archives winter 2009




                                                My mother is doing

laundry—snap of the bleached blue shirts
                            against her
          breasts and thighs so when she is done she is

wet, evaporating, the legs pushed down so hard
                            on braided cotton
          (her teeth-marks visible,

runic), my father’s shirts, despite the iron,
                            clouds of steam,
                    keep the shape of their pinning.  The ones

I loved best squealed like jays or sparrows I had
          so I could pinch the nubs of callus

coming out of my hands and form
                            a second monstrous
          touching until she’d push the cage of laundry

another bed-length, and holler, “Quit!”
                            For her,
          the pins were solo dancers, leggy Juliet

Prowses, mad Shirley MacLaines,
                            she’d marvel at on Sunday nights,
          shushing us if we laughed too hard

against the gracefulness, or gnawed our pillows.
          of the pedal pushers under

the wind-blown sun, the dangling stirrups.  Snap
                            of the elegant
          cotton blends.

                            Now they might as well
have held her with their torque,
                    the cut made and the spreader

widened, so her body was like the earth
                            coming apart
          to expose its under-dermis,

all those colored wires packed tight,
                            strapped and coiled.
          Except it was her heart.

A valve had failed. And so to keep her open,
                            the doctors used knives and clamps
          (their bag of clothespins),

a replacement animal valve on a tray beside them.
                            Blood leaking
          in spurts and jots, in increments of

medicine—the very spoonfuls my father aspirated
                            through a tiny
          engine before he died to save his life.

The washer/dryer chugging the other side
                            of the wall, his
          shirts clean, pajamas clean.

Wife’s hands smelling of Tide or Cheer.
                                                        So when I look
          up (to where she is going, where

her husband has gone, scent
                            of apples and
          lilac, if I believe such things), I don’t see

God but an unfinished basement
                            with the wires exposed so they
          spark when she walks—

when I talk with her, listening for the shocks—
                            balancing the pumping out, her
          arms purple, her

                                      remaining breast purple,
where the clothespins bit her burning red in the night.


Choke-Hold, 1956

It must have been a
diamond in her
throat she kept

as if her marriage
vows had trapped

some undigested
pocket of
air—some grit

a shoe had tracked
in, or sneaker,
ash from

a cigarette
carelessly flicked
(what she tells herself)—

so when the soup
is cold or
served too late, it is

this jewel that
catches, its strands
of carbon turning

to raw facet
in her breath.  Not
him, not  him.


Calla Lily

Only later did I realize the pressure thumb and fingers could bring to bear upon the muscular stem of breathing, so huge, like a column of steel in the wrestlers I loved, so when my own throat caved in I knew I was un-forged, green, like the stalk of a lily, my breath spilling in moist folds, spittle like pollen from a wind-shaken stamen, head in a vice.  God’s  voice  howling  in  the  honeyed  light.


My Knife

I keep a little Lear in my back

jeans pocket, a little sorrow

like a doll or jackknife

to slice away at storms

the tumbling skulls of hail

those bitter dice

or at those little winds that keep coming

out of the grass

with their seeds of silver

and nothingness

like faith being sucked out

of the earth, slipped back in

so I have to dig there to gnaw it out

I have to curse my left hand

the nub of thumb

I have to say my fingers

are the spirit scarves of grief

leashed to a hurt dog

its Cordelia heart softening

to whimper and yip

its Cordelia heart fountaining

in its chest like the moon

how cold the world is

on the blade of my knife

its tip snapped white

toothed, sharking the air

how cruel this little Lear

it wants the curved bite of blood

bubble and smear, the run

it wants the blood biting back

the knife taped to my last good hand

like a jailhouse shiv

which is not the world, but its skin

which is not the world, but its glove and dress


from Devotions: Heron

Twice this has happened:  I’m driving west into the evening’s monochromes when out of the marshes a blue heron struggles across the highway’s five lanes, so low it nearly hits me, makes me swerve.  The semi hauling ass behind me slamming its brakes, the cab dipping, all that forward-driven mass of the trailer buffaloing up and nearly smacking the bird from the sky.  And then the daylight streaming.  Emptiness streaming.  The leveling out of speed.  On my windshield:  five or six blisters of marsh.  How velocity touched what remained of the droplets’ glycerin, made them bleed.  Kinked strings picking up road grit.  Husks of heron.  Resurrection seeds.  




Dennis Hinrichsen’s most recent book is Kurosawa's Dog, winner of the 2008 FIELD Poetry Prize.  It will appear in early 2009.  Recent work is forthcoming in Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Crab Orchard Review, Notre Dame Review and Sou'wester.  He lives and teaches in Lansing, Michigan.