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Linda Pastan
Wanting Red Hair in October
so the fire that burns
through my body
can blaze up in flames
around my face
so when I meet you
in the woods
I’ll be well camouflaged
no one will notice
so in winter
when the snow comes
it won’t matter
if my hair turns white
W. Dale Nelson
Alternating Current
“Put extra blankets on the bed,”
you said, in a tone not quite
reproach. “It will be cold
tonight.” “Well,” I said,
“I did it last night; we can take
turns remembering.” So, at odd
times, we relive warm nights,
the lights at the county fair, the snow
we walked through toward the creek
and every blessed thing
we can take turns remembering.
Judith Tate O’Brien
Ditch Lilies
Let the beauty of love be what we do.
It beats me why they dress in silk when all they do is stand
knee-deep in leaf mould and beer cans, breathing diesel
fumes spewed along Kelley Avenue. But I like the way
they take the Sufi poet’s advice to reveal their love
in what they do. What they do is dance. What they love
is brisk breeze for a partner. Sometimes they solo: bend
six sun-tinted petals from the waist like synchronized
water dancers touching unseen toes in a back-bending ballet.
Along with cattails, these androgynous beauties thrive
in depressions along roads the county neglects to mow.
Unlike their domesticated progeny—elegant in embroidered
kimonos—ditch lilies have never seen a pergola or koi pond.
They’ve never slept in weed-free garden beds. Yesterday I
broke the law and cut a dancer. I placed it in a vase. It didn’t
last a day. Ditch lilies step only to the rhythm of wind.
Mather Schneider
Bath Day
After we got electricity
once a week we heated water
in big pots on the stove
and poured it into the old
bathtub my dad found at the dump
it took three pots to fill the
tub up to about 6 inches
which was all we got
and the water was never very hot
by that time
me and my sister shared the same water
we took turns going first
then my mom got her own water
which took another hour to fill
my dad didn’t have the patience
he bathed in the creek
all winter long
the water ran fast enough
to prevent freezing
you could hear him hollering down there
like a sick bear
it was funny
we laughed so hard
it almost kept us warm
Roberta Murphy
from Heart Throbs
            Since my mother ran off to London four months ago with her best friend, Fran Hiller, my father and my grandmother have been trying to make it up to me with food.  Every school day at lunchtime, instead of queuing up for the County Grammar’s inferior fare, I go to Grandma’s for a feast.  Every evening, my father brings home pastries from Henri’s Fancy Bakery.  Their theory must be, If we stuff her stomach, she won’t eat her heart out.   They don’t know what’s really going on.  It’s like in the French Revolution we’re studying in History.   A tyrant exiled, liberté for the underling.  That’s how I see it now.  At the time, it was more Charles Dickens or Elvis, all misery and heartbreak.   
            “Don’t fret, love,” shesaid, that bleak winter morning in Avon Fach train station. “The time will go fast.  I’ll write to you every week.”
            “And we’ll return with the daffodils,” Fran Hiller trilled.
              They were all dressed up, show-off Fran in her mink, ma mere in a fake leopard skin jacket and matching pillbox.  People boarding the train were staring, wondering, Are they models?  Are they aristocrats, fleeing Avon Fach?  No one looked at me in my horrible navy school coat, dismissing me as their little bonne, sans doute.
            Fran said to the porter, “Put our luggage in First Class.”  She was paying for everything with the money her husband forked out when he left her.  “Let go of your mother,” she said to me.  “Act your age.  You’re fourteen not four.”
            “It’s hard on her, Fran,” my mother said. “The first time we’ve been parted.  Stop crying, Jess.  It’s not forever, just a little break.” Then the station-master blew his whistle, and she kissed me quick and leaped into the carriage, calling, “Back soon.  Be good,” and the train pulled out, leaving me sniveling and shivering in the February sleet.
            Soon is long gone, and so is good.  I’m not crying anymore.  Au contraire, Marie, I eat cake, as much as I want, and listen to the King instead of doing homework.  I’m in heaps of trouble at school, but Frankly, I don’t give a damn, to quote you, quoting your favorite film star in your favorite film (which shows the sort of person she is, “gone with the wind”).
            I used to adore History and French, when I was working hard in school, a nice girl, pleasing my maman.  But she didn’t care about pleasing me, did she?   She’s a liar and a turncoat, and I’ve exiled her.  In France, they’d have sent her to the guillotine.
Francesca Bell
Making You Noise
—for my mother
The day before you are deaf
completely, I will make you
noise. I will bring birds,
bracelets, chimes to hang
in the wind. We will drive
from Idaho to Washington again,
and I will read to keep you
awake, and I will tap
little poems on the backs
of your arms, your neck
to be sure you hear me.
I will play spoons on your body
in restaurants, smack
my lips, heave you
sighs, each one deeper
than the rest. We will finally
shout. And then, as quiet
slips in, settling over,
I will speak. I will keep speaking.
I will sing you nonsense songs
until you go to sleep.
Lois Taylor
from Elizabeth
            Carl was in no way a believer in the occult, but shortly before Elizabeth’s death, she whispered something that indicated she’d be in touch. Elizabeth—so far as he knew, and they’d been married forty-seven years—was not a believer, either. 
            Grief took longer than the daughters thought appropriate. “Daddy,” they said. “You’ll disappear if you don’t eat.”
            But he had to do it the way he had to do it. He imagined their long distance talks about Daddy not shaping up.
            Her death had been lingering and messy, and for weeks after, he’d be overcome with blubbering as unstoppable as a sneezing fit. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t think what to do with his hands.
            Then one night watching TV, his attention was caught by a gizmo you could cook any cut of meat in, with spuds or no, and four-five hours later, it’d be tender as prime rib. He remembered something very similar Elizabeth fixed. She called them braises.
            It came Fed-Ex in three days. After the first few successes, he got experimental. Added tomato sauce to the beef. Cheese. Onion powder. He gave lamb and pork a whirl. He’d never spent much time in the kitchen and was surprised at how pleasant it was. Whole days vanished into steam, and he thought of himself as a fish and the kitchen his aquarium. 
            Then on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s passing, all three daughters descended, to opine on his cooking and life style.
            “Daddy,” said Vera. “You eat too much meat!”
            “Daddy,” said Gretchen, “you’re not getting on with your life! We worry!”
“Daddy, said Sally, “seventy-two’s not old!”                
            “Well you try it on then,” he said.
            Oh, Daddy (a chorus).
They talked nonstop. He’d forgotten that part. He was glad to see them, and glad to drive them to the airport. 
The night they left, he had a dream in which Elizabeth was so real that he sat bolt upright. If I were younger, he thought, sinking back into bed, I’d be in a cold sweat. Next morning was as rocky as the bad old days. He hadn’t had a drink in twenty-six years, and still went for his AA anniversary. But you never forget what a hangover’s like, not if you’re lucky. 
            That morning was when it first happened. He came downstairs, fixed himself a cup of coffee, turned around and . . . the refrigerator door was standing wide open.
            He almost dropped his cup. He and Elizabeth had a running disagreement. She’d leave it open when she was going to use it again; he had a theory about food spoiling and would close it. Carl, she’d say. Please.
            He looked all around. It was like she’d stepped away and would be right back, the air kind of quivering behind her. He sat at the kitchen table until he’d settled in his own mind that this was moonshine.
            He remembered her last siege. She’d wanted to stay home, but he got cold feet and dialed 911. So she died in the hospital. She’d had another stroke and was out of it. Except when she wasn’t, and talked to him with her eyes shut.
            At first he’d thought he was hearing things, so he’d leaned closer. What Elizabeth had said then was, Keep your eye peeled.   Was she ribbing? It was something he’d said to her over the years. Then like breath on a cold day, life went out of her.
            Dead is dead, he told himself now. Go find something to do. Fix something. Things always need fixing. Check the weather channel for the latest. Do something.
About two p.m., he remembered the flank steak. He went to the kitchen thinking the refrigerator might be standing there with its mouth open. It wasn’t.
            But the gizmo had vanished from its perch by the stove. Poof. Up in smoke. 
Think back to when you used it last. Thursday had been supper at Crazy Lobster with the girls. Wednesday? Elizabeth used to find lost objects and say, It was in the last place I looked. She never saw how funny that was. 
            He found the gizmo at last in the basement, on top of the cedar chest she kept family photos in. She planned to get them in order after she retired, but got sick instead. 
            The daughters. Had to be. The problem with grown daughters is they think they can come back, criticize your life style, move pieces of furniture so you bark your shins, and put things where they don’t belong.
Steve Mueske
After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos,
the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary
status it has held since its discovery in 1930.
                                                 —Friday, August 25th, 2006, AP Newswire
It was hard to know such a small body—
distant, reserved—a speck, really: dark, fleet
enough to be named after the lord of the dead.
A chunk of rock and ice, possibly
the larger of two planets dueling at the edge
of a black field like twins tumbling in eternal combat
or enemies sizing the distance between
body and switchblade. But that
would necessitate a tenth planet—could we
go that route? Then there’s the question
of lineage: castoff, escapee, defiant in its off-kilter swing
around the sun—sometimes eighth, sometimes ninth
in line for light—an apt model, to be sure, for individuality.
A leather clad rapscallion crashing the company party.
The rockstarwhose one hit comes out of left field
and rockets up the charts while real musicians
shake their heads. But now, ha! The day
has come! Grease up the guillotines. The pride
of the Kuiper belt has been demoted to dwarf planet.
And someday, if enough people complain,
perhaps little planet or the rock formerly known as Pluto,
made of the same celestial scruff as asteroids and comets.
Of course, some of the IAU had to have been amused
downgrading Hades to a flying knuckleball.
How many opportunities does one get, after all,
to give death the finger?
Robert Brunner
When our lives are shelved
somewhere between our children’s toasts
to our memory and some Dewey Decimal account
of our faults and our finer stumblings toward grace,
let us be books beside each other.
Our bindings will rub each other’s
until our leather-bound covers wear away
in flakes of laughter, while
that little wine we left behind
is now full-bodied and breathing well.
Let those who then raise their glasses recall us.        
They step up the stairs to see the reading lamps’ glow 
on a children’s book on those young ones’ chests.      
And all breathe in the hug of a story                        
where we live in its retelling.
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