A Ritual’s End
after Linda Gregg
Is this where the ache
began under grandmother’s table?
I watched men’s gray slacks
and women’s nylon legs
through the lace cloth.
Stuck indoors a trapped bird I wanted
cold air. I wanted winter in my face.
Wood benches in windowless churches
did not comfort me. Later my winged body hardened
to steel. Fortified, I no longer felt daggers for my sins—
when I broke rules & cracked glass.
when I answered counterfeiter’s midnight calls,
tasted his mint breath and bathed
in his smooth olive skin.
Now, rusted a bit my body stiffens.
I no longer can glide the slow crawl—
no arching on a park bench
or on the hood of a black 49 Buick.
I will never give up wearing lace & silk.
Let the scent of cut roses leave this place.
Let the open caskets stay closed.
Let them hide powdered faces iced to touch.
Leave the slow motion voices.
Leave the polished shoes
that scrap against wood floor.
Let the lace I looked through that blurred
this world and the next lift
the room’s cold chill.
Let winter come.
Breathe the open sky.
Shed the disjointed stain.
Shed the tight clutch.
Let hail. Let snow.
Last night, in bed shirtless I pulled
covers over him. It used to be
we’d lay bare. The late night breeze
across our bodies goose-bummed
to a smoothed chill.
Cars on Santa Canyon Road swish,
swish then a lull,
swish, lull—an interlude
plays like surf at the water’s edge.
He kicks the cover to our ankles,
He meanders my crooked spine
then moves to my hip bones —
skin to skin our cells sliver
away time & its sharp silver fillings.
The Shallow End
The farthest you would ever come into the bay’s calm water was three inches.
There you lay flat on your back and floated in your one-piece black suit and white cap.
You glared straight at the sun. Your unpolarized glasses still remained on your face.
You stretched out near where the water lapped at the shore. You never ventured
further, mom. I think how different things might have been had I taught you how to step
in and let the water buoy you up, taught you the breaststroke and how to tread water.
Instead, I muscled up a reef between us. Raised my arms and turned my back
on you, doing the best you could in Back Bay’s shallow water.
I trained my eye on the orange beacon far out. I swam to deeper water.
I never lingered near you—my fear of going under.
A Monday Swim in 2020 with the TV On
Outside, the dove strikes seeds against the ground to split.
An adolescent mocking bird craters
forward then back. It balances on the fence.
I dive into water that appears a sky to the bees.
They crash head first, legs curled inward.
Sheen-glossed wings pump against the wet blue—
celestial freedom liquidizes
like those who hunger for a new country —
those locked in cages, heads against the floor,
covered by foil blankets. They wait
for a lost mother, a brother, a father.
I swim back and forth. Water fills my ears.
Back inside, the TV blasts the next numbed cycle—
outrage lost. During this plague
somewhere a small voice drowns.
This marriage a backyard jungle from the start—
No reservations at Panda China,
no flowers at the door.
Like the bougainvillea that spills over the fence
causal and tangled our thorns scratch.
We dig in to save the feral cat.
Our sego palm fronds stretch
open & hold a dubious dove nest
& her marbled eggs.
A Christmas card came from my ex
after twenty years silent.
When married he refused
Holland tulip bulbs special ordered
from Beck. Color my son wanted to plant
in barren backyard plots.
A macramé hung over our fireplace
woven Jude by my then husband’s ex braided
years before. Still, I took refuge
in his stayed measured odometer miles,
his thighs roughened
to his bicycle’s seat & to his exactness—
precise to the penny.
A web of spun sugar, I required a shield
until on a two-lane asphalt road
in Atascadero I dissolved.
My voice echoed off granite.
Now, like the neon mallards in the air
my guy and I circle and circle.
We survive uneven weather
& land back in our yard askew.
Florence Murry’s poetry has appeared in Amethyst Review, Stoneboat, Off The Coast Journal, Bluestem Magazine, Rockhurst Review, Southern California Review, and others. She has studied with Jack Grapes and the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective and she is a part of The Poetry Salon. She lives and writes in Southern California. Her book, Last Run Before Sunset, was recently accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.