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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Four Poems from Hanging Out in the Ordinary by Tilly Washburn Shaw

Ben & J.

                Chill pint in which
one spoon calls to the next,
cold slipperiness slithering down,
whisking its savor off,
mind instantly thinks more,
begins a trance chain—why not
another and another—wants
its mother, sister, brother—
until it’s gone, used up,
thank goodness


Back from her swim,
sun already half down
air sharp, raw. Still, she’d finish
the car, not leave
it half done.
                      She stepped inside
the front door in her blue Speedo,
freezing from the California air.
Looked at the yellow note pad with
its surprising pencil marks: Your
mother called from New England,
your brother is dead.

Her face exploded, drew together and
apart, no longer exactly belonged to her.
When younger and people died, her feelings
stopped—couldn’t be sure she had any.
This time, sounds erupted into the
empty house, repeated from room to
room, drove her to stand at the corners,
let noise bellow out, stretch the lungs.
The harshness calmed her, made her
want more. She telephoned but couldn’t
reach anyone. Her brother was dead.
Keep up the volume, try limits, see
what would happen.

Bare knuckles on the cold metal
of the car. Plane to leave early
in the morning. The cloths and old
sheets flopped about in her hands,
broke up the wax film on the paint,
banged and thudded against the car parts.

It was almost too dark to see. She pushed
to get shine, pummeled the car body
repeatedly, forced on more wax and
trammeled it with cloths. Skin and bones
on metal, scrape the vocal cords, cry.

Later all the parts of her face were red.
She looked carefully in the mirror,
saw it was ugly. She’d always wanted
this brother to like her. But he was older,
stubborn—she a disturbance in
his life. It didn't help either that he
learned things slowly. She wanted,
but he kept refusing.

Last time the sister talked with the brother,
she yelled at him. She couldn’t reach him.
anymore. She loved shouting at him,
the only person she could do it with. Lungs
splitting jubilant, a sound she missied,
never heard anymore. I love you in the
form it came, a dumb I love you, stupid,
everything wrong with it. You call
someone, raring to pick a fight. Exit
shouting. Et voila!

Other Mothers

One wasn’t enough, or two,
I needed seven, eight, nine—
at least one each decade,
new place or circumstance,
a whole life through.

They seemed to choose me out,
sensed I was looking for them,
some hidden flag I was waving.
And all of thme so very kind,
their goodness unforgettable,
so freely given, heart
weeps to think on it.

Today the last one died.
Today I had to become
my own mother, walking around by
myself in this late life space, taking in the
fresh air and vacant places,
the raft of breezes—

Not uncheerful really, perhaps soon a
grandmother to all I’ve been,
looking back, enjoying patting my
erstwhile curls and eagerness.

When Looking at Photographs

                        what I crave,
not so much words of the face
or tongue, their nuance, precision,
even prettiness.
                        Could be
a slump of the head, or surprised
stare, a loneliness about
the shoulders, even that
outer blankness when the mind
turns inward, lets go of
the moment
                        now caught, stopped,
seen as storied, recognized by
the heart, curve I reach
outward toward
slide my hand slowly over.

Copyright 2015