All posts by tara

  • Alzheimer’s: Dinner Edition

    The first time my grandma
    poured ketchup on salmon,
    she gasped at the red-blotched fish.
    Her light fist tapped the table.
    She covered baked beans
    in salad dressing this past month.
    Peanut butter spread on asparagus,
    coffee stirred with orange juice.
    My grandma smeared
    the back of her fork on the fish
    until ketchup coated each corner.
    Tongued a taste
    and finished dinner—nothing
    was wasted. Oh well,
    she said between bites, patted lips
    with crumpled napkins. It all
    goes down the same pipe.

  • Former Mistress of President Comes Clean at 68


    Art by Peter Roman

    So she pulls the shriveled corsage from the dresser drawer,
    carnation tawdry yellow, long skin of arms,

    all that is left of the wild dance, no pictures, no two
    together, apart, yes, how could she help herself,

    not that she wanted to, she wanted him, yes, but taken so,
    overpowered, as if she had given no permission, Leda

    and the swan, deniability riding into Washington
    for an assignation, reading Madame Bovary in the back seat

    of the taxi, nothing like her, no, not really, she was young,
    our own innocence, the only innocence we remember,

    telling a friend or two, thinking he had picked her alone—
    later, the humiliation: so many called, so many chosen.

  • Ode to the Eye

    Palace window. Crowded mirror.
    Delicate planet.

    You are luckiest.
    The body undresses for you.

    Undulates for you.
    Collapses for you.

    Dastard muse.
    All light lives within you.

    Love letter. Ledge.
    We remember you best.

    A ballad. A sonnet.
    We remember you best.

    Darkness after the vanished day.

  • Magnolia Hill Road

    My Grandfather used to say
    if there are rocks
    you might as well throw them.
    It’s the fate of glass to be broken.
    Spider-webbing impact
    spiraling out from an exact
    crushed-in center.
    My Grandfather never said that.
    I come from a long line
    of porch-sitters, storytellers
    rattling myths ripened
    by wanderlust.
    With steady gun-oil hands
    he’d light a Chesterfield.
    We’d watch the sighing evening,
    the settling sun.
    Those nights the moon
    was so full of mischief.
    Ripe with rowdy possibility,
    it rose, a dimwit out over the hills.
    I was old enough to know
    when not to speak.

  • Memory — Take Two

    Aunt Essie is sure she and my uncle drove Sally and me
    to the Beatles concert in Milwaukee, 1964.
    Mom is sure she and Dad drove us; says we visited
    my aunt, uncle, and cousins before the concert. Then,
    Dad did the driving. Mom remembers watching
    me get swallowed by the crowd, wondering
    if I still had Sally’s hand. She’d insisted
    we hold hands in the crowd. Bedlam.
    That’s what is was. The Beatles in America.
    Crowds swelling outside concert halls,
    moving like a single body.
    My cousin says:

    Your parents didn’t even come to Milwaukee.
    You and Sally rode the Badger bus from Madison.
    I was so jealous I couldn’t go to the concert.
    I still have the button you bought me.

    Memory is funny though, she admits.
    I wouldn’t bet on it. That winding road behind us
    under constant reconstruction. That fierce need to believe
    your memory is the right one.

  • Diving Bells

    I remember a trilling, late summer, most things porous, my friends starting to die.
    It’s true: once you see them lying there waxy, that’s what you remember. Shiny as
    bell peppers. My mother’s crow, also, lying in the news. A lot of folded hands that
    summer. A lot of elsewhere. I wanted to rinse them with water at a kitchen sink,
    towel them dry. Try to clean the poison off.

    Sheena said, You’re not drowning again, are you?

    I don’t recall how my brother’s voice sounded when we were younger, just the little
    plastic football helmets with face nets in the bubbles and the stickers you put on
    yourself. He hasn’t died yet, just stopped calling. Like staying in the bathroom longer so people think you washed your hands.

    I remember a different summer, in the swimming pool. A game, or a trick, I’m not
    sure. We would stand in the center of the pool and open our mouths, press our lips
    together, fill in the creases of one another. We would both go underwater, hugging,
    fitting this way at the mouth, pushing air between us.

    From above: Two boys with mouths pressed together, tongues sometimes touching,
    breathing underwater. Green and red and yellow bell peppers
    and a dog outside,
    running back and forth.

  • Staring Me Down

    When I’m eighteen I’m going to find my real family,
    my sister says, brown eyes boring straight into mine,
    like they did when she got her driver’s license
    and said she’d use the car our parents bought her
    to drive away from us when she wanted;
    like when she was sent home from middle school
    for getting high and fighting in the bathroom.

    She came with a twin brother and a trash bag of clothes,
    a warning from the social worker: detached, high-risk.
    She also brought a photo album from three months
    with the foster family who decided not to keep her.
    When she is angry or irritable she sits where we all can see—
    our parents, my biological sister, three other adopted siblings,
    her disinterested twin—and narrates her life before us.

    She holds the album like a children’s book,
    stares at us instead of the photos she has memorized.
    Look how pretty my foster mom is she croons
    on our mother’s birthday. My foster father is so funny she spits
    after a fight with our dad. My foster sisters can French braid.
    She has held this album at two, five, twelve, sixteen,
    staring me down like when I drove her to elementary school,
    watched her turn her back and walk into the crowd;
    or the day she arrived and punched thirteen-year-old me,
    my new sister fierce and unafraid at two years old.

    When I’m eighteen I’m going to find my real family,
    my sister repeats after I fly 1,700 miles home for her birthday.
    Next year I’m going to leave she smiles into her cake.
    Perhaps later she’ll pull out that photo album of that family,
    the one she lived with fifteen years ago, the one she returns to
    again and again, current photos hidden away along with a photo
    of her real family—her birth mother, she and her twin,
    more biological siblings perched in their mother’s arms,
    matching red shirts bright against the soft trees of the park,
    each of them stiff, staring directly into the camera.

  • Sunsets

    The sun has not set on the golf course.
    We are watching The Titanic. Kate Winslet
    has almost thrown herself into the Atlantic’s
    icy waters. I like Kate Winslet. She is pretty
    and a mother. I am tall and I am not a mother.
    My dad reaches over his wheelchair, fumbling
    for the remote. “What are you doing, Dad?”
    He says he’s looking for his glasses, another
    thing for me “to bitch about.”

    Mom thinks Kate Winslet is her mother. Mom thinks
    this is not her house. Mom is happy in her delirium.
    “Are you OK, Bob?” she asks. “I love you.”

    I give my father his electric toothbrush and assist
    him to the toilet. I cook them frozen pizza and clean
    after them. I wonder if they will be in a nursing home.
    “I’ll be in there someday,” my dad says.

    The Titanic is sinking. Leonardo DiCaprio is trying to save
    Kate Winslet. I like Leonardo DiCaprio. At this moment,
    I do not like my father. At this moment, I hope
    things will change.

    Leonardo DiCaprio’s lips are turning blue. My mother’s arms
    are scaly and dry. Later, I put lotion on her arms.
    I put lotion that smells like coffee on my father’s legs,
    bright with red sores. I tuck them into bed
    and spread the fat green comforter over them.
    Mom leans up with her dentureless mouth and smiles
    a wide beam. “Thank you for being so nice,” she says.
    I kiss them on the cheek. My father says good-bye
    and looks up with a blank stare, grabbing the comforter.

    I go out to my black Honda. The sun is setting on the golf course.
    All the golfers are finished, and there is only the red flag
    blowing on the 18th hole, like a ghost.

  • Kodak Carousel

    It hums, illuminates the wall
    and a beam of bedroom dust
    between. A flick of the thumb
    triggers the tray’s lurch, shuffling
    slides, my hitchhike on 35 mm
    film to a Kodachrome finish.

    In the frame is my father,
    some colleagues on a sailboat
    in Vietnam, maybe months
    before the banks evacuated
    Saigon. At first glance,
    this image strikes me as more

    honest, truer to life than what
    I live day to day, as if the earth
    were painted in a different light
    forty years ago. I can almost
    put myself there, stand in
    my father’s place, though

    I can’t summon vibrations
    from distant shells that should be
    pulsing through this image.
    I’ve never even flinched
    at rifle crack. It troubles me
    that I gild his photographs,

    lacquer what I can’t comprehend.
    The past is Vietnam and every mass
    grave previous—it’s happening
    upon a charred body,
    castrated, hung like dead fruit
    from a peach tree.

    Should we cherish draft cards
    or wish for protests, so we can watch
    our own police force
    open fire on a student body?
    Isn’t that also the past
    that we see in photographs,

    when we wish we were any place
    than where we are today?
    I find I remember too easily
    that which I’ve never seen, forget
    the superstructure of this world
    only appears to float of its own accord.

    At such a distance, years become
    meters of ocean. They distort
    the piers and pylons that disappear
    into the water below us,
    propping up everything we see.
    Alone in my bedroom, I drop

    each frame in the carousel
    and I still yearn, ignite the acids
    of my stomach. I curl my fists inside
    boxes of slides and marvel
    at how the dead can still rise,
    and carry me off on their shoulders.