THE FORCING VASES
He had me clean out the storeroom,
move boxes of bulbs with skin like papyrus,
count the cans of jackfruit he bought
for the Filipinos, the jars of mole
for the Mexicans. He watched from the door,
an old man, belly bulging like a toby mug,
fingers thick as sausages. I bent the wrong way,
from the waist instead of the knees.
His eye appraised the muscles of my thighs
as though selecting a white-wrapped package
of elk from his home freezer.
He never made me work in the front
with all the people. He paid enough.
I moved for him, sweated, tipped a dusty carton,
rattled glass against glass. Careful,
he said, careful. These were the vases
that would grip his hardy bulbs,
force winter to bloom.
NOTES TO HER KIDNAPPER,
FROM A CONCERNED OLDER SISTER
I think you should know
of her face as it was that day
when she left me in the mall among tinsel
glittering up every available surface, among
the tongueless foil bells, the sly santas
clutching their paper bellies in shop windows.
I think you should know
that her face was like a blank envelope
containing a ransom note.
She sucked the tip of her braid
with the very mouth
police are convinced she used for months
to talk you near,
and then she told me meet you at three.
And the clock licked three,
has licked three sixty-three times,
and still her face floats away
on that crowd rushing like a wave
of red, of green, of glitterless gold,
and I think you should know this.
The old, transparent joke delivered to concerned officers:
No, sir, I have nothing in my trunk
besides a naked lady -- shared masculine laughter,
abrupt as dogs in an alley.
Did you use the trunk, that moving closet,
and she dressed in packing tape,
and she dolled up for the holidays in strapping tape,
and her freckled wrists in black electrical tape,
and her breakable ankles in silver duct tape,
all folded up, heftable
as a cheap suitcase packed lightly,
mouth sealed with a Christmas sticker?
Or did she ride shotgun, warming
to your explication of the e-mail Valentines
you sent her months early
(the authorities have what she left us),
and were her green eyes glad,
reflecting our town slipping by and by?
Hints of Europe, dated December 10:
I long for the day I will hold you
in Paris, and none can stop us.
Dad installed a new phoneline
to keep the original free, always, for her,
open at any hour like the truckstop
we loved, the one by the highway
that cuts our town like a knife
through stale toast. Open anytime,
because who knows
what time it is where she is,
and our mother's needlework piles
beside a phone
that never rings.
Three months, and you start to go crazy.
Just little things, at first.
When the vacuum cleaner doesn't work,
and dad's too tired to fix it and mom
is crying in a dirty kitchen
because there's been talk of collecting pictures
for milk carton pleas,
and you decide
to skip class because who needs health ed,
I mean who really needs an AA degree,
I mean what does it prove, anyway,
and you decide to get productive
and unzip the vacuum and check the bag,
empty, collapsed like a punctured lung, and check
the cord which is strong and feels umbilical,
and finally tip the vacuum over to find
your sister's hair wound up in the works.
All this hair -- you have to cut it free
with scissors, gritting your teeth, cursing
the silky abundance, the dirtied up blonde of it,
cursing her for being the baby, and prettier,
and getting away with everything.
My window is open and the moon
slides milky fingers on the sill,
and I wait in my bed, my pulse
rushing like ants from a ruined nest,
and I am naked, fingers starfishing on breasts,
hoping that you are paying attention
from where you haunt like a black owl
in the far tree, in my mind.
It's three a.m. again.
I don't know where my sister is,
and you do.
If you have any heart left, mister,
you'll know that I'm waiting to be stolen,
you'll know that my bed waits for her sleeping body.
We can tuck her into the curve I've left,
we can slip her in under moonlight
like a changeling child.
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