BEFORE AND AFTER
Hard not to speak in elegies, so we are silent as we walk home from the film that has shown us there's no future in our history. We aren't ready for mass transit; we want to hear the sound our feet make on the pavement. It's 10:30 but the square's still rowdy, storefronts pulsing electric, street lamps burning
holes in the night, the great White Way that one day
will go dark because the play has ended. I steer us toward Astor Place and we stand by the wall of the sub station. There, I say, pointing to a slice of moon behind the Chrysler Building's terraced crown. Wads of cloud migrate with the slow purpose of East River barges or sea ice melting. We are not sleepy. We stand in a square named for a robber baron among a late-night crowd
in their vagabond shoes. Under our feet
engines rumble and air brakes squeal. Someone asks if we are lost.
you lost your perch—
the balcony of a Tuscan palazzo,
ceiling of a Baroque church,
or a Roman bridge that saw
centurions on the march—
and landed in a bed of ivy
in the gardens
of the Brooklyn Museum.
No, there’s more artifice than that:
a curator placed you
where green would frame
your alabaster curls
and you are laughing
at the soft, unexpected landing,
lips open, wings touching
the new growth of purple iris.
But your wings
are cracked at the shoulder joint.
Your journey’s over,
mine’s about to start.
And when the tour
of dead masters ends,
you are still there, the laughing cherub.
“Cheer up. You’ll survive.
Look at me.”
HOUSE OF FLEAS
We were closer to the sidewalk then, knew
every crack and stoop on Chestnut Street
where the hurdy-gurdy man’s monkey took
our coins in his red hat, coins we swiped
from Our Lady’s collection box.
Michael stinks of dog, his parents’
pure-bred German Shepherds who
terrorize and slobber on their guests
till no one dares visit and Michael hides out
at our house until he has to go home.
Lydia’s mother beats her with a broom
in a house shuttered to daylight.
Just once I follow Lydia into her dark hallway
and a living room where women in panties
and slips are dozing on the furniture.
Is it Lydia or my father who brings
the fleas that my mother discovers,
combing our wet hair? Bert, she cries,
come look at this. I know my father
crosses the street after we are in bed,
a prize for the girls—handsome and a vet.
It isn’t the sex that chills my mother. It’s the fleas.
New York poet Lisa Mullenneaux has published the chapbook "Painters and Poets" (2012) and maintains the ekphrastic art gallery www.paintersandpoets.com. Her poems have appeared in American Arts Quarterly, Stone Canoe, The Fourth River, and others. When she’s not writing, she teaches writing for the University of Maryland UC