Temptation of a Cowgirl
In June when school let out, the corn, bare
green, already stood ankle high
to red barns that leaned like old men
at their favorite bar counter,
planks washed down,
wood veins showing through, fronting
a crayon blue sky, opaque, no dot of white.
Everything flushed pinkish-green: leaves,
fields, farmers' faces mottled by afternoon light.
The black road curled like burnt paper,
with school bus yellow lines freshly drawn, marking
no passing. I couldn't be Tom Sawyer, so I'd pretend
my red bike was a roan, a pony like in the Westerns,
faithful companion. I'd ride along the edge
of the pavement, smooth and sticky,
smelling of tar, to the Old Black Bridge,
which arched over train tracks, to watch
the freights, feel the rumble in my knees
and hips when trains were just beneath.
I'd count cars: Norfolk & Western, Boston & Maine,
Northern Pacific. Pennsylvania and B & O I knew
from my Monopoly game. I'd wave my hat at the caboose,
straddling my bicycle's saddle until hazy tracks led me
to think I should go. My mother always warned
stay away from the tracks, back in '53
a family sat in their Buick,
stalled frozen to the sight of rust-colored steel,
the brakes screaming. Volunteers found
the baby's body sandwiched between door
panels, the mother's hand, not a scratch
on her manicure, holding her child's still
bootied foot. The rest of her lay mixed up
with glass. The father gripped the wheel
in his chest, forever unready for his own
Pompeii. Struck returning from Sunday
at the baths, Sunday at the in-laws, the same.
Sometimes I'd go to the place of their crossing,
put pennies down, scuff about,
waiting for whistles, trains' moans of loneliness.
Warm breezes rounded me, full of late lilacs,
lily-of-the-valley, rising black iris, shadows
behind dying daffodils, their scents straw-like
and secretive. Once a train stopped before me,
the high grind pinching my ears. A boxcar
opened, sunlight tight in one oblong. I could
get on. I could nestle my bicycle in weeds,
climb the rusted rungs over my head
and just ride.
When Lorelei was three, you just couldn't get her to part with that ratty hunk of baby blanket. Kendall kept saying he'd yank it from her one of these days, she was too big a girl to be sucking on those fingers and carrying that piece of filth around all over. First sunny day when it wasn't so cold to freeze, I opened Lorelei's fingers while she slept and slipped what was left of her blanket out from under her. The one bit of satin edge smelled like her spit. Sometimes she sucked on the corner, and sometimes she'd just pat pat pat her face with it. I figured if I washed the thing maybe Kendall wouldn't get so mad about it all the time, and maybe Lorelei would forget. Wouldn't you know when she woke up from her mid-morning nap, that child pulled on her own boots, managed her own coat, and went out and stood under that little piece of cover hanging from the clothesline. It's not really a line, it's one of those squares that sort of looks like an umbrella skeleton, you know, without the cloth on it. There she stood in the mud with patches of hard, dirty snow all around her, sucking on those same two fingers and tapping the corner she could reach against her cheek. For the longest time she was out there, hanging on to that threadbare blanket. The sun was so bright, but straight up it made almost no shadow, except for the stripes across Lorelei's face that made her look like she was in a cage.
At the Greenhouse
—for Rita Lawrence
The proprietor, a Nordic six-foot blond,
crouches to tend a wilting rosemary plant.
In scruffy jeans, a torn magenta top
and backless sandals,
she flashes dirt-embedded nails, rises
when a flock of nuns appears
to select flowers for their resurrection
fashion show. The hyacinth and freesia
look good, their scents heady, but she thrusts
lavender orchids and pale lilies up
to their chins, "Smell these, sisters,
they'd be perfect for your pageant."
The sisters, heads wimpled, dressed not
in black and white, but tones
of earth and dove, look
as if they have emerged from soil,
with clay-like faces and nondescript noses
centered below narrow eyes.
They inhale politely and confer,
settling on red tulips
instead, their pendulous seeds