Shattered

He smoldered within the mirror
while the late evening drew nearer,
a Summery Saturday night
after a long stretch of daylight.
The mirror was a wedding gift
from his parents, before the rift
that had ruptured in its due course,
bleeding out as a bad divorce.
His wife watched as he primmed himself
in her mirror, nearby the shelf
where their old wedding photo stood,
the two of them framed in fake-wood
and kissing in front of a crowd,
all of their parents very proud,
but now he dabbed on some cologne
and combed his hair, (full but two-tone),
while flashing his straight white teeth
rounded by a beard, like a wreath
that was finely trimmed, each hair snipped,
and, not noticing her, he quipped,
“Still lookin’ good, you handsome stud.”
His wife waited, feeling like mud
while he got ready for “Poker”,
a word spoken like a Joker.
She said, “That’s lots of cash, Jason.”
But, being like a Free Mason,
he never spoke about his games
or any of his friends’ real names.
He would just say, “I sure will win
with a little help from some gin.
Then I’ll get in the scoring zone.”
Despite the cash, there clearly shown
packs of rubbers through the leather:
things they never used together.
The rings reminded of the ring
on her finger, a gaudy thing
he had exchanged in a Pawn Shop
for money he earned with a mop
in an old fast-food restaurant—
the place they met, their Friday haunt
now closed down, its windows broken
and its name nevermore spoken.
“Can you stay home tonight?” she said.
“I’ll make some fresh banana bread.”
Adjusting his belt, and his crotch,
he then checked his true Sterling watch.
“Sounds good for breakfast,” he replied.
“And how about eggs on the side?”
She saw herself past his shoulder:
the wrinkles now looking older
than he looked in his corduroy
and cowboy boots, dressed like a boy
ready for a good do-si-do
and maybe, too, a rodeo.
He could have passed for his thirties,
strutting despite his old hurt knees;
like a rooster touring his coop
and crowing loud atop the stoop
while all the hens gazed in wonder
as they felt his booming thunder.
Whereas her figure had swelled plump
long after she had lost her bump
to a sharp scalpel that had left
her cute navel a scar-crossed cleft.
Marginalized in the mirror,
she saw things now brighter, clearer,
and knew that the once happy Past
passed like a young boy, running fast
to the end-goal, to be a Man,
while yearning to shorten the span
so that he never grew wiser,
becoming too soon a miser
who forgot birthdays on purpose
and treated life as a circus
eager to pack it up and go
leaving her behind, a sideshow.
Anyhow, he prepared to leave,
buttoning up each cufflink sleeve
and putting his wallet up front
to bulge his pocket, give the runt
the outline of a bigger hound
to be picked up from the dog pound.
And yet she was in the doghouse,
knowing he left to hunt the blouse
at another girl’s street address,
something that, if he did confess,
he would do without any shame,
saying, “It’s just a Poke-Her game,”
all the while grinning with an air
debonair—so Devil-may-care.
She glanced at his wallet laying
on the bed, its stuffed folds splaying
to reveal a lot of money.
Her tone pleading, she said, “Honey,
I hope you and the guys have fun,”
while her world was coming undone
as she watched the man she married
grin at himself, his face varied
from the face he wore with his wife
in a normal day of his life.
This rare face came alive
and he hummed just like a beehive,
its combs brimming with sweet honey,
or a day in May: warm, sunny,
the fields alive with flowers,
Though those colors had not been Ours,
she thought, since the day we married.
No, our colors have been buried
deep in the Past, deep in the earth,
just after our son’s awful birth.
My colors wilted in their bloom,
uprooted, torn to make some room
for the fruit of our Love, the child
he hated, abused, and reviled.
But it was my body that died!
My body ripped apart inside!
Then we couldn’t make love at all
and his love became very small.
After all, it’s true, what they say
about Love and how it won’t stay,
but fades over time, no matter
how perfect the daily platter.
He just never valued something
if it couldn’t warm his dumpling.
“There’s a good movie on tonight,”
she said, clutching the pistol tight.
“It’s about a second chance…”
He did not give her a first glance,
turning away from the mirror,
checking his watch, the time nearer,
and so, heading to the door,
he said, “Good night, babe…” and no more.
She heard him start his king-cab truck
and leave the driveway, her eyes stuck
on her reflection in the glass—
eyes wide while completing a pass
up and down her war-torn body;
all used up, her forlorn body.
She aimed the pistol at her heart
and, at the bang, she broke apart.

Fix It Good

A winter sky like sheets of linen
lit by pallid, dimming candlelight,
the wooly clouds gauzy and thin when
the sun descends, a wan, whisk-whipped white
fractured by the barren, black branches
of the old crooked, wind-shaken oak
and the cold evening light that blanches
the distant knobs, while the wispy smoke
slithers serpentinely all across
fields jagged with broken stalks of corn
now harvested and sold at a loss
for those whose labors have thereby borne
but a decrepit bloodline and name,
and the colonial house of brick
standing upright, despite ancient shame
and the tottering wood, rick to rick—
bitter wormwood and ant-eaten oaks
which, when burned, burns also in its turn
the noses of those who gather close
by the hearth, husband and wife, who learn
of cold, silent days that lay between
man and woman and marriage ideals,
sitting in rockers to set a scene
of resentment…pride…contrary wills.
She, in bonnet and a homely frock,
and he, in coveralls and a cap,
both rocking, yet unwilling to talk—
as settled as the quilt on her lap.
A bitter winter crouches outside
like a demon haunting a doorstep
whose whispers come both cruel and snide
to chafe raw at their throats, like the strep;
an itch at first, then a burning pain,
like sharp caustic swirling in the throat,
blazing as a sharply bitter bane,
his voice as gruff as a billy goat.
“It’s a damn cold winter,” he remarks,
snorting, then hacking from the black smoke
pluming from the kindling as it sparks
to breathe a stuffy fragrance to choke
the stuffy room, and its occupants.
He frowns, staring at the sullen fire
as though one of his stamped documents
for a bank account soon to expire.
The backdoor bangs loudly down the hall
and a chilly breeze swirls its way through
like a lost dog returning at call
from an outing down the avenue.
“Damn that backdoor!” the old man exclaims,
glaring at his wife and at the door.
She’s hard of hearing, or so she claims,
and continues knitting, as before.
The door bangs and bangs, the wind blowing
past his neck, chill on his sallow skin;
and though the hearth is warmly glowing,
his bones are chilled as he thinks back when
they had first met, and he had fought hard
to win her heart from her first husband,
sneaking to this house, (snow in the yard),
and through the backdoor, where he was shunned
only once— never more—for he won
her while her first husband was away
each day for two months, dusk until dawn,
till she divorced and married—same day.
But her exhusband took it to heart
and the divorce knotted itself tight
around his neck. “Till death do us part.”
He hanged himself on their wedding night.
But how many men came here, calling,
when he, too, worked at the factory?
Adultery is not a small thing
done and then gone: it’s refractory.
Even now he wonders about men
who may have come in through that backdoor,
feeling cold as the ghosts all walk in
with the wintry breeze from the wild moor.
For a door could have opened again
on one of his own many workdays,
footprints covered in fresh white snow when
she succumbed to one more nymphal craze.
She was once a looker in her day,
but now—sixty-odd—she looks like most,
which is to say, wrinkled, fat, and gray:
old, old, old, soon to give up the ghost.
“I said you need to shut that back-door!”
he shouts at her, his red face a scowl.
She looks up at him from her frayed chore
while the December winds hiss and howl.
“If you’d fix it good,” she says, “you’d never
have to worry about that door none.”
Glowering, he thinks of how clever
women are— too clever to be done.
Meanwhile the demon is whispering,
its cold breath whirling within his ear,
telling him he reminds of a king
whose horned crown was but a cuckold’s fear,
for throughout his kingdom it was known
his wife had slept with many others,
and though he sat upon a great throne
his bed belonged to his wife’s lovers.
Grumbling, he rises up from his chair
and walks to the chilly old bedroom,
shuddering with the cold gusts of air
and contemplating the coming gloom.
He has always kept a pail of nails
and a hammer underneath the bed,
and as he recalls the sound of bells
at the church where they wished to be wed
he drives the point into stubborn wood
to nail shut that door against the air.
He says, “I’m goin’ to fix it good.”
and, hammer raised, walks toward her chair…

Frog Song

“I love the song of these dear ones,” she said
as she sipped wine beside the reed-riddled pond.
“And I love this wine. It is a lovely red.”
Behind her the mansion stood, a red dusk beyond.

She let the young man with the golden hair
kiss her neck as he touched her black-gowned hips
and though she was older than he, she was still fair—
except where concerned her late husband’s lips.

“Yes,” she said, “I declare this croaking song
the finest I have heard since before my wedding.
Frogs are princes, you know. They can do no wrong
so long as they are croaking before the bedding.”

The young man laid his head upon her breast,
his curly hair glinting gold against mottled skin,
and she kissed with wine-stained lips that gilt nest
and laughed to think of her husband’s wrathful kin.

“Those complacent fools,” she said, “they thought to steal
from me what was mine by right of marriage,
but there was no breaking the words of the Will.
No longer am I horse to their whip and carriage.”

The clamorous chorus of frogs rallied,
gurgling amidst darkening New England waters
and she twirled her finger in his hair as she tallied
the delicious scowls of step-sons and step-daughters.

But nothing was more delicious than that last sound
her late husband made as the glass fell from his grasp;
a sound like a faltering footstep on boggy ground—
the croak of a throat given to a phlegmy gasp.

“There is nothing the right wine cannot accomplish,”
she said pushing the young man’s head farther down.
“The right vintage is a genie granting any wish…”
She moaned as he kissed her within her mourning gown.

The picnic at the pond sprawled but a little way
from the fresh-cut headstone, and the unsettled earth,
so her late husband could join them on that joyful day
of his own Wake, with its amphibious frog-song mirth.