Two Poems, by Margaret Ross

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optimism

One sleeps on the rock
above a pool of tap water
while the other tries to climb
the sloped wall, slides down.
Tries, slides.

Stern face with its one expression.
No, with two expressions: eyes closed

eyes open. Or the head retracted
in its shell. Are they happy?
Yes. This bowl is a better home

than the pail on the street so packed with turtles, turtles
crawled on each other, no rock
but the shell of another, smoke of the turtle
seller’s cigarette descending.

In the bowl, disintegrating food pellets
murk the tap water. The turtles are sisters.
One grows and the other stays small
so the sisters become mother and daughter.

They’re girls because we are.

When they die, the bowl resumes its old job
holding punch at parties.
Disks of orange float upon pink liquid
like reflected suns. It’s fine to be sad
about turtles for a little while
but too long is selfish.

Voices in the next room slurring, weaving
funny stories out of disappointments. Joshua laughs.

Long ago, Joshua’s baby died
and he will be sad forever
though he can still smile
and can offer others slices of a homemade fruitcake
everyone hates but accepts.

A turtle might feel pain but not much, think
how little her head was. Small head, small brain,
small brain, less suffering.

A human head is different.

It doesn’t hurt, my father told the heel of his foot
where the seashell dug in. His handkerchief
tied a bandage. Then we could follow him
as he limped across the hot sand
past hundreds of bodies stretched on blankets, glistening
oiled skin, nipples, mouths slack on the resting
faces, dark glasses covering the eyes of some.

Etching by Art Hansen © The artist. Courtesy Davidson Galleries, Seattle

Etching by Art Hansen © The artist. Courtesy Davidson Galleries, Seattle

inner wall

She didn’t care if a person died
but if an animal did, she cried so hard
we had to leave the theater. Nothing
could appease her but a stuffed doll
of the animal onscreen. My mother

packed my father’s sock with cotton balls
and stitched on fins cut from a carpet sample.
We didn’t see the end of the movie.
The whale my sister thought would die

gets freed, though I later learned
the whale who played the whale
suffered to make those scenes
and inspired people to give money
to release him from captivity.

It isn’t real it’s just a movie
hadn’t shut my sister up
but, silenced by the sock,
she went to bed. In the dark

we invented a secret knocking language
on the inner wall partitioning our room
and knocked for a while. Inner wall between
our mattresses, then the outer wall
dividing us from the sidewalk

where a man slept on a folded blanket.
Once he came to the playground
and stood on the slide
and every kid got pulled off
to the benches to wait.

Above him arched the branches
of the park trees, leaves
against white sky. He wore a blue coat.

Some kids were allowed
to pee against a certain tree
but we weren’t.

For years, green paint flaked
off the benches. Later the city
added iron armrests
to stop people lying down.

Small hexagons paved the ground in the park.
Large squares made up the sidewalk.
Everything seemed ancient and eternal,
the river, the bodega, paper lamb
in the window of the dry cleaner.

Many people sat or slept on the street
and people sang or danced in the train
telling a story I was told
I couldn’t believe.

Suspect admonitions, divisions.

Detach yourself from the suffering on which
your comfort depends. But I want
to remember where I learned to do that.

 is the author of A Timeshare.



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