Two Poems

The boy who told our third grade teacher
to Fuck Off, threw a chair
at the chalkboard and walked out 
the playground door.
He only had to cross the foursquares, 
the courts, the field, climb the diamond 
footholds of the fence,
and there he was in his yellow house
with all his Catholic brothers and sisters,
and his mother at the stove, saying Joe
sad like a sigh because it wasn’t the first time,
low like the bells that rang 
through our neighborhood 
from St. Aloysius 
so you can keep track of the hours
while the hours pass and the days run out
and the heat that clanged in the boiler room
in the mornings is gone now 
like Joe, and the never knowing
what he might do 
like when he saw your bra 
under your white uniform shirt 
and snapped it to tell you he knew.

I wanted to tell him 
what the rest of the day was like 
without him, how I kept thinking 
about those bells with their iron tongues
banging inside them, how the school 
got colder after the first blast of heat 
in the morning and the windows fogged up
and we could feel how thin they were, fragile
like the skin on Joe’s mother’s legs, 
their ropes of veins showing through, 
small pools of blood. 
They were always there beneath her clothes, 
behind the back door of that yellow house
I could see from the classroom
where we sat, Joe usually with us, 
his heart hot as ash.                  

Emily's Suitcase

I can still see that eggplant sitting in your yard 
after your mother threw it. 

It sat there for days while she waited for your father 
to go outside and pick it up and cook it 

because she wasn’t going to. 
But he didn’t, so it stayed in the grass.

Once, when she was sick, your mother
came to your front door at night

and your father put her in the car
and took her back to the hospital. 

Did this happen? Her nightgown was white
in the darkness like the bodies

of the mice born in Emily’s suitcase 
at camp, their small bodies so close together 

you couldn’t tell where each began.
We stood over them and stared 

until another counselor came 
and carried them away in a paper bag. 

It was Emily who saw the canoe floating away 
the night we camped at Mica Bay 

and a storm rose up and lightning lit the lake.
Someone had been drinking and cut

the ropes we’d used to tie the boat
and there it was, the camp’s oldest canoe,

black and white and named The Phantom,
and I stupidly swam out to get it, 

grabbed it by its gunwales, climbed inside
and brought it back to shore.

Tonight it’s raining and your mother 
is getting soaked again on the porch. 

You can see her legs through the cloth, 
her mind the white smear of stars out past the city, 

and you stare but they’re so far 
your fingers hurt from wanting to touch them.

LAURA READ has published poems in a variety of journals, most recently in Willow Springs and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her chapbook, The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You, was the 2010 winner of the Floating Bridge Chapbook Award, and her collection, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral, was the 2011 winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh Press.