My mother never forgave my father for killing himself, especially at such an awkward time and in a public park, that spring when I was waiting to be born. She locked his name in her deepest cabinet and would not let him out, though I could hear him thumping. When I came down from the attic with the pastel portrait in my hand of a long-lipped stranger with a brave moustache and deep brown level eyes, she ripped it into shreds without a single word and slapped me hard. In my sixty-fourth year I can feel my cheek still burning.
E 9th Street
I’m from mental illness and corner bars and taking parts from stolen cars. I’m from fights at three thirty and ass whipping ’til next morning. I’m from a drunken father and a pissed off mother and was raised by my older sister and brother. I’m from parents that are Mexican and I’m ashamed to say that I’m American. I’m from hard boiled eggs and government cheese oh, and did I mention ass beating. I’m from joyrides at five and a brother that loves to say access denied. I’m from a sister who’s worse than crazy and two little brothers that are fucking lazy.
Devices On Standby
Kelly Ann Malone
I’ve tucked away two forty-fours. They’re deep within a wall. Their bullets line my dresser drawers and wait for me to call. Two vials filled with cyanide are safe within their space. I’ve stashed them in a pot outside beneath the Queen Anne’s lace. Two gleaming knives to slit my wrists sit nestled in a shed. I’ll use them if my grief persists to soak my ivory bed. Two slipknots made of sturdy rope sit limp upon a chair. It helps me when I cannot cope to know that they are there. You ask me why they come in two’s? the need for added stress? In case the first one that I choose is launched without success. I’ve had these items in my house for over forty years. I’ve hid them from my kids and spouse, my neighbors and my peers. I tried to do it years ago, but then I had a boy. And two more children in a row brought intermittent joy. At last I thought my work was done, and I could end my life. But now my daughter has a son, my son now has a wife. I’ll get around to my demise and give in to despair, when I can look into their eyes and tell them I don’t care.
i will be born in one week to a frowned forehead of a woman and a man whose fingers will itch to enter me. she will crochet a dress for me of silver and he will carry me in it. they will do for each other all that they can but it will not be enough. none of us know that we will not smile again for years, that she will not live long. in one week i will emerge face first into their temporary joy.
You wake up filled with dread. There seems no reason for it. Morning light sifts through the window, there is birdsong, you can’t get out of bed. It’s something about the crumpled sheets hanging over the edge like jungle foliage, the terry slippers gaping their dark pink mouths for your feet, the unseen breakfast — some of it in the refrigerator you do not dare to open — you will not dare to eat. What prevents you? The future. The future tense, immense as outer space. You could get lost there. No. Nothing so simple. The past, its destiny and drowned events pressing you down, like sea water, like gelatin filling your lungs instead of air. Forget all that and let’s get up. Try moving your arm. Try moving your head. Pretend the house is on fire and you must run or burn. No, that one’s useless. It’s never worked before. Where is it coming from, this echo, this huge No that surrounds you, silent as the folds of the yellow curtains, mute as the cheerful Mexican bowl with its cargo of mummified flowers? (You chose the colors of the sun, not the dried neutrals of shadow. God knows you’ve tried.) Now here’s a good one: you’re lying on your deathbed. You have one hour to live. Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?
“The Portrait” is from The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 2000 by Stanley Kunitz. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. The poem later appeared in A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press.
“E 9th Street” is from Thinking Hurts, published by New Urban Arts, and later appeared in A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.
“Devices on Standby” is from A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction, edited by Mark S. Bauer and published by Oxford University Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.
“june 20” is from The Book of Light. Copyright © 1993 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.
“Up” is from Morning in the Burned House. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.