Yet more poems from

       before it's LIGHT


aches for the old
ones, dusky as an
abandoned ghost town
where the wooden
pier is driftwood.
She doesn't want
longitudes and
latitudes, favors
roads mutable as
a bracelet made
of sand she can
write an SOS in to
the wind. She dreams
of islands, magical
as the fingers of
the concert pianist,
each with its own
intelligence and
breath. She wants
the light to be what
photographers long
for, the magic hour
flecked with the color
of violet dusk, the
names of cities
exotic as spices or
words in another
language: Empanedas,
Esterellita, la trisleza
or the words left on
a Persian jar of lilies,
Dear Heart and then,
the way there


frozen, perched as
if listening for some
distant hieroglyph,
news of a warm

front coming in
time. Meanwhile,
alerts go out on
local stations,

schools close
early. The "partly
sunny" never came.
30 percent chance

of snow. Trees tilt
east, the ground
hardens. Geese
take root as scarves

float in wind like
strange new flags


Like the rest of the camp
where I cried myself to
sleep, the girls room
smelled of just cut
wood. Nothing was
painted. Pale maple
and pine that hadn't
weathered. Not a hook
for wet bathing suits
dripping like tears I
did not want my bunk
mate, snotty Birdy
Rothman, to see as I
sniveled into my
camp regulated white
shirt with the door
latched and my green
camp snap shorts
around my knees as I
flushed and flushed,
as if I could flush
homesickness away


I get there early, fantasizing this meeting
over a year, already stuck on a voice I'm
sure I have to be with. The window in the
ladies room is open as I want to be in pale
pink leather jeans and flung open jacket I'm
imagining are my thighs. Outside the open
glass, an April night full of branches

rubbing other branches. I lock the door and
flush a few times, huddling away from the
glass that doesn't have a shade so no one could
suppose I'm gulping white wine to be up. I'm
determined this man not be disappointed,
wrap my self in vodka so whatever the poetry
questions are, no matter how silly the calls,

I will sparkle even tho I've an early flight to
Ohio in the morning. I carefully zip and unzip,
would hate to snag any of this leather I plan
to pack. I run the water, line my lips in guava
rose under the cracked mirror there's only
flourescent harsh lights above, highlighting
flaws I know won't show over the microphone

in the darker room. A little mouthwash, a mint
and I let warm water spread my Tea Rose and
Chloe around so after I've left he'll remember
and then sail, like a model leaving a velvet
lined dressing room, out on to the runway
as if what was ahead was all that mattered


long gold hoops flashing,
eyes flashing, hands
on her hips. Nothing
on her isn't moving.
Gonna lay it on
you. Born in
Memphis, got a
nickel for bread,
went to Chicago.
Never knew my kisses
meant so much, never
dreamed life had so...
85, laying it on
you, dancing,
belting it,
hair pulled
straight back not
to miss anything


Leaf musk, cardinals.
Jade presses screens.
Night moths pleat
into themselves
like skirts from
the fifties.
Sun tea on slate.
Blue sandals left
near my mother's
bed. Spackle of
branches' shadow
on redwood. Rose
wind. The young
girl across the
street parading
her body like
a ruby


6TH. day of pewter.
The cat coils under
the micro wave, ex-
cited by garbage
trucks as I open
mail, a little cautious
as if something
dangerous could be
there. Bruise sky.
Ozone's cheap perfume
in the trees. I think
of Robert Johnson
with a poisoned drink
in one hand from some
one sure he'd been
cheating with his wife,
sang bury my body by
the old rail road
sign so I can catch a
ride on the old Grey-
house bus and ride and
ride. Dead at 28, a
voice says as the cat
coils on terry cloth as
if it was purple
velvet dreaming of
gizzards or being
worshiped with flayed
salmon and sparrows


There were snakes in the
tent. My mother was
strong but she never
slept, was afraid of
dreaming. In Auschwitz
there was a numbness,
lull of just staying
alive. Her two babies
gassed before her, Dr.
Mengele. Do you know
who he is? She kept
her young sister alive
only to have her die
in her arms the night
of liberation. My mother
is big boned but she
weighed under 80 lbs.
It was hot. I thought
the snakes lovely. No
drugs in Israel, no
food. I got pneumonia,
my mother knocked the
doctor to the floor
when they refused,
said I lost two in
the camp and if this
one dies I'll kill
myself in front of
you. I thought that
once you became a
mother, blue numbers
appeared mysteriously,
tattooed on your arm


On the 3rd floor up past slipcovers and table cloths. There was even an
elevator girl with a black and white uniform who listed each floor's contents,
Ladies apparel, china, silver plate until almost halfway into the nineties
when, Carl's, the last of 3 department stores downtown took down its last Christmas
window, outlasting my mother, who near the end was no longer was able to tear through
dress racks for bargains, sat, thinly on a chair while I brought her the flowery

sarong she insisted I try on, too. to be sure I could wear it, since, she frowned, "I
can't even be buried in it." The price tags were still on it when she died. My sister,
too large then to even put it on, kept it as hostage, a souvenir like the bottles
of Chloe she despised, even as she shared the name. On what I thought would
be my mother's last trip to my house, we stopped at the store's cafe she loved,
where so many downtown Schenectady older ladies put on once-stylish,

expensive clothes for a late afternoon lunch or tea, where she ordered a shake
and cheese sandwich that she barely could swallow, and we hurried to the ladies
room upstairs. Everything in this store was for ladies and girls, not women, not
persons. It was the ladiest ladies' room ever, a whole separate sitting room of
pink clothes and pale wicker -- a true rest room where you could rest forever,
read, have a cigarette. Sales clerk on break would slip into

the rose and shell pink sanctuary, light up a Camel, slip off heels that made
their nyloned feet ache.. Seventeen shades the color of lips and nipples, a
rouge snow, a blood ruby, garnet, cream, peach. Azalea colors in
between. A room for a baby girl's shower. Rose-scented soap in a bowl, pastel
sunset colored towels to wipe away anything a lady would want

wiped away. Not elegant dark marble, like at Macy's, but flouncy, lacy, fluttery
as the butterfly-fragile ladies mounted in oval frames on the walls, who seemed to
have, unlike the rest of us in their pink shadows, nothing to regret or worry about


Something dark was moving
toward Europe that year they
moved in to the flat on the hill.
My father worked in his rich
brother's store, stopped reading
or saying much. It was gradual.
My mother didn't say a thing,
sat on her side of the black
Plymouth thinking maybe
of the men she didn't,
wouldn't. Thinking never.
Whispers of war burned thru
their sleep, were in the park
where you could say something
and the rumors went to other
people's houses. Everyone
wore grey. Buildings, a
whole town the color of
granite. And the dim light
in the Brown Derby where they
went to drink beer that whole
spring waiting for me as
bright, as warm as they'd be
for a while MAMA

grabbing us like all the
arms in Filenes' Bargain Basement,
jewels no one quite
knew the value of
but would

we were marked
down velour in exotic
colors with just slight flaws
that with luck no one
could see, her

little pickles
just needing time
to become what we could
be behind glass
then gobbled up


sitting on the toilet
with you in the tub,
Mommy, Frieda May.
The blue room like water.
Smell of wet clothes
and talcum. You never
liked your name. Ben
couldn't come in.
Sitting on the toilet,
your breasts floating
on the water, you
younger than I
am now


As if the whiteness was
gauze wrapped over the
mouth of someone dying
and she had to slash it
with a last word, or
Monday was a blank
sheet of paper only my
words would cling to.
My mother, who lugged
suitcases with me in the
78 blizzard when subways
broke in Brooklyn, says
the wind crossing the
street wouldn't let
her breathe. I'm stand-
ing with my hair dripping,
turning the quilt a darker
blue, the water boiling
downstairs, thinking how
long it's been since I've
gone to visit her, or
haven't told her I had
to rush but just let the
words between us wrap
us like the navy afghan
on the velvet couch with
the stain where the grey
cat peed and just drifted
in the closeness, linked
as we once were, as if
we always would be


wedged inside the clump
of curled sun like a child
curling into its mother's
belly after a bad dream,
as if skin and quilts
would shut out all
terror. Every night,
the year I was six, I had
nightmares and curled
into my mother's flannel
arms, Otter Creek
drowning in cups of
chocolate. Now, in my
own cold house, my
mother curls on my
quilt in this warmest
room, says she loves to
fall asleep in here under
my velvet blanket. I
peel oranges. The cat
backs away from the
skins. My mother uncurls
enough to reach for
a piece. She just wants
"the babies," she says,
the smallest pieces
huddling in the circle
of what holds them


flung back, like palm fronds in
rose and guava wind

to five years ago
it could have been this
same day I

walked out from Hui Nuis,
ants, a necklace around the
bed like
dark stones

sun burns thru blue haze,
my mother shriveling. I was sure,
like the bamboo and camellias,
she'd flourish in the sun,

wrote her postcards each day,
imagined swooping her up
from the room half underground in Stowe

a just born, an
almost-mummy, the musk a
bluelight world

like adding water
to dried petals,
pulled back to the living,

saw us under the banyan,
nothing to scorch or chill

but like a rare cure from the
rain forests, turn her
white hair ebony again
in the pineapple wind
she'd doze and wake ravenous in


black plastic, with rhinestones, picked
in half a daze, the flu coming, the
before-Christmas sale crowds. Half
priced barrette I bought to have some
thing I wouldn't mind losing before
flu put its mouth on me, deep, gulped
and swallowed so phone calls on the
hour made me leave the phone off the
hook, spun me deeper into a blur where
furious, my mother wailed I didn't love
her when with a 104 fever, I just wanted
to sleep, didn't pick up on something
haywire inside her, some dark spreading
in cells that would blossom, flower, an
obsidian tulip in the twin bed by my side,
opening and closing, about to swallow
everything that's led us to here in
June with moths beating themselves to
pulp too, wild for light. "This barrette?"
I answer, noticing how white her skin
looks even in this mauve light, thinking
of the beautiful ones she bought me at
over priced stores, flesh pink with
glitters, orchids, jades, rhinestones,
copper, silver, tortoise glittery as jewels
colors that will stay tho it doesn't seem
so now when hers doesn't


My mother perches, a shivering bird
on the examining table, her arms,
a sparrow's hunched, wing under a
blue suit that hides arms and legs,
a rump close to skeletal. Perky,
joking, everything left in her is
pulling up its feathers to smile,
hide what hurts. The doctor talks in
a soothing voice, doesn't answer,
as my mother, unlike what she
earlier begged not to know, now
says, "of course, I must know
exactly what tests show," and I
feel faint as the doctor talks of bad
cells spreading, closing off her
throat and then of something in
the lung. My mother is bubbly,
laughs. The doctor says, "your
mother is fun" and my mother jokes
as she will back in her room, grin
"I'm fine," to people who will leave
her alone to let what is sink in
as she sinks in the words she knew
but kept separate as a wild animal
pressing closer on the other side
of the glass


She never got them tho
once her rooms were
filled with that orchid
musk. To the ceiling
she says. A surprise
from the man she
couldn't marry. Like
the house she never
had, she plans for lilacs,
clips articles on slip
covers, drapes, folds
them like soft flannel
for a child stillborn.
She sees outlines, the
front lawn daughters
won't be ashamed to
bring boys to in albums
she dates carefully as
if to prove real. In May

she dreams of lilacs,
those rooms filled with
plum and snow. She
doesn't recognize her
arms, once plump
in a middy dress,
holding him as they
danced on the ferry,
thin as the twigs now,
the lilac sticks in
leaves she moves
from the mirror to
look for any trace
of green in


Last Updated: January 16, 2001