Norma Chapman

I LONG TO LIVE                    

where the undeserving
poor eat truffles
and sleep under goose down
comforters, while the deserving
rich go to jail and stay there—
in that place where Marx            
and Christ converge.

My friend Eleanor says,
The reason trees
are so restful
is that they have no opinions.
Eleanor and I are stuffed
with opinions, but on our walk
along the C&O Canal,
we leave them in the car
to squabble among themselves.    

This moment is the hardest
place to live.
I keep trying to pin it down,
a live butterfly squirming
in my sweating hand,
and I want to yell, Stop, wait!
Is this what Buddha warned against
and why Goethe’s Faust nearly went to hell?


I’m 16. My cousin Wilma has a friend who has a friend
who’s 23, a veteran of World War II, and he  flirts with me.

He looks like he stepped out of a movie.
I don’t believe a word he says, but I want to hear more.

I peel the faded sunburn flakes from his back. I don’t burn.
He kisses me, gently. At night, alone, my pajamas hurt my skin.

I take them off. The sheets hurt my skin. I put my pajamas
back on. In the evenings, I do my homework, listen to Paul Robeson

and Ravel on the phonograph. My family lets me smoke
and have a beer while I study.  It’s 1947. They’re freethinkers

and the Daily People’s World arrives in a plain brown wrapper.
I make the honor roll. I’m good at chemistry and English and algebra.

I want to be a doctor. He and I go out on weekends—th to Hoover Dam,
to walk in the canyons, to a roadhouse to dance. He’s the only man

I could ever dance with. My junior year is over and the summer
is over. What passes for winter in the desert is over.

It’s spring. I want him to call. I want to listen. He takes me to visit
his cousins on the reservation. We like each other.

One night he puts his tongue in my mouth and says I shouldn’t
let anyone else do that. No adult has ever talked to me about sex.

He asks me to do one thing for him, just because he asks. I think,
Yes, yes of course. He says “Don’t go to college.” I look at him and laugh.

He never speaks to me again. I don’t understand. My aunt writes to me
when I’m at Berkeley to tell me he’s married the homecoming queen.

They have children, five in a row, no stopping.


When I was twelve, my stepsister whispered
in my ear the only sex education I ever had
and told me my father slept with Georgia Hydock
and Elizabeth Ray after I was born.

When I was eighteen, my father said, I let
 all my wives get the divorces.  It was a good
 thing your mother bruised so easily.

I was six when they divorced.
Now a movie rolls in my head.

Harold’s truck moves down our driveway.
There’s a palm tree in front of the house.
The sun is just up. My mother gets out of the truck.
Her feet and legs up to the knees are tiny.
The rest of her body is round. As she steps
to the ground, she wobbles.  My father runs
out the front door. Mother walks toward the house,

Father’s mouth is moving. This is a silent film.                 
He grabs her arms, lets go, and hits her in the face.
Harold gets out of the truck. The tiny veins
on his nose and cheek glisten bright red.
The two men walk toward each other.
Harold puts up both hands. My father hits him
on the jaw.  Harold falls and doesn’t get up.

The screen goes black. There are no credits.      

Norma Chapman's poems have appeared in Passager, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Iris, The Sow’s Ear, and River Styx.  She began writing poetry after turning sixty.  A recipient of a 2003 Maryland State Arts Council Grant, she lives in Brunswick, a small town in Western Maryland.



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