The hardest puzzle, the clown on the table
with the red bulb nose, all his cartoon parts
exposed. Tiny tweezers to extract Cavity Sam ’s
white plastic ailments, a terrible buzz if you
touched their shiny borders. My sister, better
than I, with both dexterity and patience, plus
a drive to succeed. Too often, I slipped to dreams,
what was sure to befall in adulthood: charley horse,
water on the knee, a broken heart. There didn ’t
appear an alternative. I wanted the life in picture
books—castles and riches, talking frogs, perfect love—
what I knew wasn ’ t true, yet lodged in my head.
I wanted a place where no one was cut into,
their bodies changed, terror altering them forever.
In this life, a cutting move or word could go wrong
and sometimes did. Here, I never seemed big
enough, connected enough, to be a true caretaker.
What shrewd incision to remove fairy tale vision?
Where shame would make a scolding sound
in the heart—like getting buzzed into a dangerous
building—and I wouldn’t just drift on through?
Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen
— New Orleans, 1794-1881
Like all conjurers, I am two-headed.
I exist on two planes: the real world
and the spirit. I wouldn't wish two
heads on anyone: I envy the truly
dead. Hard to walk with a heel
in each world. When I barter with
the fruit vendor, I get thrown by
the glares of his mirror and mine.
I feel his thoughts--he wants gold,
he wants rightness--and screaming
back are my own whispered wants
for coins and control. And so it goes
with all. Like any faith, voodoo
works by how much people want
to believe. Salt poured across a
threshold keeps away an enemy;
you see the salt and, unsure if it's
you the conjurer hates, stay away.
So the salt repels enemies, but friends,
too. In this world nothing works out
exactly right. So I hide in my dark
house, grow out back a garden of
green--mangoes and okra. I plant
chamomile to help the sleepless,
St. John's wort to guide the disturbed.
A balance of give and take, left and
right, till I'm ready to walk wholly
out of this world.
Once in a Foreign City, I Saw a Dead Body
Riding in a car toward the city
center, I had nothing—
no language, no ties.
I looked and looked.
The brown government housing
with its white sheets like flags
waving on lines. The trees like ours,
but smaller, darker.
How tender was I, to view so innocently?
To make such judgments.
To not think through
a scrim of generosity.
The sun and exhaust made bleary
waves of heat. We stopped
in traffic, inched forward
toward an opening.
Then I saw. Too soon
even for an ambulance.
Bald, pale, lying in the street. Gentle
pool of blood by his head. Elderly.
So tender, the skin of his slack mouth,
that I dreamed him a baby,
I dreamed him young and in love.
Then we were gone,
and the small space he opened