Patty Paine

for my sister

On the playground

                                                           Wrong touch they call it, just once

Children in coats

                                                           And you become a scent,

The colors of pigeons.

                                                           Picked up again and again

Tiny lungs

                                                           First, it might be your stepfather's

Swell inside their chests before

                                                           Drunken lunges, thick-tongued

Shrieks peal out

                                                           Threat. Don't tell. Don't you dare tell.

Into crisp morning air.

                                                           Then your best friend's brother lures you

A girl twirls

                                                           Into the woods.

Into a blur of red

                                                           Then "Uncle" Bob tickles

Cheeks and yellow hair.

                                                           As cover for thrusting

Another urges

                                                           His cold hands into your panties.

A swing higher and higher.

                                                           You'll spend years believing

I long to hold her

                                                           It all must be

Above the earth

                                                           Your fault. But, please. Listen

To keep her

                                                           Carefully. It's not.

Suspended in air.

                                                           It's not.

Form of a Man

His windows are obscured by heavy
curtains that mute the hiss
of passing cars, the high-pitched
laughter of children playing
across the street, the bass pulsing
from the stereo of college kids living
next door. The CD's are lined so precisely
I want to scatter them
across the floor, spread open
liner notes and fling them around
like the clothes of urgent lovers.
A house gives up its owner
in its details. Single overcoat,
men's 40, in the hall closet.
Kitchen tile worn under only one chair.
Each plate in the cupboard, except one, swathed
in cloth. What is missing has a language
of its own. No photographs
of family or friends, no rings
on tables from the drinks of careless guests,
no messages on the machine.
I think of my own empty
machine, and when I lie
down in his bed, my body slips
easily into the groove his body made.

My Mother's Soup

This morning grief was a swallowed fist,
but now after hours unpacking
innocent artifacts: her bowl of shells,
a lacquered box of ginseng tea, bundles of iron,
potassium, the shark cartilage promised
to heal, grief is just a craving
for the soup she made that day I came back
so hungry from the reservoir.
So I tear escarole, dice scallions, cube tofu
and taro, and toss it in stock dark
with anchovy. The kitchen fills with apparitions
of steam, and the pungent fragrance of damp earth.
The soup breaks into boil, and I am starving
to hold the warm bowl in my palms.