The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Antonia Clark
Rebecca and Rachel. Those were the names
we wanted, instead of Ellen and Anne.
I taught her how to tie her boxy brown
corrective shoes, to tell time, do times tables,
tell when the coast was clear, to tiptoe,
lie, create a stir, slip out unnoticed.
The cellar smelled of musty rags, dusty jars.
We waited there for signs, for coded messages
from Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys,
and later, from Frankie Pascarelli, Billy Cutts,
waited to be rescued, to fall, weak and sighing,
into their arms behind the furnace.
We turned forbidden words on our tongues
like sour lemon drops, words we dreamed
of saying to those boys. We scrawled them
on slips of paper, dared one another to slide
them into locked drawers, under closet doors.
When parents found them, we learned
to think fast, run faster, always imagining
worse disaster. At night, we held each other
and shivered, pretending we were the sisters
in the news who'd fallen into a well.
I've heard how easily bones break,
disintegrate, how hard they are to build,
set right. You hear, every day,
of bad backs that will never give up
their pain no matter how strong the rods
of steel the spine is made to bear,
of crippled limbs, arthritic hands,
diseases that knob and hobble.
An old woman has a hold on me,
leaches my calcium day by day,
cackles that she'll steal my finger joints,
crack my ribs, one by one. She lays
her bony hand along my skull,
taking my full measure, biding her time.
To see if they measure up, he sets
one plank beside the other, sights
along the edge, and checks
for bowing. Satisfied, he makes
his measurements and markings,
quick flicks with the pencil he tucks
back behind an ear. I love
a man with the smell of fresh-cut
wood on his hands, who can handle
brace and bit, band saw and blade,
who takes his pleasure in birdseye,
tiger, ribbon, and flame, speaks
the language of heartwood,
a man with an instinct for how much
pressure can be brought to bear
on whatever he touches, when
it will stand strong, when
it will naturally give.
Copyright 2006-2012 by Cook Communication