365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


District of Columbia

Those dancers
blurred in faded blue,
red bodices top seaweed puff fringe
on the note cards I send to you --
carbon-copy reminders of a dead artist
who loved horses.
Bought where we posed for a photograph,
tiny in that huge atrium.

When you asked where to meet a girl
I said a coffee shop
but you don't wear black much
or look introspective.
you smile at me
and I know what you don't say.
engineers don't write poetry.

Is that why the words got stuck
like a stalled car
at dusk on the mall watching fog
blur monuments together
like watercolor
like dancers?

Dear Red

By the time you read this,
I'll be crossing the border to Tijuana
flying down that smooth tape of highway
which grins at the Pacific,
carving the moon's name on sheer rock face
and I'll imagine you
leaning against the crumbling stones
in the New England countryside
with this and my black rock of volcanic ash
in your hand,
the leafy limbs of the tree I once made love under
shading the back of your mahogany neck
from the late day rays.
Take this letter.

You'll find me in a small shore town
where the sun burns away the visions
which keep me up nights,
the scars from 20 years of chipping
with that rock hammer,
the old brick falling away until I hit freedom.

let the hot sand slough away
the imprints of the cold stone on your feet,
press a conch shell to your ear
and hear the lull of the whitecaps
drown the clacking of black shoes
on a cage floor.

Time Line, for My Sister

When I think of grandfather
sailing out of harbor in the spring of '44,
as grandmother held our father
for the first time,
I want to take his hand
and give back the first two years
of his son's life --
what the war stole.

I wonder if our father thought of us
before we were born,
if he imagined that woman as the mother
of his children,
that woman in the grainy picture
who sends us tins of flavored popcorn every Christmas.

Or did he sense the arrival of our mother's
long brown hair and fiery temper,
biding his time.

My earliest memory was formed at three.
of long brown hands emerging
from an old woman's robes,
to finger then-blond curls.
My white hair was an anomaly
in that crowded Brazilian city
and I cried,
clutching my mother tighter.

Your arms were wrapped around me
in a picture taken later that year,
my face red and wet above a blue sweater
knit by the woman I cried for.
Our small figures blended together
in matching azure wool
and reflections of an empty white house
glinted in the car windows behind.

You squinted at me in the crisp sun,
your sleeves scratched my cheeks when you wiped them.

Richfield Springs

Her grandmother owned the hotel on Locust Street
four stories with green shutters.

That Christmas they got 3 feet.
Mr. Lieberman on his way to Watertown
with his new models
in 6 sizes and 4 colors in room 211,
and the Wolcotts in 106,
with the drippy faucet,
driving to their son's
to see the new baby.
Snowed in.

She played snake family
with her mother's beads
under the lunch table
in a cave
of lavender linen,
wound the smooth green strands
around bony ankles,
listened to lunch hour chatter,
her mother's high pitched call.

Later, her Mary Jane's padded quietly
up the rusty ladder,
red mittened fingers gripping worn iron.
From up there she saw the top of her grandfather's head,
his shovel in and up, in and up,
peered down on the whiteness
wondering where all the birds were.

Mr. Lieberman missed
the flash of blue
streak past his window,
his suppliers chattering about invoices and returns;
Mr. Wolcott just turned
to face the television newscaster,
swearing to his wife
something flashed
past the chipped white windowsills,

and made a soft thud
echoing in snowy stillness.

Tess Autrey began writing poetry during her early high school days at A.C. Flora in Columbia. A graduate of the University of Virginia, she currently works as a legal assistant in Washington, D.C. She plans to enter law school in the fall of 1998.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 12/21/97