Three Poems

by Charlotte Matthews


This time the dream is about sacrifice:
who is willing to give up their life
for another, who will tell the truth
when the house burns down.

Next door is the anatomy classroom
where a cadaver rests
on the formica table. Each day I think
of going to see it, how I’d lift

the sheet back to the face
of someone I’ve never known,
skin paler than wax
and much more fragile.

My mother was most alone
in the company of others.
She could close herself in
in a way I have never seen

like the homeless woman
who wanders the city
assuming a life that can’t be
found in any house.

Right now students perch next to
the replica of a skeleton, counting ribs,
writing down what they’ve found
as if to report some truth.

If, at last, all things are fire,
look up there:
a hot air balloon hovers mercilessly
over the November field.

How To Claim Silence

When you say to me, I believe,
it holds much power.
But the mind wanders
more readily than the body.
That’s why the coon dog,
bone tired, circles
the coil rug over and over,
steadying her mind.
Orchard blossoms
piteously bright,
I have the urge to climb
the ladder, wrap my hands
round the top rung,
let go with my feet.
Let’s say it
this way: in the East,
if you circumambulate
a sacred place,
you acquire merit.
I pace around my mother
as she reads in her wingchair,
making of the rug’s perimeter
a balance beam, following
the flower pattern as it passes,
waiting for something
she is never going to say.

Tell Yourself A Story

To fall asleep she makes lists:
who still mow their own yard,
what books are due at the library.
This is how she becomes
tired enough.

       I call to say
       the fields have texture
       like corduroy.
       In one direction
       run furrows of the plough,
       in another, red top hay
       mottled as linen.
       Beside the field there’s
       a new fence of woven wire
       in perfect squares,
       the creek’s shadowless water
       layered with leaves.

She goes to the window
over the street where cars
are parked up close to the curb
to look out at the corner,
the few stars overhead.

       In the pasture three chestnut
       horses wear masks of netting
       so the grass at their hooves looks
       fractured as graph paper.
       At dusk they must be half blind.

       I want her to know this,
       but it is later than I thought.

Soon she’ll come to visit
so we can drive to where people
sit out Sunday afternoon
on their porches,
not even talking.

       I tell myself at least you’re trying.
       At least she would have liked this.