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    Room 53 • Poetry Hotel 

Five Poems / Zoë Christopher

 

THE 23 HELPING VERBS

 

I am eight, standing halfway down the stairs when I learn she’s dead.

I go blind with the shock of loss

            is be been am are

            was were has have had

knowing her broad lap and cushioned arms will never hold me again.

 

I am eleven and his white smooth hands touch me in the pool house.

His half-naked and trembling body presses against my belly

            do does did

            may can might

me wishing I’d never learned to swim.

 

I am fourteen and her father washes her mouth out with soap.

He slaps her once for each piece of clothing she left on the floor

            could must shall will

            should would being

sending her away before grabbing between my legs.

 

I am eighteen and my mother pummels me, pounding my head.

Like a fetus I curl on the floor

            do does did

            may can might

giving up my future, an unwed pregnant teen.

 

And now you, receding into dementia,

fading quickly so that I won’t catch you.

I lean against the closed door,

fists clenched, sucking in my rage

            could must shall will

            should would being

reciting my helping verbs when no one else can.

 

-------------------------

COOL BLUE & MAMA'S DYING

for my father

 

It’s raining and I see you, exactly 383 miles south, gazing out over the L.A. freeway

toward Forest Lawn. The Old Actor’s Home is quiet for once.

 

Rain shatters the stars, wine blurs my jagged edges, and I don’t want to let you go, to lose

you again. Can’t we just be drenched in the same rain, listening to the same patter on

leathery camellia leaves like the ones that grew at the beach house before you knew you

were miserable?

 

The same winds that whistle and caress my neck here blow through the holes in your

heart there, and return to raise the sheer curtains at my night window.

 

Tell me how your heart thumped for that lanky player slouched over the piano teasing a

cool Bill Evans from the keys in the shadows, you so nonchalant at the bar craving a guy

who wouldn’t ask for too much but had the heat to soothe your losses.

 

Tell me how he made you laugh, how it really was his soul and craft and staccato wit, his

Julliard training in soft faded jeans that made you want to fuck him.

 

Tell me how you nearly drowned in his mysteries, his resonant hello, his complicated

curiosity, how his ability to improvise his way out of any bag  made you trust him even

when you didn’t know with what.

 

I want to share a joint and a Guinness again, to roll around on the warm rug in front of

the fireplace while you tell me all of it, not leaving out his lyrical hands and scary-cool

rhythm, his lithe physicality as his steps barely French kissed the pavement.

 

I need to hear you say you’re sorry you left him.

-------------------------

 

DECEPTION OF TULIPS

 

They discard their juicy

flesh and descend

into a riot of sea creatures,

jewel-hued petals throwing off

their gracious curves

in favor of eccentric contortions

and seductive grinds,

a raucous drunken party

where stem legs surrender to mush

in an inebriated collapse.

 

Their broader succulent

petal limbs wizen

into soft angular joints,

twisting into bony contemporary

dance interpretations.

 

It leaves me slightly dazed.

 

When the ovary has dried

stigma loses its magic,

and I lie down at last

exhausted and spent,

my perfect head resting

on the table.

-------------------------

A CRIME HE CAN'T REMEMBER

 

Mr. P is not among the current litigants.

He has undergone counseling, has no grudge

against the Order.

 

Do not wear bluejeans. No low-cut sweaters.

Wear slacks. Do not wear heels. No stockings.

These guys haven’t touched a woman in years.

Make simple conversation. Be attentive.

Keep your chin down.

 

II.

Mr. P has been criticized, particularly because

he routinely speaks on behalf of the Order

and advises victims to reconcile.

 

Standard haircuts. Time-weary men in blue

workshirts, cuffed and belted jeans,

institutional shoes. Impeccable fingernails.

The air is smoldering and heavy.

Eye contact must never linger.

Thanks so much for coming.

 

III.

It’s 2017 and Mr. P stands at a podium,

and I can’t hear his poems. I want to unravel

his cool-headed gaze.

 

I search those soft eyes for crazy,

trace the line of his jaw looking

for a stinging snap, a bite. I conjure

laugh lines but there are none.

We small-talk, cupping hands.

He is dead serious.

 

IV.

Mr. P applauds the friars for facing the problem long

before the nationwide scandal broke. He helps both

them and their victims deal with the aftermath.

 

I see him draped in black robes himself,

the priest with that holy light

beneath the skin, a radiant sorrow.

What’s he in for?

In seminary and prisons

we must never ask. Most do time

for a crime he can’t remember.

-------------------------

.

THE DINNER PARTY

My organs fight for space

in this smoldering beast body

stomping mad in the mud.

I beg forgiveness

for its tether to this earth.

 

Bones rattle a response,

taunting yet melodic,

teasing like second

thoughts remembering

their skin.

 

The heart pleads a place

at the table, tempting

and truculent,

the womb merciful

as receding tides.

 

In time the body is steady,

old yet still succulent

nesting its space in the

underbrush, seducing the mud

with pulse and scent.

 

Until I am offered up as feast

on the hillside

to the vultures,

I’ll rumba

to these rattling bones,

feeding my racing heart

at this table,

offering a good port

to settle it down.        

-------------------------

Zoë Christopher published her first poem at 16. Soon after she was sidetracked by putting food on the table as an ice-cream truck driver, waitress,

medical assistant, addictions counselor, astrologer, art installer, bookseller, Holotropic breathworker, and trainer of psychospiritual crisis support.

(She didn’t get paid for milking goats, teaching photography, or raising her son.) She holds a Masters in psychology, and spent 20+ years intervening

in various forms of adolescent and adult crises. She grew up in Los Angeles where her mother was in show business, but that's another story.

Acknowledgements: "Cool Blue and Mama's Dying" previously appeared in Great Weather for Media; "The 23 Helping Verbs" previously appeared 

in The Writing Disorder.

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