Today, on the eve of the last of National Poetry Month, I offer you two very different poems courtesy of The Writer's Almanac — because I can't decide.
For Aunt Cleone
After the divorce,
she sent me twenty dollars
tucked into the folds
of her crinkly blue stationery
written hard on both sides.
No use crying
over spilt milk, she said,
still, what a shame. There
never had been divorce
in the family. By then,
I had a child
and could barely remember
my aunt's voice, but her certainties
were plain. No leaping
off cliffs for her.
The whir of the sewing machine,
her shelves lined with canned goods
straight from the garden,
that was more her way. Her long letters,
full of other people's news,
my father's silence,
or her own lack of children.
From a quick how are you,
she'd go right to
the surgery of a neighbor
I would never meet,
or what a nice visit
she'd just enjoyed with Elsie.
Who was Elsie? I never exactly knew.
But, after all, weren't we all part
of the great messy human family?
It swirled around her kitchen,
where she tied a fresh apron
around her waist,
and carried on.
She would hope for the best,
she concluded before signing her name.
Use the money
for something special.
Something just for you.
by Barbara Bloom
from On the Water Meridian. © The Hummingbird Press, 2007
The Rites of Manhood
It's snowing hard enough that the taxis aren't running.
I'm walking home, my night's work finished,
long after midnight, with the whole city to myself,
when across the street I see a very young American sailor
standing over a girl who's kneeling on the sidewalk
and refuses to get up although he's yelling at her
to tell him where she lives so he can take her there
before they both freeze. The pair of them are drunk
and my guess is he picked her up in a bar
and later they got separated from his buddies
and at first it was great fun to play at being
an old salt at liberty in a port full of women with
hinges on their heels, but by now he wants only to
find a solution to the infinitely complex
problem of what to do about her before he falls into
the hands of the police or the shore patrol
—and what keeps this from being squalid is
what's happening to him inside:
if there were other sailors here
it would be possible for him
to abandon her where she is and joke about it
later, but he's alone and the guilt can't be
divided into small forgettable pieces;
he's finding out what it means
to be a man and how different it is
from the way that only hours ago he imagined it.
by Alden Nowlan
from What Happened When He Went to the Store for Bread
Thanks to Maryclare Maslyn and Bill Kitzerow for their bathroom poems; I will publish them next.