The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Debra Bruce

Stumbling Block 


A woman I once knew is now a man,

or on his way—though I still see her face,

the razzed-up haircut, earlobes that could wake

the masters of the centuries to collect

their colors, wet their brushtips and regard

such beauty as goes forth beneath the clouds                                               


or some such exhalation that could cloud                                               

the summer of a girl becoming a man.                                                           

One drop if ice-cream on her lip —regard                                                           

another man who stopped to scan her face

as if he'd found a portrait—shrewd collector—

of a banished girlish earl and hoped to wake

the art world up.  My friend is lying awake

at dawn her first day back as him.  No cloud

surrounding him, he hopes—he will collect

all queries, swift and forthwith as a man.

Whatever they think of him he's ready to face.

No reason he should drop in their regard.


Pop him with helloes, or disregard

the obviousness of his awakening?

Does anyone look right into his face?

Some keep their voices muted, in a cloud,

thinking about the woman who was this man,

as they glance down pretending to collect


paperclips from a magnet while they collect

themselves. They must stay wide awake—                                               

They practice saying his new name, regardless,

but stumble on the pronoun he for man.

They concentrate like kids who stare at a cloud

until it clarifies into a face.


Newcomers in his life won't have to face

him with such vigilance, recollecting

a woman they once knew, circling in clouds

of ambiguity, a place with no regard

for thumping on solid ground and waking up

in a world of this-or-thatness.  He's a man.


He's now a man.  The thought keeps me awake.

His voice collects a thickness like a cloud.

Regardless, I see her face.



The Magician


You wouldn't believe it!  One minute

he's just my husband, soaping a dish,


but when he turns to me, lifting a towel,

I have something to tell you—presto!


My chest is a cavity filling with crushed ice,

the air a shattered windshield I haven't even hit


yet as he steers me over familiar hardwood

to the couch. 


How did he do it?

I stared down hypnotized by our braided rug circling


and circling, as it has all these years.

And then it disappeared. 

Custody Haiku


His Dad's specialty—

charcoal-flamed chili burger

followed by bad news.


Mouthful of gravel,

rock dropped in a hole, his Mom

squeezing his hand hard


as if to get tears

out of him.   He wouldn't play

any of their games.


His room a gray pit.

She knocked all day, then slipped in

for dirty dishes.


His cellphone's smothered

metallic buzz—can't find it

or maybe he checks


then listens later

to Dad’s brand-new chipper voice.

Delete.  Or he checks


in his sleep, then rolls

away to stare at the wall

for a few more years.

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