Floor Begged for a Dog
No-one was near; they slept
cry-deaf far away, above
the terror of the stairs.
Inside, all clenched family,
outside, something else – a freedom,
abandoned idea of a garden.
The house’s wool pelt, sighing
mattress of coiled ancestor hair.
Feather pillow sifting to dust.
Something good is always broken:
a favorite cup, his playful
mood, the radio’s faraway war.
Lighting the stove, she bent
down to the oven pilot,
singed off one black eyebrow.
Know how the table’s set,
where silver knives sleep – rituals
of the stern, female God.
It’ll end in tears. Don’t
use that tone with me.
Furnace asked for its name.
The Medicine Cabinet
Lilac and rose versus denim and gray, the borders
of a world cloven in two. On the right,
rows of Mom’s lipsticks, torpedo tubes
armed with Fabulous Colors: Passion Flame,
Fire when Ready. Scent of AquaNet hairspray
hovers over a Pick-up-Stix of scattered bobby pins.
She is the rainy season, constellations
of eyelash brushes. His arid months of combs
define half the zodiac. On the left,
a slab of Old Spice shaving soap
waits be moistened and whisked to a froth
by a badger-bristle shaving brush, its touch
unexpectedly maternal. Psssssst! dry shampoo
forms a bouffant cloud when I press Spray on the rusty can.
Each week, the desk-top hair dryer waited for me
to place painted nails on its base to dry wet polish.
Searing gray bonnet over my hair, it would test
me for the side I’d chosen. I had to bear
the heat, the bite of plastic curlers to prove,
unlike the princess who could not bear the hidden pea.
Cuisine of the Mother Country
My Romanian grandmother made mamalige –
poured out a coarse yellow moon of cornmeal
onto a wooden board. I never tasted
this polenta from my mother’s hands.
Instead, she cooked the dishes of her German
grandmother: pot roast, chopped liver, matzo
balls. (a joke had Marilyn Monroe asking
what other part of the matzo do they use?)
Even Julia Child on TV didn’t change
her cooking: she worked two jobs, so
served mashed potatoes as instant powder
from a foiled pouch, canned chow mein
with noodles from a separate can to keep them crisp.
We ate well in restaurants, the Café
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Greek capitals reflected in the pool where Pan
piped to a fountain of nymphs. Debussy’s
Claire de Lune from the speakers. Clatter of knives,
clack of high heels, fur coats
sprawled across disapproving chairs.
I was the one who took to cooking
(cave of the body, its call to be fed)
who spent my allowance on Manhattan adventure:
in the morning, the Museum of Modern Art
lunch at a tiny bistro
on 53rd Street. At 14
I first tasted escargot – tiny fork
penetrating the spiral shell –
I learned to wipe buttery sauce from the dimples
in the metal dish with a chunk
of fresh bread torn from a demi-baguette,
to move on from there to the pleasure of a full course.