Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Polly

She holds very still, as
if she were sleeping,
or perhaps newly dead
and unfamiliar to the
chilly possibilities of
not breathing this
close, stale air of
incipient winter within
her aging, decrepit
tenement.

Even with her eyes
held shut and with
every failed attempt
at holding her body
still, she shivers, his
smell arching tall
across her room, that
mix of Old Spice and
dried sweat, of onions,
of automotive grease
and diesel,

And the solemn tread of
his boot at the entrance
to her tidy bedroom
is, to her, like low and
damning bells that
the churches ring on
the coldest mornings
when she walks through
the broken parts of
an overgrown and aging
city, those bells the sounds
of maybe-redemption she’s
too afraid will fail,
maybe-goodness
she’s too afraid to try,
of sins buried in the past
so often that the ground
rises up in artificial
hills to cover them, and
the easy will to turn all
faces away and look
into the future’s eye
clean,

All those things
she can’t do.

He’s a decent man—that’s
the phrase her mother
likes to use, and it’s true
that he works and doesn’t
come home drunk, and
the police haven’t knocked
at their door looking for him,
and her mother’s face isn’t
decorated with bruises and
sharp hollows where good
meals disappear like with
Leon and all the other ones
who came before,

But the thought of
his heavy hands, all calluses
and axle grease, the sound
she makes and can’t stop
making when he comes to
see her after his night shift,
after her mother leaves for
work at the subway toll booth
in the early morning...

She pretends she’s sleeping,
tries not to breathe and feigns
death for a while, then dresses
and walks the cracked pavement
to school again, wondering if all
luck is this way—only robbed
and given from person to person,
a zero sum game where suffering
and joy offset. She wonders if she
will ever be okay, and if anyone
can live this life okay, and if
the unseen, unhealed scars on
everyone in the crowd at the
bus stop can rub together and
make something better than that.

5 comments:

drthunder said...

In a few words, you've captured a great social tragedy, and made the reader feel the pain. This is a very moving piece of work.

Stranger Ken said...

This is a very moving and powerful poem. Your view of human conduct is bleak, but it is also touched with compassion for the dilemmas people find themselves in partly, at least, as a consequence of forces, such as poverty and inequality, which they cannot control. You ask deep questions about what condemns human beings to suffering and bring into striking contrast both the brutality of people's lives and what Eliot describes, in Preludes 4, as "The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing."
I really enjoyed this as a poem and was affected by it as a philosophical, polemical statement.

Mushster said...

Yes, I was in the room, felt the pain, held my breath.

Bill said...

Everytime I come by here.. I leave richer for the experience.

This may be one of your best yet, in my humble opinion.

It's moving, terrifying and tragic.

Firehawk said...

Thanks, everybody, for your wonderful comments. I think this one was more personal than some of my other poems. I don't seem drawn to the easy issues. No ribbons and bows, no puppy dogs and dancing in the rain. Oh, well. One can only work with the tools he has.

Again, thanks for coming by. Being part of this meta-community makes it easier to continue on with the process of writing.