Cecil Morris

The Fourth Time I Keep It to Myself

My daughter flickered like the holy spirit I imagined

when young and still devout, a waver of purity dancing

in the night of daily drudgery, in the space scorched by loss.

A blue filament of future possibility, of grace

unasked and trembling inside me, hidden, my secret alone

that I sheltered, hands cupping the baby flame, the tiny light:

she is she is she is she is and yet I feared that speaking would spoil 

the mystery exploding in me, that single word misspoke

would send a puff of errant breath to extinguish her glimmer,

that telling would jinx the joy that flared unsaid and so I told

no one, not even the him that fathered forth the bit of joy

that might replace all failures past, until I had it sure,

until I had it sure, the tiny flame converted to flesh

for me to clutch at last, to press to my skin, to nurse, inhale—

and not be emptied out again, a hollowed vessel, echo 

of cry and curse, another ache the only thing I can hold.

the final frontier

my paternal grandmother like melting ice cream

in ripples running slowly down, wrinkles sliding 

to eternity, her pin curl perm at last relaxed 

to exhausted shag, the color—a chestnut brown—

by millimeters draining to rainless gray clouds, 

a dull and steady stasis that disguises 

the onward Christian soldier march, relentless drift 

and sizzle of time, her spot-speckled hands now still,

no spatula or tongs, no baking, no frying, 

the chipped beef, the chicken, bone and skin and neck, 

the heart and gizzard gone if not forgot in drone 

of soap opera’s convoluted plot, her confusion 

as thick as blankets doubled in her recline

her inside gives nothing away

at our daughter’s autopsy, the doctor opens her 

like a question and the comforting burr of bees 

alive among mandarin blossoms in spring sun 

rises, swells—a sound sweet and angry, freighted 

with her story, chapters unbound—then black wings beat

as crows assault the air, a dark and noisy lift,

a plethora, too many for her narrow chest,

for the shrinking receptacle of our one girl,

who, more or less than glass, now gives all her secrets 

to antiseptic air, to purple latex gloves, 

to blood tests and magnetic poles, the blur of crows 

in crowded tumult rise, a different kind of hide-

and-seek, the truth comes peek-a-boo, through feathers fanned

for flight, confusion of shapes and shades, to us still

the mystery she didn’t share in the twenty years 

since she left our home, the golden straw of our girl 

to woman spun, enigma machine idling

in the hall of don’t ask, don’t volunteer, don’t look,

this blonde stranger casting aside our hand-me-downs

of chin and eyes and long limbs and inside what else,

beside the crows, a chattering next of songbirds

at dawn or dusk, incomprehensible but bright,

the foreign language of siskin, junco, house finch,

perpetual blush and flutter, a palpitation 

of wings so nearly weightless they float above her 

and tell us no more than crickets do as day fades—

that night has arrived and day departed, the end

and beginning, everything at once as always,

and we have only questions and no answers,

no finish to our daughter’s ending, no final

revelation as doctor closes our daughter.

When Words Won’t Come

Since the explosion in his brain, the flash and freeze,

life has been a long list of crossword puzzle clues

in pantomime—extra cryptic and abstruse—

his frustration acted out again and again

with eye-rolling and exasperated sighs,

his brow furrowing finally to a puppy's

bewildered look, the one Darwin described 

in The Expression of the Emotions in Man 

and Animals, the melancholic omega. 

He wears it when he watches golf and football,

the TV muted, his feet up.  He wears it 

when he eats.  It breaks my heart to see that sad

signature.  

We play now an unending game

of Scrabble where he draws only consonants—

the clumsy, tongue-forward sibilants, the labials

and angry dental fricatives, the puffs and stops

and choking.  No vowels.  No syllables rounded 

with vowels.  Just jagged gravel in his mouth,

under bare feet and tentative wincing steps

to former life.  The words he knew fly from him,

the backyard finches flitting from our feeders

to hidden perches in oaks behind the fence,

to convoluted rifts and mysterious folds 

in his injured brain.

When I Asked about My Father

My mother said my father was a ghost

and then said ghosts weren't real when I woke her

with tears at the ghost in my darkened room.

She told me she had no pictures of him

because he was smoke and would not hold still

and showed me how the smoke from our camp fire

shifted and danced sometimes following us

and sometimes fleeing. I silently begged

for it to come to me but then it burned

my eyes and made me cry. Sometimes she said

that I had no daddy at all, that I

was a half-made girl she got in a dream.

Sometimes she told me a star-bright fairy

brought me to her to keep her company

when thunder shook the night and lightning scared

the trees, and that secret, she said, meant I

had neither father nor mother but was

by magic made and could not tell a soul

or else they might think we were witches both

and expect me to be a perfect speller

which I was, mother's little gold star girl.

I asked and asked—this man who brought candy?

that tall man who came to dinner and played

his guitar until I dropped off to sleep?

the one who smelled of cars?—and kept asking

for the one thing she could never give me.

When I was in junior high, she told me

he was of the family Cicadidae,

which meant, she said, he burrowed in the earth

for years and years and emerged, if he did,

with great annoying noise, and she laughed.

When I went to get my driver's license,

I saw at last my birth certificate,

but, like my mother, it told me nothing.

Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English, and now he tries writing himself what he spent so many years teaching others to understand and enjoy. He likes ice cream too much and cruciferous vegetables too little. He has had a handful of poems published in 2River View, Cobalt Review, English Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Poem, and other literary magazines.

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