By Linda Chase
Carcanet Press Ltd Copyright © 2006 Linda Chase
All rights reserved.
I'm never in America
on the Fourth of July
but I light a match
and throw it up into the air.
Some years, the ones
in which I feel
I wait till it gets dark.
She lowered me into your arms,
your confident, sturdy, two-year-old arms,
like a gift from a guilty weekend,
assuming you'd know what to do with me.
Our father let the handover happen.
Our mother had fallen in love with you
and this was her way of putting things right.
Who knows, she might have killed for you,
but then a baby makes such a good gift.
You taught me everything you knew –
the toddler things like walking, talking, scooting,
then later things like secret forts in woods
and brooks with turtles, ticks and water snakes,
then on to caps and guns and cherry bombs.
I was learning well exactly how to be a boy.
In the mornings, after you woke me up,
I put on swimming trunks without a top
and dived straight into the lake from the tower.
Afternoons, on the hillside trail,
I wore cowboy boots, a neckerchief,
and galloped my horse down the river bed.
Evenings, left by myself in the house,
I wondered if I was perfect.
I know I was perfect for a while.
I remember your face at the door of our den
as you pushed aside a heavy branch
to keep the bad guys out and let me in.
Grand Central Station, 1947
As we got off the train
hand in hand, hot air thick with soot
gusted up, whipping us from behind
and we were caught in a wind tunnel
the length of platform 17.
It propelled us toward anyone
waiting to meet this train at the barrier.
I held on to you, my coupling.
The gate was ahead and we didn't have
the weight to hold us back.
The Long Island School
for Dore Ashton
(below her mother's cubist house
wedged within skewed hedges,
so overgrown, so wild their right angles were all but lost)
the art teacher told the children to forget what is real.
The bathroom in her mother's house
was big enough for a phantom horse to enter easily
(after clattering up the central stairs of solid oak)
and then die after first arranging itself in the tub.
'What's new?' her mother would ask. A dead horse in the bathtub.
Her mother's shambled house
(left over from an ideal childhood on Long Island)
was perfect with its sprawling basement, porcelain laundry tubs,
rumbling furnace, fuse boxes, ice skates, boots and sleds.
She could wash brushes, mix paint, wet the clay.
Forget what is real?
(The rent and heat in the city were not abstract.)
Guston, Pollock, Rivers, Rothko were her friends.
She went to their studios, had opinions about their work.
Could her Saturday kids get any of this?
'The essence goes beyond the thing itself.'
'Be brave. Don't stick to what you see.'
I saw the ivy growing half way across the basement window
but I made a woman's body out of clay.
At first it looked like a woman, then I twisted it.
My father came to pick me up
and got side-tracked by my teacher's mother
who lured him to the huge hodgepodge living room upstairs.
Giant thingless canvases were slung on every wall.
I was polite and waited. He smoked, talked fast, let his eyes wander.
The Long Island School
for Lilian Ruben
Saturday morning – time for art.
I was ten with a plaited head
and matching plaid ribbons tied in neat bows
over rubber bands around the ends of each braid.
The braids were real. So were the rubber bands and ribbons.
Ribbons laced my mind with bars of patterned colours.
Each pair went perfectly with each of my dresses,
my jacket, my Saturday jeans, even my riding jodhpurs.
The ribbons were taffeta, perky,
able to hold out their own rounded loops.
My allowance went by the yard at Woolworth's
on ribbons unwound from cardboard spools,
stretched against a brass ruler embedded in the counter,
then snipped with scissors hanging from the salesgirl's neck.
A snake of white lining paper fell to the floor.
The ribbons were wrapped from pinkie to thumb,
(rhythmically crossing a figure of eight) then eased
off the salesgirl's hand and placed in small paper bag.
Each night, I put the day's ribbons into the laundry.
Later they'd appear in my underwear drawer, folded in pairs.
My father came to pick me up
and got side-tracked by my art teacher's mother.
I saw the ivy growing half way across the basement window.
Then, in the darkened glass, I saw my face, my braids,
my perfect bows. I was polite and waited.
You don't know the streets of my town
and even if you unfold the map fully,
it's impossible to know where the hills are.
Northern Boulevard, heading east toward Strathmore,
climbs steadily up from Munsey Park,
then down again toward Searingtown Road.
The churches are built on the crest of the hill,
one rising on each corner above Copley Pond.
His was the Lutheran, hers, Congregational.
Beyond the playing field at school,
(west from Munsey Park and then north into Plandome)
his was the oak and hers, the sugar maple.
In the sky, he adopted Orion's belt,
she took to her heart the Milky Way.
He had Bill Haley, she had Nat King Cole.
These divisions worked well.
Neither felt short changed.
On Sunday nights, pale pink in summer,
almost black in winter,
he and she held the crest of the hill between them,
their steeples pegging the sky in place
as Sundays floated past like giant green balloons.
(The churches are marked with crosses on the map.)
One Sunday night in fierce winds of early spring
they began to walk toward one another.
They were wearing their Sunday clothes
and their Sunday shoes.
They had sneaked out of evening worship
without their coats, without a plan.
The hill, held up by the sky, dimpled itself enough
to shelter them into the crest, gust after gust.
They were buttoned, zipped into the day's convention –
a rough tweed jacket and tie for him,
stockings, garter belt, bra and slip for her
under her straight skirt and pale pink twinset.
His fingers stuck to his dampened palms
and the wind parted his Genteel-hardened quiff.
Her tender nipples ached
and rushes of blood fired her body to glowing.
These divisions worked well.
Both were drenched in their own responses.
She wished she'd been able to comb her hair
before his hand moved toward her head,
cupping the base of her neck.
Then he forked his fingers through her hair,
and next, taking the loosened weight of her head,
he tipped it back to let her face face his,
his swanning forward from an awkward height,
his breath caught in his chest, his arteries
beginning to pound, pounding as he teased a space
between her teeth, teeth opening with his tongue
and then, losing the shape of their embrace, they both let go.
His was the holding, the height, the invitation.
Hers was the walk against the wind, the giving in.
These divisions worked well.
They were long, long changed, both together and apart.
They lived in Flower Hill, not far from Copley Pond
(you'll see it marked on the map just below the crosses)
and they walked their dogs, hers brown, his grey,
toward Dogwood Lane and looked surprised when they met.
His family's house had a very steep drive.
Hers had a formal garden at the side.
Sometimes, at night in winter, wanting her,
standing in her backyard, backlit by the moon,
he threw pebbles up to her bedroom window.
She, waking, disbelieving her own eyes,
came down in her nightgown,
opened the door on the south side of the house.
When The Ringling Brothers' Barnum and Bailey Circus,
(the Greatest Show on Earth) came to Madison Square Garden,
(thirty-nine miles west along Northern Boulevard
into the heart of New York City)
she hoped he would borrow his father's car.
'O, take me to the circus in a new pink Pontiac!'
she said, secretly to herself. And he did.
Catching for America
remembering Muriel Rukeyser
She wanted to catch for her country –
(in a century of two world wars) fly balls,
grounders, pop-ups behind the dugout,
finishing off the batters, one by one.
She knew what catchers were supposed to do.
If she had to, she'd hurl the ball like a stone
(one ticked backwards, but not gone foul)
straight down the first base line,
faster than anyone could run
and that would be the end of it.
Like Roy Campanella, behind his mesh mask,
padded with leather, she would squat down,
the stiffened canvas armour across her chest,
an extra wedge in front of her crotch.
She would catch those mighty throws
of Johnny Podres, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine.
Of course, she wouldn't go out there
(on to Ebbets Field or any other stadium)
in front of all America, unprotected –
her nose and chin exposed,
her cheek bones available for smashing.
No. She would have a purpose-built glove
as well, like a warrior's shield – round, thick,
the fingers not separated from each other.
Finally, unrecognisable, so padded and masked
she is able to squat unafraid behind the plate
and let the balls and strikes pound into her glove.
She will be ready to catch for America.
Most mornings, though more or less insane,
she will walk out on the diamond,
glittering away her impunity like a roman candle
before the Star Spangled Banner, and play ball.
The Geography of Goodbyes
In the hallway of the house
we began to say goodbye.
Everyone gave him some kind of embrace.
A few of us patted his back
in a soothing way, like relatives.
And some clasped him, brooch-like.
Kisses were random, not from everyone.
One woman aimed for his mouth
(I did that too and found his lips
willing and a little apart)
but I noticed he turned and she missed.
Others leaned toward his cheeks.
Then we all moved to the porch
for the 'we must do this more often' part.
And after that, we went down the steps
to the car in front of the house.
He packed his things carefully
as all of us watched from the sidewalk,
helping just enough not to seem idle
but not so much as to make him think
we doubted he could do it alone.
And then, just as we thought he would get
into the car, he said, 'I forgot my guitar.'
All of us followed him back up the steps,
into the house, through the screen door
and back out again on to the porch.
But we didn't go down the steps again.
He cradled the guitar like a child,
holding it close as he went down the steps
then stretching it out away from himself
across the driver's seat as he put it down.
From the porch we heard the car start.
That's where we were when he left.
Standing on the porch. All of us.
We didn't go down the steps again.
We opened the screen door and went in.
Launching from Brooklyn
late summer 2001
The ragged end of summer pushes itself out
and the gaudy double hibiscus scrapes the car
as we back down the narrow driveway,
a two-man kayak strapped to the roof.
The boat rams my thigh, swinging as we lower it.
The children shouldn't be swimming here
beside the derelict warehouse, but they are.
I am wearing all the things you gave me to put on.
Yesterday you said her name out loud.
I can see her from here, the anchor to my old hometown,
the blazing torch in my dreams of New York.
Liberty. We're coming to you
in this sliver of orange fibre glass.
Ferries, tugs and ships churn the waves into wakes.
Currents hatchet the basin. The East River,
powerful at its spewing mouth, swills round the Hudson,
ready to spit out the toothpick which seems to be us.
From water level, we look the full length of Manhattan
as if she were Marilyn Monroe with her white skirt
blown up around her waist. We see all there is to see.
The skyline. We name the buildings standing.
The corridor between the two rooms is lit.
The light comes from downstairs and fans out
beyond the balustrade, on to the wall.
He knows the shapes of light and night
and how they interact in his own staircase.
She is the guest.
Should she leave the hall light on downstairs?
Perhaps there is one upstairs which
should be left on instead.
He has gone to bed first,
Leaving her to make these decisions.
When he thinks she is asleep
he comes back to the hall.
There is no light coming
from the gap at the bottom of her door.
He doesn't knock.
He goes straight in, but quietly.
She turns over and faces him.
He thinks he sees her eyes open
but she turns away again
without any other noticeable change.
Change. As she turns toward him,
she lifts the covers, an invitation, to be sure.
Yes lets his whole body slip in beside her.
Within the picture
of his presence in her room,
he uses his imagination
and sees everything in a different light.
Only take as much as you can handle.
Her body is naked in the light from the hall.
Weeks earlier and every night since then
when she slips off her clothes
wondering about the light, the night, the host.
Excerpted from Extended Family by Linda Chase. Copyright © 2006 Linda Chase. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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