Mary Elizabeth Parker
attention as the woman’s pale white
shoulder nearly touches
a man’s black one, save
for the plate glass between them,
she at an inside table, he outside.
She wasn’t born here,
breaks the rules in small ways:
heat sags her skirt in her lap;
sweat stings her eyes—she needs a drink:
sloe gin, from the black sloe plum.
She doesn’t know—do Dixie girls tuck
sloe-flowers in their hair?
An hour ago, not here, but home,
from the antebellum chimney
where only swifts nest,
a prehistoric scraaaaaww
screeched down the flue--
scream big as a buzzard’s,
big as a cormorant’s, bigger--
raw metal scream of a pterodactyl
which would tumble down
like a leather satchel,
right itself and pluck her eyes.
She fled for here. She waits,
and gathers the man inside
her thousand-mile stare.
Sweaty-pated, with Coke, he watches
bees ram the glass, their eyes
Refusing His Sullenly Slapped-Down Fries
a customer tugs at his fat beard, though it’s high summer,
apprises the counter-boss This whole thing's going to hell.
She snatches the counter girl (not Nicko, no) close, warns,
Whatever performance that was just now, it will not be
repeated. And last night, when all the lights went out--
what was happening then? I'm 36 years old and I don't want
to sound like a mommy, but there's no room for any of that
mess here—this job isn't beer money for me, and you
get high anyplace you please but not this place. At Table 1,
French fries sag, fed in tiny bits to the baby too frail to wear
that gold earring, too nodding to be asked to lick Coke from
the side of a dipped straw, too tiny to bear the pin-wheeling
weight that could crush her for having been born—not white, not
black, and too small—much tinier than mama's pale hips that
strained her out, mama herself unsure of her position on the
globe—marcelled red hair crimped, flash as a black girl's hair
against her white Irish forehead—her eyes looking no place when
not fastened on the baby's happy eyes. Outside, boys way too
heavy, roughshod, stumbling into their prime, climb the
PlayPlace maze, sag the plastic tunnels with their clown shoes,
dare the petty gimcrack thing to fail. Collapse, that's
what it's sucking toward—where the thing swings loose and
clatters—ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Girl Fourteen: Maybe Five Months
the green plains of her,
the small waters, caves,
squeezed into a booth
with her family.
She’s just their girl
(vessel of perfect reception).
her fears the smoke
they’ll call holy incense.
They didn’t prepare her
for this, maybe expected
her genes would know not
to plump up
through all the girlish
stages into this.
She is so afraid sososososo…
A leaf. A bright green leaf
flicking on a twig above her face,
through the solarium glass above her--
Leap. She’ll leap onto the leaf
like a leaf-hopper, leap
out from her now fettered body.
How could this happen?
Self still hunched
waiting, waiting to be born
perfect and entire--
Muzak Spills from the Ceiling
above the long line for fries--
Gloooria, Hand Jive, Doo Wah Diddy--
a tiny girl jigs in place, twitching and bumping;
glittery gold Monopoly clips
(gold house, gold railroad, gold monocle-man)
wink in her hair. At her back,
slumped almost to collapse but trying not to,
her mother digs for real coin.
This week, three (count them, three) friends
call each other with hard news:
cancer: the minute spoilage of cells
fitzing like the settling
of too many birds on a phone line.
At the ER yesterday,
hoisted onto a cart, she
tried to say she felt her heart,
itself, inside, not the mammarian cover--
stood before the desk in the wrong
department, of course was told
‘Go to the next door, please’.
Turned slowly, too slow to comply,
like a ship caught in a lock,
and as her face tilted toward all the people
waiting properly in chairs,
fell supine, breathing, bosom rising
like a fascinating bellows
before the polite eyes trying to/trying not to
Her body, its womb and lights,
its intricate internal lacework,
performs its miracle offhand, her
daughter’s birth as slight as any
invisible daily woman’s chore.
So it’s slight, what this body does--
that’s why death disrespects it,
sending a scattering of duck cells
to peck her to death from inside.
She’ll tell you what hurts:
her body a field
open to any hand, as if fingertips,
glancing, could heal years
of loss upon loss
collecting like rain until the blue
receptacle of ease that was her body
empties to a loose embrace
of bone and skin.
Used to be
her lovely, tiger’s body, long
parts slip their timing, each womb-push
rips, tiger arrowing the back acre--
not really mayhem, just hunger,
pelt gleaming with the fat of her consumed.
this room sags with the breath
of the homeless and near-
homeless. Low prayers
from the girl in the mint-green slip
to the cracked plastic doll
to the boy with a waxed-paper comb
in the corner who screeches
the keening of whales--
until he’s booted out.
Chitin paring of moon
above the plate-glass
re-lights the eyes of Gregory Peck,
Marooned when his
space umbilical snapped.
Disturbance of chaos
wrinkle-winged, buzzes dry and
Darwin’s daughter Annie dies.
Mary Elizabeth Parker's poetry collections include The Sex Girl, Urthona Press, and four chapbooks: Miss Havisham in Winter, FutureCycle Press, Cave-Girl, Finishing Line Press, Breathing in a Foreign Country, Paradise Press, and That Stumbling Ritual, Coraddi Publications, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her poems have appeared in journals including Iowa Review, Notre Dame Review, Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Madison Review, and Arts & Letters. She is creator and chair of the Dana Awards in the Novel, Short Fiction, and Poetry, now in its 20th year.