"Aloes and Rhubarbs”
As I sit with “Love and Other Demons”
and my wife lies on our bed, on her right
toward the light, Jude Devereaux disrobes
the handsomest man, dark, Arabian tan.
The cat unclawed, unfed, pausing nearby,
(that green-filmed eye) kneads and pulls
from habit to rest in the folds of the clothes left.
The Avon jardinière, nineteen-three, hand-script, large, too large
in a dim corner sits unlit. Hard glazed, split-pea tincture
with that oyster-white lip, smooth and wide mouthed;
our bedroom reliquarium
a marriage’s polyandrium.
Inside and amongst trinkets buried:
a box of stationery, embossed
costume jewelry (no costumed jewels)
letter addressed, stamped, sealed, still unsent
the photographs of Bath, the Roman ruins and you
smiling, me smiling (a spring day lost)
the pawn-shopped promise ring, fool’s gold
and dry boutonniere (Stephanotis and
pistil brittle, sepal bruised, the petals pressed and
Oh, so worn.
Looking down, I close my book
and my wife, stretching, turns off the light
and the bright sound of nothing
blossoms from our unspoken
“On Waking and Breathing”
With a blank stare in
these early morning hours,
hearing the hiss and the groan
of poison gases in cold
copper tubes, that wet methane
and the nitroparaffin,
she, with three fingers on the pace-
maker, listens to her breath and
feels the knotting of her spine.
Toward the foot of the bed,
a door and hall and bath-
room, all lavender and white,
all powder scent. Through a
window, two sparrows sit
knit and picking at lice.
Snow blows over the bare ground
left naked from the last ice
There should have been her rising,
the movement to the wheel
chair and the sting of cold
air. To the bath and the steel
handle’s cry from the drawing
of water and that sulfur odor.
Should have been the setting of
curls, the pull of pale lipstick,
the putting on of pearls,
and bran with toast and skim
milk, the readings from Lamentations,
a bit of television
and the sun rising, melting the frozen
ground, asphalt warming, the singing
of larks and swallows, a wedding
bell ringing and a funeral procession
with those white flags blowing
over a continent shifting,
and the tide licking a dead
jellyfish (its impotent tendrils spread
to the lapping waves)
and clouds growing, swollen with
ice and rain, that gorgeous sound
of thunder clapping, then the silence
With that blank stare in
these earliest of hours,
hearing the thump of the muscle
slowing and the light
growing, filling the winter room,
she, with three fingers makes the
In heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and
the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars
upon her head.
You wandered about for a little while at first,
uncertainly, deep in the garden, wet with dew, yet
you touched nothing.
The thickness of the leaves, their veins
fat with wet – you looked at your own skin –
you are so alike. When the serpent coiled
around your ankle, gently, you
crushed the head beneath your heel.
You know He planted furiously,
everything in its right place and a place
You opened your mouth to
sing with that filthy accent.
Je change cent fois de nom
J’ai perdu mari et enfant
Given often to ecstasies and visions,
you light a cigarette
For your priest has died,
been folded nicely into his grave.
Memory eternal in his golden chausible.
You once had an orgasm
as he read from Song of Solomon.
S’ecouler doucement a travers
Les levres ceux qui s’endorment
For his way with words,
you would make him dinner
and touch the scar along
The dried estuarian creases on your heel
Compress, then widen
as you step
Your skin, like over-ripened fruit, plumpish
peach flesh, presses scratched urethane and dust
that glazes slats of dead oak. A cat’s sex musk
lingers. The rind of your heel will polish
neglect from the dulling floor as pumice
to the heel turns aging flesh moist and pink.
Filaments in the bulb in the lamp blink
once, then break.
Your pulse from the thick vein passes through to
the hardened floor, to the man’factured plied
wood below the hardened floor (printed side
down – grove to the band – tight – no gaps) to
twenty-four two-by-ten-by-fourteens to
cinder block, to mortar, to cinder block,
to mortar, to block, to
the still earth.
There is a crack in that wall
In heaven; a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns
upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven
and did cast them
to the earth.
Florida, along east coast
the eighth floor, room eight eleven
at Corrigidora Inn
and the wide scenic seaside.
Opening the door, that
the scent of stale
the complimentary platter,
cauliflower and broccoli,
the rank cheeses, chocolates
and shelled pecans.
The flat darkness from both evergreen
and fluorescein drapes.
A pull, a lurching,
they draw back.
Everything is light and light and light.
at the suddenness
Sliding glass opens to
the balcony and a gaunt pelican
sitting in a
white plastic chair.
She hops twice, then
leaps, making seven circles
to the fountains below.
They gurgle with foam.
Bright red tourist plants
an orange umbrella in
ribbon-white sands with
All day, we could
The language will
come to us.
I and she,
stories above the sea,
the sun bright and luminous,
rising high, consuming us
Until everything is light and light and light.
She carried her drink like she was chasing it. Always a little ahead. Always a little out of reach. She held the glass in her right hand using two fingers. With her left, she guided and cheered on her right. The pudding was already there before she went to the bar. Carol was still talking about her trip to Bermuda when Caroline returned, chasing her martini.
“’And unless you bring me another bed, “Carol was saying as she splayed across the couch, “’I’m going to give the porter a piece of my mind’ That’s exactly what I said.”
She pressed her wide lips together for a moment.
“I just stood there. There was a whole line of people behind me but I didn’t care. Did I care, Git? No, I did not. They probably couldn’t sleep either.”
Caroline was only just aware of what Carol was saying as she brought the martini in for a landing on the small hard table. There were streaks of salt spray across the ship’s large window that only slightly obscured the port view from the observation deck.
Henry was laid out almost prone beside Carol. His head was flat against the back of the couch and in his hand he held an Old Fashioned. It rested on the couch cushion beside him.
“Remember that time we went to Progresso, Git?” Carol poked at Henry.
“Mmhmm,” Henry responded. His eyes were closed.
“I had trouble with my bed there too. I just can’t find a good bed when I travel, especially in the islands. Now our bed here, “she went on, “there’s a zipper right down the middle and I feel it every night. Last night in fact, I…”
“Oh, terrific, Henry!”
Henry had moved a little too suddenly and splashed his drink.
“You’re making a mess!”
“Mmhmm,” Henry said, his eyes still closed.
Caroline had been silent after returning with her martini. She was a little put off that the bartender had been unable to make the drink she wanted. Just before coming on the trip she read Cosmopolitan about chocolate martinis. She hadn’t actually bought the magazine but stood in line at Brookshires and read about the drink. Frank had brought back some chocolate pudding that he didn’t eat and what was left in the bowl was sitting on the small hard table next to them. This had started her thinking about chocolate martinis that the bartender apparently was unable to make. It was her third martini.
“A good bed is really important,” Carol went on, “maybe the most important thing on vacation. If you don’t sleep well you’re just a wreck. A real wreck. That bed in Bermuda was a rock, it really was. I just tossed all night, remember Git?”
Caroline wasn’t looking at Carol who, even though she was talking to him, wasn’t looking at Henry. Frank stood looking out the window. She took a spoonful of pudding and dipped it into the martini. She stirred slowly.
“I don’t know what’s so hard about making a chocolate martini. It’s a martini and chocolate.”
“That looks terrible, sweetie,” Carol laughed.
“You just wait.” She kept stirring until the clear, shimmery alcohol was a cloudy purple-grey color. She added another spoonful of pudding and kept stirring. Finally satisfied, she put the spoon down onto the table.
“Do you want a taste?” Caroline asked putting the glass up to her lips. She was still using two fingers.
“No! After you, sweetie,” Caroline said.
Frank stood at the window which was much darker now and still streaked with sea spray. He had only taken a small glass of red wine at dinner. It was nearly a full moon and the clouds formed a kind of tunnel for its soft cold glow. It reflected far across the water to the observation deck, to where Frank stood.
“Let me have a taste,” he said quietly.
Caroline was adding more pudding and stirring slowly and didn’t hear her husband.
“I don’t know what’s so hard about making a chocolate martini,” she mumbled again as she put the spoon down. “I mean it’s just a martini and chocolate, right?”
She sipped from the edge.
Carol had stopped talking and was resting her head on her hand and her eyes were closed.
“Let me have a taste,” Frank said again, turning toward her. Caroline looked at him and tried to see him.
“Really? You want to try it?”
“You never try anything.”
“I want to try this.”
Carol sipped at the edge of the glass again looking at her husband.
“It tastes awful.”
“I want to try it.”
She raised her hand toward him but then stopped and put the glass down on the table.
“You wouldn’t like it,” she said turning away.
Frank looked at her blankly for a moment then turned back toward the window. A man walking through the Promenade, paused for a moment and looked over the party through the window at the moon outside. He had a cane in his left hand and wore a red stripped shirt with linen pants and bright white shoes.
“What a night, huh?”
The light inside the building was thin and pale and it made the entire Panorama look old and neglected. The viewing gallery just inside the door had dark marble floors and low benches that ran around the walls below the glass windows. On one end of the room, behind a red velvet rope stood a polar bear. Its taxidermied mouth was open and its great clawed foot was raised slightly. The eyes were a sharp black but the seams of its fur had become unstitched. Behind the bear, behind the glass, in the Arctic Circle exhibit, were two large-tusked walruses, a single seal, and a layer of fake snow. One of the lights above the display had burned out.
On the other end of the gallery was a Grizzly standing fully upright, its brown fur looking matted and worn. There was a patch missing on its side. The two velvet ropes and the gold poles that roped it off had been pushed against it. There were all manner of animals on display behind the bear; bobcat, red fox, least weasel, mule deer, black squirrel, mountain goat, river beaver, whitetail, otter, bison, cougar. Each one had been standing as they now stood since 1901 when the Panorama was first brought to Dyche Hall and the University’s Natural History Museum. Charles Parks was the first visitor in a week to visit.
When he came through the door there was no one at the small desk. He saw the jar for donations and walked by. It was quiet in the gallery and as Parks walked, his shoes tapped on the hard marble floor. He made his way to the glass window and looked inside at the walruses, read the small placard on the wall and walked slowly around the gallery. He put out his hand over the velvet ropes and touched the yellowing fur of the polar bear. He pulled at the seam just behind its neck and felt the hard polished claw with his hand. He walked slowly from one side of the exhibit to the other. The room was cold though the small heaters between the benches smelled warm. He read each sign slowly and looked through all of the glass windows. He ran his hand down the back of the great Grizzly Bear and touched the hole in its side. He looked at the glass eyes for a moment and then walked to the wall and sat down on the bench.
Outside, there was a cold wind and low clouds that scattered the rain. The museum stood on the top of the hill in the center of the campus. For miles around there were no other hills and all the town and fields and woods could be seen. It was on old building of limestone with a large tower, red-tiled roof and tall arched doorways. It felt important but against the gray sky it looked lifeless. The wind was a strong wind and wrapped itself around the bare trees and early flowers. The fresh green of the daffodils was just pushing through the brown grass and weeded beds. In some places the bright yellow cups had opened. The dogwoods were beginning to blossom and their clean white petals were laid out like open hands. The rain came down stronger.
Parks sat quietly inside the gallery and looked at the small brochure he had picked up. He did not read the words. He looked at his watch and then back at the brochure. After some time he heard the door open and then heard footsteps coming into the gallery.
Bryn was a nice girl and pleasant looking. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a sort of knot though there were many pieces that still hung free. She wore a large black coat with shiny buttons over a grass-green dress. She had a crocheted scarf pulled into a knot around her neck and was carrying a black bag over her shoulder. Her face was pink from the wind and she looked at Parks with a friendly look that he always found hard to return.
‘Are you finished?’ she said.
‘Not just yet,’ Parks replied. ‘I want to go downstairs and show you the ornithology collection.’
‘Well let’s go then. We have a long way to go tonight before we stop.’
Parks stood up and took the girl by the hand. They walked out of the exhibit to the wide staircase and down. On the bottom floor, they walked through the dark hall and into the long exhibit room. There were glass cases on both sides with an arched ceiling above. They walked slowly down the first hall. The glass was clean and the displays were well lit. The skulls of saber-tooths and tortoises and the full skeletons of some kind of ancient fish were stuck on dowels and raised above the green painted casings. There were large collections of bones with names like camarasaurus and ornithischians and each had been given a pet name of Annabelle or Lyle or Umberto. Parks and Bryn walked holding hands but they didn’t speak.
At the end of the row, there was a horse, saddled and standing under a spotlight. Comanche had been the only survivor of the battle of Little Bighorn where General Custer with his long golden hair, along with all of his men, had died. The horse had been preserved and put on display in 1907. His fur was now dried out and rough and he stood facing the collection of petrified wood across the row.
‘Where are the birds?’
‘They aren’t far,’ he said. ‘We’re almost there.’
‘What a strange place. I wonder where everybody is. Did you see anyone upstairs when you came in?’
‘No, there wasn’t anyone at the desk.’
‘Did you leave a donation?’
‘I thought about it.’
‘We probably should leave something before we go. Someone needs to help keep the heat on for all these wonderful dead animals.’
Parks smiled and turned into the next glass row and passed the two enormous tusks of the mammoth. The painting on the back of the display showed several small people with spears pushing the animal over the edge of a cliff. The painter captured the animal’s fear well.
At the end of the row they found the birds. The display was a long glass case filled with small branches that fastened to the back wall. On each branch was perched a bird and there were hundreds in the display, each had its head turned or its wings outstretched or it was in the act of grooming. The feathers were bright and well groomed. The birds always preserved well. Parks looked at the display and touched the glass with his hand.
‘Just look at them,’ he said. ‘Hundreds and all they’re all so brilliant.’
Bryn left his side and knelt down to look at the small finches along the bottom of the display. There was a large collection on a long oak branch. Golden Head, Bullfinch, Rose and Scarlet, Grosbeak, Oriole. The greens and gold and blue colors bright and vivid and the inky blacks along their wings were stark. There were twenty or so along the branch caught in different poses, their dark glass eyes reflected the light. Bryn ran her hand along the glass as Parks had. They had beautiful speckled feathers and shapely bodies. She looked above the finches and down the row and began to see each one; spotted dove, cliff swallow, great horned owl, blue jay, arctic tern, the many colorful hummingbirds so delicate and small. She saw the lark sparrow, goldfinch, the dark crow, raven, and gull, the pygmy nuthatch and warbler, sandhill crane, the housemartin, woodcock, and the full bald eagle with its wings stretched wide and its thick beak open and silent.
‘I had no idea,’ she whispered.
There were many more there than she knew or had heard of before. Parks walked further down the row searching the names and colors. He looked at the wings and small claws. He found his bird near the end of the display between a pair of house wren and several Whip-poor-wills.
‘Bryn? I want you to see something.’
‘What is it?’
He held out his hand to her as she came over. The bird was perched on a small twig with its head lowered.
‘What is it?’ Bryn repeated.
‘That is the St. Helena Dove. They thought these were extinct until this one was found a few years ago,’ Parks said softly. ‘My father found her.’
‘Your father?’ Bryn repeated.
The bird was a light gray and purple with a speckled black and white back. There was a sadness to the way it was mounted in the glass case. Parks stared at the small head for a moment then turned and sat down on the floor. He leaned against the glass, reached out his hand and touched the back of Bryn’s calf. She looked down at him.
‘The Lazarus effect.’
‘The what,’ said Bryn quietly.
‘The Lazarus effect. That’s what they call it when something that is supposed to be extinct is found to be alive. It’s a good name don’t you think?’
‘I like it.’
‘I like it too,’ he added.
Bryn crossed her feet and sat down beside Parks and smoothed her dress in her lap. She took his hand.
‘Are you all right?’ she asked.
Parks looked at his hand in hers. ‘I’m fine.’ He touched the hem of her coat, pulled at a loose thread and then looked at her face and saw that she was smiling in a small way. ‘Really.’ He looked back across the row at the opposite wall. The glass was very clean and shiny. The marble floors reflected the bright lights of the displays.
‘I really hated him you know.’
She hesitated a moment.
The row was quiet and they sat in the stillness not speaking. The fluorescent lights glowed dully in the hall.
‘Do you mind if I call you Tulip?’ he said finally.
‘Is that my new name? What happened to Lilly?’
‘I’m still trying to find the right flower. Lilly wasn’t playful enough. Tulip seems about right.’
‘Tulip it is,’ said Bryn.
‘Tulip it is,’ he repeated.
After a while, he stood up and took Bryn’s hand to help her stand.
‘Goodbye bird,’ he said. ‘Say goodbye, Tulip.’
ORIENT IS HIS NAME
His apartment had three rooms and was comfortable for most of the year. In the living room, the couch sat flat against the wall. It was green vinyl and stuck to his skin when he sat on it in the summer. A chair beneath a standing lamp was in a corner and he had a poorly done painting above the long wooden mantle of chrysanthemums. The fireplace was bricked up and painted white. The summers in Toccoa were hot and very humid. Even with the windows open, the breeze only moved the hot air around. The kitchen had several cupboards where he put his white plates and bowls, the four cups he had, and the glass jars he used to store food. A small table from the Salvation Army Thrift Store and two metal chairs were on one side of the room which was divided by a bar. There was also a white refrigerator and a hanging lamp above the table which had a flowered lampshade and a single light bulb.
In the bedroom he had his bed and a short makeshift table in the corner. White sheets and several blankets covered the bed. One blanket was pink and white plaid and the other blue flannel. They were folded and laid on the end. A poster of a woman smoking a cigarette in front of the sea was in one corner. The woman was wearing a white feather hat and had long gloves. He had a few things lying around; several books, pens and paper, spiraled note-books, two flowered throw-pillows, his guitar, and a plastic wreath stolen from the cemetery. It was all pink and white flowers and had short green metal legs.
She once had taken a photograph of him in the room. He had cut his hair very short. The poster in the background and the lamp hanging from the ceiling were in it as well. They had slept together once in that room before they had been married. It was summer and very hot when it happened. The blankets had been folded and left on the foot of the bed. It was daytime and the shades had been drawn.
“Do you love me?”
“Of course I love you,” he said.
“Are you sure that you love me?”
“Yes, I am sure.”
“You don’t think that this is wrong for us to do?”
He thought for just a moment, but then said, “No, this is not a bad thing.”
“Are you sure that you love me?”
“Yes, I love you very much. Are you hungry?”
“A little bit. They should be back soon.” She raised the shade on the window. “It’s so hot. Can you get a fan for your room?”
“I’ll get one tonight if I can borrower your car.”
“Maybe we can go swimming after we eat tonight. Or walk up the river and cool down some” she said.
“Maybe,” he said.
They never spent much time in his apartment. He only kept it for the year they lived on Andrews Court because they could live cheaply there and he always felt good about himself when he thought about it.