Our Lady of the Marsh
your blackbirds impossibly perched on reeds
wearing the gatekeepers’ red stripe on their wings // sympathizer’s
striking terrible desire in my hands. Can you forgive
my mother the cattails in the living room? Or me
my fingers wearing off the velvet in spots?
Beyond the heron dark water ripples. Unmoved, he appears
to stand on dry land instead of your grasping mud leaf bed.
He waits for a fish and you, you wait for me to mistake
your wrinkled surface for safe passage. The blackbirds warn—cicada-buzz
bookended with birdsong, drawing me to murky lust and anger.
Do you hear me? Are you distracted by darkness and strange fish?
Of what use could your forgiveness be now?
I sit with my mother, she waits like a heron but for nothing.
Even when I startle at a bump against the screen,
she doesn’t blink. What do you take in return for cattails?
What do you take to your mud, bind in black silk?
I will submit to the scolding of blackbirds
but I will not worship you. Our lady.
Queen of the hidden. Brackish saint.
The light blows in through the window and my
father shivers in the hospital bed. I imagine his skin
rippling over ancient muscle, picture the draft horses’
flanks flashing, itchy with sweat and sun.
When we went to fairs to watch horse pulls,
the teams descendants of the ones he drove
through snow, midges, and darkness to move logs
from those woods to the river. Just before the load
of unthinkable weight is released, the horses tense,
frozen forward power; and I, leaning against his side,
can feel my dad’s power, irresistible urge to leap
off the bleachers his shoulders remembering pulling.
So close to a force that could crush me under hard
smooth weight, once unleashed unstoppable until bowed
by overwhelming resistance, yet still straining –
divine, redeeming, glory.
I don’t dare hold the aperitif glasses, flutes,
weeping pitchers but imagine my fingertips tracing
their rough etchings, the curve from stem to foot.
I can’t be trusted with glass. Move on to rolled up rugs
leaning on pie safes, painted blanket chests, needlepoint
samplers. I turn away from a faded burgundy smoking
jacket and paintings of sad-eyed children. Turn
from the loneliness of brooches, the unsteadiness
of tea trays. No one winds up the music boxes. Everyone
sits and the auctioneer introduces items. They sell or not.
She winds up the bidding: All in? All in? Gavel. All in
and all done. Bidders are keepers, the curious, the bereft.
I live someplace new, empty except for a mattress, one
bookshelf, echoing wood floor. I left things behind,
don’t want to bring anything in that I don’t love.
What about that end table next to the couch I don’t have?
Those wall sconces for reading in a bed that isn’t there?
Mirror-backed hutch. Brass candlesticks. The glass-
ware doesn’t sell; not enough thirst or light in the world.
The auction over, I lift an unsold champagne flute, furred
with dust, from a box of 20 at least, unmatched. The cashier
waves my $10 bill away, all in and all done.
I imagine every glass shattering as I drive. I imagine
washing each one in the light of the window over the sink.
Lesley Kimball’s poems have appeared in Salamander, Constellations, Port Smith, Omphalos, Café Review, Ballard Street, and several anthologies. Poems of hers can also be found in the NH Poet Laureate’s Showcase and as part of a sculpture/poem installation. As a librarian, she enjoys the feeling of power over words, except when they fight back. Lesley lives (with too many dogs and just the right number of husbands and daughters) and writes in New Hampshire.