Saturday Apr 01

LewisLisa Lisa Lewis ’s most recent books are Vivisect (New Issues Press) and Burned House with Swimming Pool (Dream Horse Press, American Poetry Journal Prize). She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review. In 2011 she was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.



Glass Curtains

We had borrowed the bed, and the room,
ripe with the marrow of a settled life,
and we sank, ourselves the pool
of trembling water. His words
nipped the surface like mayflies.
With so many stories outside the door,
deafness passed for incurable stumbling.

The sun lay flush to heaven like a gash.
I’d heard it was madness to talk alone,
so I sang in the southwest
of stars and wind. I stirred batter
for pancakes, I smothered walls
in smoke, I scrubbed crackling
insect skulls from the pantry.
The smell, black oil, grackle’s neck,
like an old man waking
in an armchair embroidered
with tubercular roses
and denying knowledge of me,
the music, my forehead,
wrists protruding from soiled cuffs.

I was the well, poisoned,
bronze water fading to sludge wine.
I landed in jail and a lawyer said,
You have the gift of healing.
I coughed up apples and a doctor said,
You are all argument and sentence,
a natural judge for the bench.
I signed on for a factory job
and fluttered my hands over beds
and benches and stairs parading
to the ceiling, weaving back.
I smoothed them down.
They died in my arms.
These tombs I built for nothing
would be written into history.
I sometimes etched my initials
into a corner of a closed drawer.
To this day no one has contacted me
to ask who that girl was.
Then flashed the glimpse of my birthday,
and he of the promises consumed my gifts.
We slept in the front yard, drunk
on rage and forgetfulness,
and when we woke he beat me
for growing fat and cruel
in my flounced dress.
I’d like to say that was the end,
the neighbors peeking
between glass curtains,
bloodying their noses,
that being the fashion in our town,
where I never returned
once I found a horse grazing,
crooked of tooth, lost,
face like a paper airplane.
There’s nothing older than me
dropping down onto the mare’s back
even if it never comes true.
I’m sorry, man who disappeared
in the midst of bringing blood,
hauling a vat of green grapes:
for ale, you said, muscadine,
and you slipped and fell,
sloshing the bitter froth,
slicking the steps and threshold,
and I laughed, and here we are,
as if pity were a quilt
and your face a tear
where cotton batting leaks
pale yellow, like potatoes.

On Getting New Glasses

I’m almost as good as before. Some ways, I’m better.
It only appears that my eyes are shrinking,
the way a window darkens when curtains are drawn.
The blonde opticians who sold me sunglasses
gazed upon me as the sun glances away from cloud.
I was joking, though they didn’t laugh,
that the day was overcast and the sunglasses
would have to wait. Only a little sky
refracted around the posters of models—
Armani, Juicy Couture, Nine West—
pouting down their machined cheekbones,
faces big as their customers’ bodies.
We all shrank to their warning.
The saleswoman in the tiered skirt,
black ruffles, pointed to her own eyes.
She struggled to find the words. I wear them,
she said, because if you squint: the tiny lines:
the tiny lines. She understood eyes to be seen
rather than see, and I saw hers through fresh glasses,
the prescription sharpened so the corners she feared
would give her away as having looked too hard
and too long were clear to me, swept clean.
Now, close to my speckles and freckles, I see not tiny lines
but grooves where a flood has run.
Weeks before she died my friend the poet,
enduring her secrets and apologizing,
pointed to her face and remarked on the stoical
expression graven nose to lip, deeper
each year. She said there was nothing
to stop it. She said it was because she was Japanese.
Sometimes in those terminal weeks I believed
would go on forever I noticed her glasses
askew on her small nose, and I was overtaken
with tenderness. I might’ve reached to straighten
the bridge, to balance it, but it was her business
to be crooked if she could manage it, and she could.
I will be rushing down the river of my own frown
as long as there is water to overflow.
Someone might be laughing at my hapless manner,
the comedy of aging. There I am, in the window’s
reflection, astigmatic, lost in a lit cloud.
I’m lucky to be alive, I think aloud.
But there’s an echo in my voice of the dead
I loved, stars who posed for photographs
for the fans, the public, mere mortals.
Then something happened—a complication,
a lens shattered, appointment missed—
and the next time we checked the fashion pages
the trends had changed. We complained
they’d lost their beauty, the reason
we followed their style.

The Body Double

When Myra thanks me for the cool sweatshirts I sent her from Iowa all those years,
I become, for a moment, the dumbstruck statue I think of as the old me, the outgrown shoe, a tight fit, out of fashion,
the walking embarrassment I’ve worked for years to leave behind, deny, though of course I never can.
Young, I was so obsessed within myself, with myself, how I must’ve appeared to others, I hardly occupied my own body.
Instead my floating consciousness knocked forever at the windows, the faces, of those who observed me,
especially if they seemed, as they often did, mocking. What was my problem? What did they see that was different, beneath the notion
of humanity, acceptable “girlhood,” that their measure for me was scorn?
I flitted from their critical frowning to my own shrinking, speechless shell. I pursued the skin of me in mirrors,
and as I stared at the reflected face that warped as I watched, I carried within my own focus
what I gleaned from the unspoken rage of those who looked on me and disapproved.
But this is not what Myra intends. It’s all without substance anyway—
not that I was wrong, but that it’s idea, finally abandoned for its uselessness and weight
I eventually imagined as one of those cartoon tonnages, black, geometric, marked in white paint, a ring on top for a giant to grip,
and if I was a giant it was because, like all girls, I needed to be small.
Right now Myra is as puzzled as I was.
She’s married twice at twenty-one, worked as a stripper, never excelled at school—or anything—
but for a while was engaged to a military man, who grew predictably violent, and whose small son, also Myra’s, blond skull-shaven Tyler,
who daily locks himself in the bathroom to play with plastic army men and somehow dispose of half a roll of toilet paper—
a family joke he’s oblivious to—seems already to possess that fuse.
Myra is Sara’s stepdaughter. I’ve known Sara for thirty years. She leans over the sink rinsing blueberries. She has bought eleven cases to freeze
so she can eat them with oatmeal all winter. I might’ve lied about those sweatshirts, she says,
and Myra stares at me a long second before she looks away, and the paralytic unfinished girl frieze I’ve played
the long, staggering, previous moment begins to thaw with recognition. Sara lies, and lies, she lies and admits it,
she lies and doesn’t admit it however obvious, and everyone around her lives with this knowledge and the impossibility
of doing a thing to change it. I recognize, and the old anger at being diminished, again, through the lies,
at being assumed so passive or stupid that I won’t or can’t penetrate the lies, and now even at being lied about,
is like a fire where I warm myself after a walk in cold weather.
So I move, and Myra moves, and the strangeness passes, though the faint burn lingers,
whenever I wonder if I’ve recovered what I lost those years I couldn’t rest in my own body
for longing to see my body, face, hair, frightened eyes, as my critics did and signaled without explanation.
What act of kindness did Sara contrive when she bought sweatshirts printed with cartoon dogs and funny puns or slogans
and gave them to the child Myra as the offering of good Aunt Lisa? In Iowa forever though I lived there in fact
three years? Sara, the benevolent mother, would make up anything: their own mother’s madness they needed to flee for sake of sanity;
a heart attack scare that stopped her mid-drive the year she promised to visit in Ohio, and I waited hours past her scheduled arrival, furious
I’d been ditched, until her husband called, voice cold with triumph,
she wouldn’t leave him for so much as a weekend; and the fantasy Lisa, wacky, wild-haired, full of love
for her friend’s stepdaughter she’d hardly met and buying up everything a girl might swallow straight up as a gift,
sealing boxes with packing tape, addressing labels, shipping—the lode of gold, the secret friend, maybe what Myra needed then,
or Sara, and what harm if I never knew?
I stand outside the ambitious, selfish, prideful, penniless, terrified me, who hated children,
who wished my friend had no children, who wished for gifts and received nothing, was bitterly satisfied with nothing,
and there’s the story Sara made up, like a doll to march on the bathroom floor, the door locked to the silence outside:
and I want to ask her why couldn’t she buy those sweatshirts in her own name,
but I will never speak of it, and she will never speak of it, and the way we live will again seem to grow a size larger, too big for the two of us,
as if there were really another person hiding, maybe in plain sight, or in a box of ashes, a dead person,
or a story, a children’s story that will never be published as Sara sometimes speaks of writing the stories she told her children,
her son she didn’t have to fight to win the way she fought for the children of the woman she characterized as demented, ignorant, dangerous:
we’re used to it this way. Whenever I visit I sit at her table and the room’s objects gleam,
all foreign, I invent a history for each aluminum platter, cup, spooled chair and curtain.
There’s a crate in the corner stuffed with rags. Some of the rags have cuffs. I can make out the ironed on letters,
sports teams, brand name logos. If I were a woman who knew how to love, I would offer gifts, carefully chosen.
I would walk into the story of me and speak the lines with conviction, and when I walked back out I’d be leaving myself
to hurry back because outside, where I am today, where I’ve always been, is empty space, dark stars, blindness.
Where I’ve been is country like Iowa winter, corn stalks broken to ash and whipped away.