Woman With Girdle

Your midriff sags toward your knees;

your breasts lie down in air, their nipples as uninvolved as warm starfish.

You stand in your elastic case, still not giving up the new-born and the old-born cycle.

Moving, you roll down the garment, down that pink snapper and hoarder, as your belly, soft as pudding, slops into the empty space;

down, over the surgeon's careful mark, down over hips, those head cushions and mouth cushions, slow motion like a rolling pin, over crisp hairs, that amazing field that hides your genius from your patron;

over thighs, thick as young pigs, over knees like saucers, over calves, polished as leather, down toward the feet.

You pause for a moment, tying your ankles into knots.

Now you rise, a city from the sea, born long before Alexandria was, straightway from God you have come into your redeeming skin.

THE HOUSE In dreams the same bad dream goes on.

Like some gigantic German toy the house has been rebuilt upon its kelly-green lawn.

The same dreadful set, the same family of orange and pink faces carved and dressed up like puppets who wait for their jaws to open and shut.

Nineteen forty-two, nineteen forty-three, nineteen forty-four...

They've rationed the gas for all three cars.

The Lincoln Continental breathes in its stall, a hopped up greyhound waiting to be sprung.

The Irish boy who dated her

(lace curtain Irish, her mother said)

urges her through the lead-colored garages to feel the patent-leather fenders and peek at the mileage.

All that money!

and kisses too.

Kisses that stick in the mouth like the vinegar candy she used to pull with her buttery fingers, pull until it was white like a dog's bone, white, thick and impossible to chew.

Father, an exact likeness, his face bloated and pink with black market scotch, sits out his monthly bender in his custom-made pajamas and shouts, his tongue as quick as galloping horses, shouts into the long distance telephone call. His mouth is as wide as his kiss.

Mother, with just the right gesture, kicks her shoes off, but is made all wrong, impossibly frumpy as she sits there in her alabaster dressing room sorting her diamonds like a bank teller to see if they add up.

The maid as thin as a popsicle stick, holds dinner as usual, rubs her angry knuckles over the porcelain sink and grumbles at the gun-shy bird dog. She knows something is going on. She pricks a baked potato.

The aunt, older than all the crooked women in The Brothers Grimm, leans by a gooseneck lamp in her second floor suite, turns up her earphone to eavesdrop and continues to knit, her needles working like kitchen shears and her breasts blown out like two pincushions.

The houseboy, a quick-eyed Filipino, slinks by like a Japanese spy from French Provincial room to French Provincial room, emptying the ash trays and plumping up the down upholstery.

His jacket shines, old shiny black, a wise undertaker.

The milkman walks in his cartoon every other day in the snoozy dawn, rattling his bottles like a piggy bank. And gardeners come, six at a time, pulling petunias and hairy angel bells up through the mulch.

This one again, made vaguely and cruelly, one eye green and one eye blue, has the only major walk-on so far, has walked from her afternoon date past the waiting baked potatoes, past the flashing back of the Japanese spy, up the cotton batten stairs, past the clicking and unclicking of the earphone, turns here at the hall by the diamonds that she'll never earn and the bender that she kissed last night among thick set stars, the floating bed and the strange white key ...

up like a skein of yarn, up another flight into the penthouse, to slam the door on all the years she'll have to live through ...

the sailor who she won't with, the boys who will walk on from Andover, Exeter and St. Marks, the boys who will walk off with pale unlined faces, to slam the door on all the days she'll stay the same and never ask why and never think who to ask, to slam the door and rip off her orange blouse.

Father, father, I wish J were dead.

At thirty-five she'll dream she's dead or else she'll dream she's back. All day long the house sits larger than Russia gleaming like a cured hide in the sun.

All day long the machine waits: rooms, stairs, carpets, furniture, people —

those people who stand at the open windows like objects waiting to topple.


We are fishermen in a flat scene.

All day long we are in love with water.

The fish are naked.

The fish are always awake.

They are the color of old spoons and caramels.

The sun reaches down but the floor is not in sight.

Only the rocks are white and green.

Who knows what goes on in the halls below?

It's queer to meet the loon falling in across the top of the yellow lake like a checkered hunchback dragging his big feet. Only his head and neck can breathe. He yodels.

He goes under yodeling like the first mate who sways all night in his hammock, calling I have seen, I have seen.

Water is worse than woman. It calls to a man to empty him. Under us twelve princesses dance all night, exhausting their lovers, then giving them I have known water.

I have sung all night for the last cargo of boys.

I have sung all night for the mouths that float back later, one by one, holding a lady's wornout shoe.

WALLFLOWER Come friend,

Sit down beside me and listen. My face is red with sorrow and my breasts are made of straw. I sit in the ladder-back chair in a corner of the polished stage. I have forgiven all the old actors for dying. A new one comes on with the same lines, like large white growths, in his mouth. The dancers come on from the wings, perfectly mated.

I look up. The ceiling is pearly. My thighs press, knotting in their treasure. Upstage the bride falls in satin to the floor. Beside her the tall hero in a red wool robe stirs the fire with his ivory cane. The string quartet plays for itself, gently, gently, sleeves and waxy bows. The legs of the dancers leap and catch. I myself have little stiff legs, my back is as straight as a book and how I came to this place — the little feverish roses, the islands of olives and radishes, the blissful pastimes of the parlor — I'J] never know.


Some women marry houses.

It's another kind of skin; it has a heart, a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.

The walls are permanent and pink.

See how she sits on her knees all day, faithfully washing herself down.

Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah into their fleshy mothers.

A woman is her mother.

That's the main thing.


Old man, it's four flights up and for what? Your room is hardly any bigger than your bed. Puffing as you climb, you are a brown woodcut stooped over the thin rail and the wornout tread.

The room will do. All that's left of the old life is fampacked on shelves from floor to ceiling like a supermarket: your books, your dead wife generously fat in her polished frame, the congealing bowl of cornflakes sagging in their instant milk, your hot plate and your one luxury, a telephone.

You leave your door open, lounging in maroon silk and smiling at the other roomers who live alone. Well, almost alone. Through the old-fashioned wall the fellow next door has a girl who comes to call.

Twice a week at noon during their lunch hour they pause by your door to peer into your world. They speak sadly as if the wine they carry would sour or as if the mattress would not keep them curled together, extravagantly young in their tight lock. Old man, you are their father holding court in the dingy hall until their alarm clock rings and unwinds them. You unstopper the quart of brandy you've saved, examining the small print in the telephone book. The phone in your lap is all that's left of your family name. Like a Romanoff prince you stay the same in your small alcove off the hall. Castaway, your time is a flat sea that doesn't stop, with no new land to make for and no new stories to swap.

2. Seamstress

I'm at pains to know what else I could have done but move out of his parish, him being my son;

him being the only one at home since his Pa left us to beat the Japs at Okinawa.

I put the gold star up in the front window beside the flag. Alterations is what I know and what I did: hems, gussets and seams. When my boy had the fever and the bad dreams

I paid for the clinic exam and a pack of lies. As a youngster his private parts were undersize.

I thought of his Pa, that muscly old laugh he had and the boy was thin as a moth, but never once bad, as smart as a rooster! To hear some neighbors tell, Your kid! He'll go far. He'll marry well.

So when he talked of taking the cloth, I thought I'd talk him out of it. You're all I got,

I told him. For six years he studied up. I prayed against God Himself for my boy. But he stayed.

Christ was a hornet inside his head. I guess I'd better stitch the zipper in this dress.

I guess I'll get along. I always did. Across the hall from me's an old invalid, aside of him, a young one — he carries on with a girl who pretends she comes to use the john.

The old one with bad breath and his bed all mussed, he smiles and talks to them. He's got some crust.

Sure as hell, what else could I have done but pack up and move in here, him being my son?

3. Young Girl

Dear love, as simple as some distant evil we walk a little drunk up these three flights where you tacked a Dufy print above your army cot.

The thin apartment doors on the way up will not tell on us. We are saying, we have our rights and let them see the sandwiches and wine we bought for we do not explain my husband's insane abuse and we do not say why your wild-haired wife has fled or that my father opened like a walnut and then was dead. Your palms fold over me like knees. Love is the only use.

Both a little drunk in the middle afternoon with the forgotten smart of August on our skin we hold hands as if we still were children who trudge up the wooden tower, on up past that close platoon of doors, past the dear old man who always asks us in and the one who sews like a wasp and will not budge.

Climbing the dark halls, I ignore their papers and pails, the twelve coats of rubbish of someone else's dim life. Tell them need is an excuse for love. Tell them need prevails. Tell them I remake and smooth your bed and am your wife.

For Comfort who was actually my grandfather

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