Like the friend following you
into the thrall of the park by night–
through the gazebo and the swings
to the slide–
that no, you go caught in my hair.
A grey epoch. Rain smoke. Stars
in the black gutters when it cleared.
My dreams grew big with whales
and buck-teethed women
whose veiled hats kept them kindly
at a distance.
I opened all the doors in the house
to collect light. Pale doors. Pale floors.
I wanted to turn ghost or water.
He’s mopey, the story said
one morning, but you like him right?
I was eating breakfast. Recounting,
on the neighbor’s lawn,
the thinning herd of plastic deer.
Tell me more about the salt trade,
I’m bored, I said, tell me anything.
The cat settled into her pillow on the bed.
Juice stung my wrist–the story’d stolen
another bite of nectarine.
It liked making me blush. It liked:
the ribbon shoelaces on my high heels,
certain frequencies of cloud, the parrot
who said only No more good time Charlie for you!
Before he came. After he left.
The girls at the beauty school
gossiping over their mannequin heads.
Already I miss Troy
in the summer.
My body propped
on the raft at Booth Lake,
feet stirring the weeds.
Population: a man
pulling a child’s wagon
into the soyfield.
Seven hundred and twenty-six
Two balloons tied to a stop sign
over a cardboard arrow
pointing down some dust snake
of a road.
In the summer
I wear my tube top
and Troilus takes me
to the drag races.
We sat late on the hot hood
of his car, his finger writing “wheel”
on my knee and
believe me, believe me
said the floodlights.
On the way home,
a bloodied boy pissing
on his downed opponent’s feet.
Pandarus in the back seat
Hey, remember when Cassandra…etc., etc.
Old word scuttler.
my dad says of the heat.
I steady him in the walker
so he can hold a wrist under the tap,
the wet plate in the sink
a crumb-grained mirror
of the curtain’s dumb in and out,
its lace-patterned border, even:
Horse, church, dog, man.
Horse, church, dog, man.
I didn’t know who I was, we say,
didn’t know what I wanted.
I knew: it was winter in me,
and the road taken from the cornfields
and the crow king of us. Then–
I was bemused, was loved.
It made me cruel, a little:
I dreamed of flower girls
painted in suet and birdseed
and the bows on their shoes
tied nothing in. There’s a happiness
so hard you pray to be ripped from it,
to be dropped anywhere–
there, maybe: snow pulls to the ground
and you are sleeping.
Tires shush the street,
the wind tastes of pennies.
What I was, what I wanted.
The way a sparrowhawk
unthreading a lark on a marble floor is–
those pictures made me beautiful.
Francesca Abbate is associate professor of English at Beloit College.