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Diane Lockward's Poems


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The Missing Wife

Wife and dog missing.
Reward for the dog.
—bumper sticker on a pickup truck

The wife and the dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.

They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

Time passed. They came and went as they pleased,
chased sticks when they felt like chasing sticks,
dug holes in what they came to regard
as their own backyard. They unlearned
how to roll over and play dead.

In spring the dog wandered off in pursuit
of a rabbit. Collared by a hunter and returned
to the master for $25, he lives
on a tight leash now.
He sleeps on the wife’s side of the bed,
whimpering, pressing his snout
into her pillow, breathing
the scent of her hair.

And the wife? She’s moved deep into the heart
of the forest. She walks
on all fours, fetches for no man, performs
no tricks. She is content. Only sometimes
she gets lonely, remembers how he would nuzzle
her cheek and comfort her when she twitched
and thrashed in her sleep.

—from Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003)
first published in Two Rivers Review


 

Pastiche for a Daughter’s Absence

It all comes down to what’s physical,
this missing her—her face, voice, and skin.
I imagine my daughter dancing in Madrid, Barcelona,
and Seville, climbing the mountains of Andalusia.
I had not imagined how far away faraway would be.

Happiness, unhappiness—the same,
my sweet Zen master says,
and I wonder if the top of my head
supports heaven, or is this a migraine
coming on?

I circle back to the place where precision
and ecstasy meet, remember how I carried the tadpole
of her body, long before the first flutter, holding her
like a secret inside me.

I wake in the night missing
a body part, my arm stretched across the ocean,
hooked to the past, and I wonder,
as Achilles’ mother must have,
Which part of you did I not dip in the water?

Heavy with absence, I hang curtains in her windows,
yards and yards of delicate Irish lace.
I hide behind the door, ear pressed to the wood,
and watch my daughter’s life—her evening paseo,
late dinners in Saragossa’s village square.
The room fills with the smell of gazpacho, paella, sangria.

Something like grief washes through me, something like joy.
I slip into the waves, feel the ebb and flow of her,
my water sprite, my sea nymph, remember the way
she glides through a room, the low-tide
of her voice, how she leaves us,
breathless, all fish at her feet.

—from Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003)


 

Gender Issue

George thinks he’d like to play with dolls.
This man loves women but envies girls
their dolls and wants his own, no GI Joe or Ken
but a real girl’s doll, Miss Alexander or
Muffy, Ginny, Barbie, or an American Girl.

He dreams of a portmanteau full of doll’s clothes,
a purple party dress with hand-smocked bodice
and genuine lace, pajamas with pearl buttons,
black patent leather dancing shoes, and changing her
from swimsuit to gold lamé evening gown.

Most of all he wants a baby doll, not
plastic and hard-edged, but with skin that feels
human. Tiny Tears, Cuddle Baby, or Cabbage Patch.
He does a Google search, orders a baby
off the internet, a modern immaculate conception.

Nights he tucks it snug as an embryo under his shirt,
craves pickles, hot fudge sundaes, buttered popcorn.
Soon the yeasty rising of belly, taut and round
as a drum, shifting and pulsing inside.
His arches collapse, his lower back aches.

In bed he grows restless, flops from side to side.
Electrical charges down the lightning rod of spine.
He breathes and pants—phh, phh, phh—as women
on television do, legs bent at the knees, and pushes,
feels the hot rush of water, the salmon-swim of child.

She slides between his legs, a perfect home
delivery. He bathes the petal-soft skin, like any real
mother would, feeds and burps his baby,
strokes the pearls of her toes, remembers
the dancing shoes, and vows to kill the man who harms
this child, pink and delicate as a tea-rose.

—from What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2006)
first published in Margie


 

Pyromania

The heart wants what the heart wants,
and what it wants is fire.
My friend Roz, six months into a relationship
with a seemly man, dumps him
and says, There’s no fireworks.
Roz wants the full-scale Grucci display—
her lover a licensed pyrotechnician,
Roman candles manually fired,
multi-color scenes, a barrage
of illuminations, the sky pulsing,
and always the Grand Finale.

Think of that woman in Colorado,
a forest ranger, who goes into the woods,
a letter from her estranged husband
clutched in her fist, a firestorm in her heart.
She reads the letter one last time,
strikes a match and kindles his words,
watches them shrivel.
Think of the entire forest in flames,
the blaze billowing and consuming,
trees surrendering to fire,
skeletons of timber, and charred remains.

And now I learn that silicone in the breasts
must be excised before cremation
or it blows up, liquefying to a dangerous substance,
destroying the crematorium.
I’d like to have breasts like that—
round and full, earth-tipped and tilted
heavenward, the kind that ignite and explode.
I’d like my breasts to burst into flame,
spreading like wildfire,
tongues of scarlet licking the walls.
I’d like breasts just that white-hot
as once they were under the touch
of my lover, so recently departed.
I’d like to burn the crematorium down.

—from What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2006)
first published in Prairie Schooner