with apologies to my brother, 11 months clean
The boy who cried sunlight, summer rain,
bird-in-the-bush, in the hand, who cried
fiddleheads, brook trout, berries in the field
by the chicken house, again and again
who cried lilacs, from each bloom
a hit of nectar and nothing to fear—
he’d pretended for so long the all clear
while something hungry paced the room
that even when of true wolflessness
he made a bouquet so pretty and perfumed
nobody in her right mind could presume
it wasn’t flowers, I called it beast,
saw in the gold-dusted mouth of each bud
a dogtooth sharp enough to draw blood.
EPITHALAMIUM WITH PAPER BELL
I was there on the day my mother married—
I’ve seen photographs of her in her borrowed
dress, bodice of a taller friend wrinkled
at her waist, slack satin pooling at her feet.
Her forehead shines above a startled smile,
and my sudden stepfather, in a rented tux
of powder blue, just looks glad. There I am,
too, tucked between them on my final day
of being five years old. I don’t remember
the ceremony or the reception, the kind I’d
later love when my mother’s younger brothers
wed their first or second wives at the Elks club
or the VFW, center of the room cleared
for a dance floor, tables pushed to the walls
and spread with crockpots of cabbage rolls,
spam salad spooned into hotdog buns.
Beer bottles and ashtrays. Uncles with their
sleeves rolled up, Red Wings buffed of mud.
When they weren’t twirling girlfriends
with spaghetti straps and long-long hair,
pulling them close for the slow tunes,
they lifted me into their arms so I could hug
their whiskered necks. There’d have been
a deejay and gallons of milk mixed with Kahlua,
a dollar dance, man after man paying to twirl
my mother a little, money for the honeymoon,
one night in a cabin at Portage Lake then back
to the shoe factory. But I only remember
the paper bell I found taped to a table that night,
miracle the way I could close its feathers so
easily, conceal the whole voluminous thing
between two half-bells of card, then open it
as swiftly as lungs can fill with breath.
Like hands that part to reveal what I’d
wished for bent at the bedside, what I’d seen
in my head and whispered into the dark.
I could almost have believed I heard it ringing,
that tissue bell, marvelous flat nothing
come to song. I kept it a long time, precious—
and then I guess I lost it. I guess we all did.