You always say I make things up,
that I’ve never told the truth
about anybody’s life. You say
some things are better left unsaid.
I sit patient at your side. You drift
in dream and drug. I run one
finger along the slick silver rail,
smooth wrinkles from the sheet,
within the buzz and hum of your new
mechanical breath, the bump and line
that monitors your heavy heartbeat,
too large for even all your years.
You say I make things up,
like storytellers do, conjure whole truth
to half lie, twist good rhyme
to hone a poem. I do.
I make things up as weavers
of tales must, steal the dramatic edge,
pitch a lilt to voice, steady a trembling hand,
flutter the still eye. I exaggerate.
I get it
Let Me Live This Life
Here and There
Let me go forward, this time, next time.
Sail me seaward to where I have not been before,
to Martha’s Vineyard or some isle off Greece.
Let me plant bulbs there to bloom wide-eyed
before the wine. Draw the bath, rub my
traveled feet, peel back artichoke leaves
for me to scrape the chew off on my teeth.
Let me go back this time, next time.
Fire the coal stove, fluff the feather quilt
in Johnstown. Take warm bread from the oven,
pull the wet hot centers out and dip them
in churned butter for me to eat. Run my fingers
round a pudding bowl and lick them clean.
Pour strong coffee bittersweet as chocolate
on the street beat back in New Orleans. Fly me
on to England to plant a twilight garden there.
Walk me through the green, stretch with me
among the lavender toward last slices
of light in pleasure skies. Give me
this life like no other. Let me repeat myself.
Let it begin here and there where I surprise
the window glass as I look out and sip
Rioja, wondering if I will ever make it
to Spain. Then take me someplace I have not
been. Begin again. Draw the bath, rub
these feet, kiss my forehead off to dream
to live again this life like no other.
School Day for Catholic Girls
Outside, little Polish girls hedge
the step sides
at Prince of Peace School,
pleated plaids smooth,
white blouses and postures
Except for one—
she hiccups cries
that she is afraid
Sister with break her fingers
if she cannot
get the words straight
between the lines.
Inside, at the window for good light, I decide this is a day
to play hooky from classrooms and paper restraints
of my teaching job. Hazelnut steam drifts up in an ease
from morning coffee toward a thin rain drizzle
and a moon that still remembers the up-all-night
octaves of a room full of women with birthday wishes
and stories of where we are going, where we have been.
In September this sky, like a weather report, is all wrong.
It should be an Easter of violets when a Catholic schoolgirl’s
guilt skipping catechism for a cherry coke and bag of chips
at the corner drugstore could be easily assuaged
by a soda jerk’s advice to drop change in the poor box
and a good act of contrition at the altar of an open-hearted Jesus.
Outside, the little girl’s cries
soften, nudge the air.
She moves on, chorusing in
behind the other’s murmurs. They,
like cloistral notes and chords
tuning up, pass through
A life I survived floats
with a sugar cube in coffee.
Only the blank
school house window eyes
as I take up a basket full of summer’s last gifts—
squash, fresh mint, purple-veined kale, overripe
tomatoes, and bottle of old cognac to perfume
my cup, to celebrate being off work. After all,
it is my birthday, and the first year
no one dared ask my age.
(in pre-revolutionary Managua, Nicaragua)
I raid the quiet of the night kitchen
bedroom, mahogany and pine scenting
night slippers, hungry for sleep.
Listen with me. You can hear
there is a padded sound,
pell-mell of men’s footsteps
along the marbled entry hall.
They come like guns with silencers on
in militia boots and imported jackets.
I must be imagining this
from this room—the garden wall
lipped with barbs and broken glass.
Listen with me to an ox cart
wheeled to a halt, jeep patrol braking
on a splash of a laundry maid’s soapy
Lysol water. See their cylinder shafts
take aim out the window
toward anything that might move.
I walk softly on my toes,
slowly cup my ear to the wall.
In the other room
they are meeting tonight. You can hear
words congregate around the chew
of Havana cigars, language roll
like a millstone over maize. At my ear
pressed in like fingertips to shape
wet tortillas, hear their trills drop
small beans from the tongue, syllables
gulped down with scotch laced salutes
at the ends of their words.
I must be making this up
these bankers, ranchers, minstrels
of sound stitched in together
in Guatemalan whites, gold coins
jangling in the pockets of Japanese silk.
Listen. Maybe you can hear them talking.
These are the words sung on a house
parrot’s tongue, words anyone can
understand about disposing a regime:
Sandanista, communista, junta,
Somoza, asesinato, la revolucion.
Words rush off now in the dark
from that very room where
in the broad and early light
my mother-in-law washed down
Valium with gin on the news
her husband listed another bastard son
onto his chain of heirs, in the room
where I fingered like worry beads
the string of pearls that once wooed her,
her tears welts across her face,
mouth swollen as anyone’s bruised
from too many harsh kisses.
I pack things into the brass banded
leather trunk: pumice stones
from the black sand edge of Tipitapa,
hamaca woven by children in Masaya,
negrito pottery I carried by mule
from Madagalpa, snake baskets
from the mercado. I toy with what will be
rumored in whispers behind those doors,
that an American bruja once stayed
to herself in this room, ear to wall,
charting movement of planets with pen,
collecting the useless things: lizard skins
torn on the garden wall, pond pebbles
small as a woman’s tears, letters
scratched out under mosquiteros,
all the little bits of bark.
Come run from this room with me,
fast and hard as a child rocketing
tunnels, arms outstretched like eagle’s wings,
end light in sight. The geography
here will remain all unmapped sky.
It spits and stutters now constellations
of spark and ash against the night,
some like comets self-consuming,
some shooting whorls of steamy wishees,
distant Vulcan god about to cast
lightning in the path.
The tattling lid slam brings
my father-in-law in without knocking.
He says he knows I was listening, sees
I am leaving, warns I am too much
like his wife, worrying about night visitors.
I argue this is a dangerous place: war is coming,
Concepcion that only trembles now
will blow open walls, volcanic disaster
on the rise. He dismisses not now, not today,
waving his hand, his voice a throaty rumble,
cigar smoke on his breath. Maybe tomorrow,
he concedes, when I take leave to invent
a life away from here, like Americans
who think they are bigger than this,
who are no better than this can become.
Andrena Zawinski is an award winning poet and educator, born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA who has made Alameda, CA her home. She has authored several collections of poetry: Something About (Blue Light Press, San Francisco) received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Traveling in Reflected Light (Pig Iron Press, Youngstown) was a Kenneth Patchen competition winner in poetry. Her chapbooks are Taking the Road Where It Leads (Poets Corner Press Honors Publication), Zawinski’s Greatest Hits 1991-2001 (Pudding House Invitational Series), Poems from a Teacher’s Desk and Six Pack Poems To Go Postcard Collection (Harris Publications). Her individual poems have appeared in Quarterly West, Gulf Coast, Nimrod, Slipstream, Rattle, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, Psychological Perspectives Journal of Jungian Thought, The Progressive Magazine and others with several Pushcart Prize nominations and work widely anthologized. She founded the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon in and is editor of their anthology: Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down (Scarlet Tanager Press). Her latest book of poems is Landings (Kelsay Books, 2017). Zawinski has been PoetryMagazine.com’s Features Editor since 2000.