What I Didn’t Tell My Father, Poetry Ann Howells

What I Didn’t Tell My Father

mosquitoes swirl like ash in headlights
& priests call bingo from pulpits
up & down the shore
around our table relatives gather:
drunks & ex-drunks liars
who say with sarcasm i’m a pathological liar
they know they know we know
our history’s trumpet vine & poison oak
moon shift & tide swing
cousins & lovers inbreds
we look each at the other see ourselves
ghosts brush past in hallways
here is where we come
red-flushed salmon to breed & die
meet in dance clubs pool halls that line route 5
stumble late into bed
rise at noon to vanish in odd directions
your girlfriend/cousin says
i’m the only one who loves you
she is wrong of course
resignation puddles corner of your eye
tides bring more broken glass broken promises
messages in bottles
a sparkling tiara crowns the high water line
close as the sea will come barring storm
i am bound by loving you
as you are bound by this shore:
trumpet vine & poison oak
moon shift & tide swing
inheritance heavy on my skin as on yours
we cannot shrug it off
our family name passes tongue to tongue
along the shore
graveyards are littered with it

More Like Home than We Knew

Cataracts of rain, globed street lamps
wear muzzy auras, jackhammer
inside my ribcage. I understand
and am lost in geography.
I am not a suspension bridge
says 12th, nor I, says 14th, says Ives Place.
Someone told me I could fly
but home team loses again, and defeat bobs
like jettisoned cargo. Everyone
moved to the ‘burbs –
Hallelujah – we believe and still bend
to our burdens.
Where old icebox slumps
on back porch. Where all streetcars
have fled, and every uncle
molders beneath a headstone.
Where all is done as has always been,
no outsiders,
glory rare as starlight –
the white horse lost, the shining night
long after midnight. I shrug it off,
mutter, It is what it is.
Hail
pounds the ground
like a fist.

When she exits

cursive all high loops & lashing tails
foxes & curls
becomes unintelligible
little silver frames fall prostrate
awkward, askew, askance
the words huddle right-hand margin
another time & space
body of work, work of her body
rampant roses hemorrhage myriad reds
lilies waft funeral incense, cloying
votives smudge skin
smoky tendrils redden blinking eyes
catarrh-stricken Chevy splutters, wheezes
bald tires barely grip road
skid grit & ash & soot
this time her get away is clean

what the poet is trying to say

taut-skinned words
round-mouthed vowels
stoop shouldered consonants
the poet speaks tonight of war
dogged syntax—exact syllables
rendered a capella
voice and viscera exposed
her poem is dark, tortuous
dry wood groans
twitch … balance … pause
small foot clatter
she leans into the podium
nervous shift of audience
keen white teeth
frost bitten scars


View from Coles Point

Black water. Black sky.
Island lights across the river
headlights on the bridge
like blinking fireflies
mark a horizon.
Beckon her home.
How lonely
here on the other side
in another state
summer people gone.
How did she end up
almost where she started,
mile of channel and current
keeping her separate
distance needed
when she was young
now a burden on her heart.

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