COME TO HARM
You're going to suffer one day,
I tell my students. They are not innocent.
Just young. And trusting still. It sounds
like a veiled threat though I don't intend.
As I say this I'm thinking of the toddler yesterday
whose forehead was split a good two, three inches
above his right eyebrow. I retrieved his tennis ball
when it rolled into a city street--so he wouldn't come
to harm. But it happened anyway.
Minutes before he was sad about the ball, then pleased
to have it back. Then a trail of blood. I didn't tell my students
about the one who had left. And now is back, though
it's too late. Or that I didn't hear from Dad after that winter
in New York. That what I'm afraid will happen. Will.
You spoke of famine. How to compare
food to love? Or the other way.
If there's no famine but just knowledge
of evil, how girls in Bangladesh receive less
food than boys over time. You said life was terror
getting through. Then the smell of your hair.
Even across the table, the soft obliterating
odor. Indulgent to think of my own needs first.
But that is what men do, I said,
not to anyone. Then those lines again,
after this time apart. Anyone else may leave you.
I will never leave you. How do I tell you these things?
That last July we drove over a thousand miles through
California into the Baja because we were at our end.
All day at some task or
another. Not out of need--
searching the crevices of bathroom
tile for grime, organizing
old books in the attic--or want,
even--tending a dying orchid.
A machine even as a boy
so as to control.
My lover says it breaks his heart
imaging my arm akimbo, a broom
cradled in the fold, resting
because it was hard work, once
the vacuum had broken,
sweeping the carpet--dog's
hair my mom would scowl--
each evening after school.
I was always what women
called busy. Now: diligent,
conscientious, productive. Later, but
when I was still young,
I'd taken a boy into my plans
for the summer.
Someone had given us a home
at the beach and had left whiskey.
Why did I ever want to leave him
mornings over coffee to begin
our chores. Or from the bed
each evening after lovemaking?
But it was not always
so. Even now I remember
nights Tucker and I would
swim in the Atlantic,
phosphorescent algae lighting our
naked bodies like tiny anchors.
oil & gold acrylic, 48" x 36", (1994)
more work by Ruth Bolduan
Like skin. The tree's surface exposed,
trunks spreading like legs--mine,
yours, a child's. Yes, even an innocent's.
We watched as wind blew for hours, the cracked red
leaves pulling away in a stream.
This was the cleaving I spoke of--the tree shocked
and parted losing all it had and still not done, flecks
of persistent red fluttering with the wind. Like my sadness
I wanted to explain. Still even like the red rush.
Like the poet's brother.
The one who always believed he'd die young,
then thought he wouldn't, then knew he would.
What use, again, is this grief? At night you turning
from me is the hardest to let go.
I've never seen someone shit, I say to my boyfriend as he begins
to close the bathroom door with his right index finger, already lowering
himself on the toilet. I want to be asked to witness the white briefs
bunch at his ankles, the hairy legs spread, his face turn in a grimace.
But you've lived with men, he replies. I don't want
to be vulgar, I say, eyeing his balls, waiting
for an invitation. Even as I defend my ignorance--how I grew up
in a house of prudish women, how the impossible boys I dated
never showed me this--I know it's not true. I saw my father squat once
over the porcelain toilet in the old house the summer it burned,
the muscles in his thighs tensing. Why does everything
come back to this man, I think, even at this age?
And now hours later while doing the dishes I've been thinking
this is what I will do, love the worst parts of the men who come home to me.
John Frazier has published poetry in many venues, most recently The Beacon's Best of 2001: Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, which includes work by Lucille Clifton, Cornelius Eady and Li-Young Lee. Frazier has also published work in The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, and Presence Africaine. Many of these featured poems come from a manuscript of sonnets and sonnet derivations called Aldebara. Frazier recently completed Subaltern, a book on hierarchy and touch.
Published in Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2003.