them, concentrating on the abyss the way one looks down into a rock quarry, uncountable miles down, my hands swinging down like hooks to pull dreams up out of their cage.

0 my hunger! My hunger!

Once, outside your office,

1 collapsed in the old-fashioned swoon between the illegally parked cars.

I threw myself down, pretending dead for eight hours.

I thought I had died into a snowstorm.

Above my head chains cracked along like teeth digging their way through the snowy street.

I lay there like an overcoat that someone had thrown away. You carried me back in, awkwardly, tenderly, with the help of the red-haired secretary who was built like a lifeguard.

My shoes, I remember, were lost in the snowbank as if I planned never to walk again.

That was the winter that my mother died, half mad on morphine, blown up, at last, like a pregnant pig. I was her dreamy evil eye. In fact,

I carried a knife in my pocketbook — my husband's good L. L. Bean hunting knife. I wasn't sure if I should slash a tire or scrape the guts out of some dream.

You taught me to believe in dreams; thus I was the dredger.

I held them like an old woman with arthritic fingers, carefully straining the water out —

sweet dark playthings, and above all, mysterious until they grew mournful and weak.

0 my hunger! My hunger!

1 was the one who opened the warm eyelid like a surgeon and brought forth young girls to grunt like fish.

that the knife was for my mother ... and then I delivered her.

The curtains flutter out and slump against the bars.

They are my two thin ladies named Blanche and Rose.

The grounds outside are pruned like an estate at Newport.

Far off, in the field, something yellow grows.

Was it last month or last year that the ambulance ran like a hearse with its siren blowing on suicide — Dinn, dinn, dinn! —

a noon whistle that kept insisting on life all the way through the traffic lights?

I have come back but disorder is not what it was.

I have lost the trick of it!

The innocence of it!

That fellow-patient in his stovepipe hat with his fiery joke, his manic smile —

even he seems blurred, small and pale.

I have come back, recommitted, fastened to the wall like a bathroom plunger, held like a prisoner who was so poor he fell in love with jail.

I stand at this old window complaining of the soup, examining the grounds, allowing myself the wasted life. Soon I will raise my face for a white flag, and when God enters the fort, I won't spit or gag on his finger. I will eat it like a white flower. Is this the old trick, the wasting away, the skull that waits for its dose of electric power?

This is madness but a kind of hunger.

What good are my questions in this hierarchy of death where the earth and the stones go

Dinn! Dinn! Dinn!

It is hardly a feast.

It is my stomach that makes me suffer.

Turn, my hungers! For once make a deliberate decision. There are brains that rot here like black bananas.

Hearts have grown as flat as dinner plates.

Anne, Anne, flee on your donkey, flee this sad hotel, ride out on some hairy beast, gallop backward pressing your buttocks to his withers, sit to his clumsy gait somehow.

Ride out any old way you please!

In this place everyone talks to his own mouth.

That's what it means to be crazy.

Those I loved best died of it — the fool's disease.

June 1962


Half awake in my Sunday nap I see three green windows in three different lights — one west, one south, one east. I have forgotten that old friends are dying. I have forgotten that I grow middle-aged. At each window such rustlings! The trees persist, yeasty and sensuous, as thick as saints.

I see three wet gargoyles covered with birds. Their skins shine in the sun like leather.

I'm on my bed as light as a sponge. Soon it will be summer. She is my mother.

She will tell me a story and keep me asleep against her plump and fruity skin. I see leaves —

leaves that are washed and innocent, leaves that never knew a cellar, born in their own green blood like the hands of mermaids.

I do not think of the rusty wagon on the walk. I pay no attention to the red squirrels that leap like machines beside the house. I do not remember the real trunks of the trees that stand beneath the windows as bulky as artichokes. I turn like a giant, secretly watching, secretly knowing, secretly naming each elegant sea.

I have misplaced the Van Allen belt, the sewers and the drainage, the urban renewal and the suburban centers.

I have forgotten the names of the literary critics.

I know what I know.

I am the child I was, living the life that was mine.

I am young and half asleep.

It is a time of water, a time of trees.

June 1962

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