From The Sound of One Fork:


Cahaba


On the banks of the Cahaba
black walnuts are scattered
with their smooth skins split
down through convolutions
to the kernel fat within.

On the sand of the Cahaba
mussel shells have opened
their dull oval wings
and spread their opal,
pearl, and purple, skies shining.

On the road by the Cahaba
worn stones have shattered
at veins of crystal
where arrowheads lie
hidden but angled for flight.

In my town by the water
mothers, sisters, daughters
flow like the river
in the dry beds of men,
within crumbling limestone walls.

We could flood the fields,
spread the red mud to move
over house and porch,
split the sycamores through
to the white core of pith.

Our waves could break
at the surface and down
to the concave shell
to the vein of light
to the kernel of heat
to the arrowed flight.

Then we could raise
our eyes from the ground
and step where we please
on the banks of the Cahaba.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

From The Sound of One Fork:

My Mother Loves Women


My mother loves women.

She sent me gold and silver earrings for Valentine's.
She sent a dozen red roses to Ruby Lemley
when she was sick, and took her eight quarts
of purplehull peas, shelled and ready to cook.
She walks every evening down our hill and around
with Margaret Hallman. They pick up loose hubcaps and talk
about hysterectomies and cataracts.
At the slippery spots they go arm in arm.

She has three sisters, Lethean, Evie, and Ora Gilder.
When they aggravate her she wants to pinch
their habits off like potato bugs off the leaf.
But she meets them each weekend for cards and jokes
while months go by without her speaking to her brother
who plays dominoes at the machine shop with the men.
I don't think she's known a man except this brother
and my father who for the last twenty years has been waiting
for death in his rocking chair in front of the TV set.

During that time my mother was seeing women
every day at work in her office. She knit them
intricate afghans and told me proudly
Anne Fenton could not go to sleep without hers.

My mother loves women but she's afraid
to ask me about my life. She thinks
that I might love women too.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

From We Say We Love Each Other:

We Say We Love Each Other


You say: The trouble is: we don't understand
each other
.
           Your sounds have fascinated me
from the first, the way you laugh in your throat
like a saxophone. But last time the radio played
reedy brass, low sexy, I started crying. (Last time,
in the car alone, and jazz being played in a room
in a distant city). 
        Lately I understand this:
I want your voice, mysterious music of your body,
yet our words, gestures, are from different languages.

If we are sitting on the couch, eating oranges,
sweet acid, like lovemaking, 
               and the phone
rings in another room:
     you answer, you murmur,
my stomach vibrates, deep drum flutter at your sound.

You come back. I do not ask Who was it?
To me, intrusion, a push into your room.
To you, removal, uncaring of closeness:        

Then we are sitting on the couch, abrupt
separate. The bitter orange rinds sit
in a neat pile on the round dish before us.

I am sitting in a place made for me
by women, generations, Scot, Irish, sitting
on a little bit of land, holding on,
survival on an island, isolation, a closed mouth
in their own kitchen, self-containment.

You are sitting in a place made for you
by women, generations, Jews in Spain, Holland,
Russia, the Pale, Poland, Roumania, America,
the pogroms, no bit of land safe, none
to be owned as home, survival by asking, asking,
knowing where every one was, enemy, family.

Later if we talk about this moment, we observe,
abstract. Even as I write, I make it distant,


but we are sitting on the couch: separate, not abstract.
History speaks like a voice through our bodies:
how often we do not know that it is this we do not
understand.
            Fascination with what we have not known:
Your hand gripping my chin, drawing me to your mouth.
My interest in a yellow gingko leaf, in veins in my palm,
my look up, the sudden kiss I give you.

What we fight bitterly: voices scraping against
demanding, selfish.
            Where is the future we spoke of,
between us, stronger by difference?
              We sit on the couch
trying to understand each other, pointing to an object:
What did you mean?
              Lists, signs, paper with pictures,
paper with words, poems, photographs,
repeating, explaining, exasperation, anger.
             Asking:
What did you mean?
              The other says she loves: how believe
when her words, her gestures, are not the ones that speak
love to you?

             We sit on the couch. You rub my feet,
my heels are small oval drums. The radio plays
something we can't dance to. The room smells of oranges.
After a while, we say again we love each other.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

From Walking Back up Depot Street:

Poem for My Sons


When you were born, all the poets I knew
were men, dads eloquent on their sleeping
babes and the future:  Coleridge at midnight,
Yeats' prayer that his daughter lack opinions,
his son be high and mighty, think and act.
You've read the new father's loud eloquence,
fiery sparks written in a silent house
breathing with the mother's exhausted sleep.

When you were born, my first, what I thought was
milk:   my breasts sore, engorged, but not enough
when you woke.   With you, my youngest, I did not
think:   my head unraised for three days, mind-dead
from waist-down anesthetic labor, saddle
block, no walking either.
        Your father was then
the poet I'd ceased to be when I got married.
It's taken me years to write this to you.

I had to make a future, willful, voluble,
lascivious, a thinker, a long walker,
unstruck transgressor, furious, shouting,
voluptuous, a lover, a smeller of blood,
milk, a woman mean as she can be some nights,
existence I could pray to, capable of
poetry.
                Now here we are.   You are men,
and I am not the woman who rocked you
in the sweet reek of penicillin, sour milk,
the girl who could not imagine herself
or a future more than a warm walled room,
had no words but the pap of the expected,
and so, those nights, could not wish for you.

But now I have spoken, my self, I can ask
for you:   that you'll know evil when you smell it;
that you'll know good and do it, and see how both
run loose through your lives; that then you'll remember
you come from dirt and history; that you'll choose
memory, not anesthesia; that you'll have work
you love, hindering no one, a path crossing
at boundary markers where you question power;
that your loves will match you thought for thought
in the long heat of blood and fact of bone.

Words not so romantic nor so grandly tossed
as if I'd summoned the universe to be
at your disposal.
       I can only pray:

That you'll never ask for the weather, earth,
angels, women, or other lives to obey you;

that you'll remember me, who crossed, recrossed
you,
            as a woman making slowly toward
an unknown place where you could be with me,
like a woman on foot, in a long stepping out.
              
Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

From Walking Back up Depot Street:

from “Shame”


1.

I ask for justice but do not release
myself.   Do I think I was wrong?   Yes.
Of course.   Was wrong.   Am wrong.   Can
justify everything except their pain.
Even now their cries rattle in my ears
like icy winds pierce in cold weather.
Even now a tenderness from their cries.

The past repeats in fragments:   What I
see is everybody watching, me included,
as a selfish woman leaves her children,
two small boys hardly more than babies.

Though I say he took them, and my theories
explain power, how he thought he'd force
me to choose, me or them, her or them.


2.

How I wanted her slant humid body,
that first woman, silent reach.
How I began with her furtive mouth,
her silences, her hand fucking me
back of the van, beach sand grit
scritch at my jeans, low tide.

            The boys yelling in myrtle thickets
            outside, hurl pell-mell, count hide-
            and-seek.   The youngest opens the door.
            What I am doing is escape into clouds,
            grey heat, promise of thunderstorm
            not ominous, not sordid, from ground
            to air, like us flying kites in March.
            But to him it's July, and I'm doing what?

Curious, left out, he tells some fragment later
to the father, who already knows.   The threats
get worse, spat curses:   He'll take the children,
I can go fly where I damn please in the world.
The muttered words for scum, something rotten,
flies buzzing, futile, mean.
            If I had been
more ashamed, if I had not wanted the world.
If I had hid my lust, I might not have lost
them.   This is where the shame starts.

If I had not been so starved, if I had been
more ashamed and hid.   No end to this blame.


3.

At times I can say it was good, even better
for them, my hunger for her.   Now that we're
here, they've grown up, survived, no suicides,
despite their talk of walks in front of cars,
smashing through plate glass.   Despite guilt:

            The long sweating calls to the twelve-year-
            old, saying Hold on against the pain,
            how I knew it from when I left, the blame
            inside, the splintered self, saying to him Walk
            out
, remind the body you are alive, even if
            rain is freezing in the thickets to clatter
            like icy seeds, even if you are the only one
            plodding through the drifts of grainy snow.

Now we've survived.   They call to talk poetry
or chaos of physics.   Out of the blue to hear
their voices, a kind of forgiveness, a giddy
lifting of my heart:
           As they appear today in my city,
old enough to come by plane or train to be with me
and my lover, sit in my kitchen, snug, but a feeling of travel.
Their curious eyes on a life that widens in a place
little known, our pleasure without shame.   We talk
and the walls seem to shift and expand around us.
The breaking of some frozen frame.   The youngest jokes
lovebirds at our held hands.   Late evening we stir.
Goodnight:  They expect me to go off to bed with her.



5.

In one hand, the memory of pain.
I re-read one of these poems and begin
again (again, it's been fifteen years)
to cry at the fragmented naked faces,
at the noise of the crying, somewhere
inside us, even now, like an old wind.
In one hand, the memory of pain.

In the other hand, change.   When
did it begin?   Over and over.   Once
we all were walking on the street,
me and her, hand in hand, very loud
singing sixties rock-and-roll, shake,
rattle, strolling, smiling, indecent
(but not quite illegal), escaped
out with the boys in a gusty wind.
The youngest sang, the oldest lagged,
ashamed?   But we waited for him.
It was a comedy, a happy ending,
pleasure.   We kept saying Spring,
it's spring,
so the boys brought us
to their lake, its body-thick ice thinned
at the edge to broken glass splinters.
The new waves widened and glittered in the ice,
a delicate clinking like glass wind chimes.

And now, sometimes, one of them will say:   Remember
the day we all went down to the lake?   Remember
how we heard the sound of the last ice in the water?


Minnie Bruce Pratt
 

From Walking Back up Depot Street:

Eating Clay


Face damp on a lover's thigh and scratchy
pubic hair, she sighs in the wet dirt smell,
steam rising from hot ground and underbrush,
the hollow place, bottom of the hill, where
cars stopped for it seemed no reason, until
one day she saw a young thin woman digging up
the yellow-brown clay, crumbly as cornmeal
put in a paper sack. She'd never tried the dirt
but thought the woman had a power she did not,
tasting that mysterious meal late at night.

Now Beatrice envied no other's power, licking
acrid delicate salt from her lips. Not anymore,
as she lay back pliant in another's steady hand,
thou-art-the-potter-I-am-the-clay. Surrender.
Oh yes, the way she'd never done in church.

 

Closest then she'd ever come was in the shed
cool as a scooped-out cave, beside a dirt road
miles from nowhere, in a world that went on with
no help from her, even Ed could not do a thing
when the wild turkey hen and her chicks crossed by
but wish for his gun. The world went on around.
Breath, rot, eat and be eaten, regardless.

In the shed, grey rows of pots dripped wet, just born,
some small as a hand, some thick through the body.
When the potter let her kick the board, the wheel spun
heavy as a car on muddy ground, the squat clay lump
sliding in her hand.  The slightest touch changed
everything. Thumb, hooked as if to peel an orange
at the navel, suddenly would plumb the earth's core.
Her fingers laid mountains low into glistening bowls.


Soon they'd breakfast off plates lifted whole from that place.
She’d set the table with a thump, ready for the morning news,
the next story about women like her, the same question:
What made you the way you are?

          She'd say straight-faced it was
the dirt she ate.


     And in the coming night she'd shiver
In the candle's flame, the blue eye of a waiting kiln. Touch
scorches her breasts, her belly fattened with desire. The other
woman, panting, digs between her legs. Candle shadows
eat the wall, nether light swallows up the fire.

Sweat glazes her pale skin, done, undone by one touch
and terror, never knowing whether what will come will be
surrender, the tongue's flame in the furnace of the mouth.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

 
















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