Lois Marie Harrod
Grayson Books West Hartford, Connecticut
Furniture Copyright © 2008 by Lois Marie Harrod Printed in the USA Grayson Books PO Box 270549 West Hartford, CT 06127 www.graysonbooks.com ISBN: 978-0-9785382-2-4
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Acknowledgements Potted Mums, Mankato Poetry Review;The Chair and the Bed, The RedWheelbarrow;The Clothes Grinding Down the Line, Fish Stories;The Fan, The Red Wheelbarrow;The Garden of Artificial Light, The Red Wheelbarrow;The Housecoat, Patterson Literary Review;Venetian Blinds, The Minnesota Review; Windows, PMS PoemMemoirStory;Yoke, PMS PoemMemoirStory.
Contents Windows 1 The Chair and the Bed 2 The Clothes Grinding Down the Line 3 The Fan 4 Venetian Blinds 6 The Cuff and the Sleeve 7 Forks and Hammers 8 The Garden of Artificial Light 9 The Plumber 11 Potted Mums 13 Moving the Furniture 15 The Paperweight 16 Piano 18 Bureau 19 The Closet 20 Putting the Refrigerator on the Curb 22 The Housecoat 23 Yoke 25 From Labyrinth to Linear 26
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Windows To be a window is easier than to be a door. You do not have to suffer daily fists and the brass conk of canes, you do not have to ease open to every opportunity with its get-rich dreams. No mail man forces a dog to snarl at your knob, no mother keeps yelling that you should be open or shut depending on the whims of the weather, and the cat sits on your sill without begging out or in. If she twitches at the squirrel, no matter. On All Hallow’s you do not grow weary on your hinges, and in summer you’re screened. No one scolds you for letting in the flies. You are merely there, that paradoxical clarity that delineates worlds, blameless and irresponsible until the boy with his stone.
The Chair and the Bed The chair was straight-backed and righteous, a ladder to heaven running up his spine, he knew where he was going even though a telephone book was sometimes placed on his painted seat and a child lifted onto him for a holiday meal, but that didn’t last longer than a heel mark on his rung, the child was gone before the gravy, and the chair was back to where he had been in the bedroom, white and empty. The bed was another matter, rumpled but righteous in her own way, whispering to her sheets that the chair worried too much about saliva and salvation, all that grumbling because the wife had missed a banana smear on his leg, hey, life was messy, didn’t she know every night the old roll and flop, slaver and snore? Why even when the man and the wife were sleeping, the bed could taste the phlegm and stain and then there was that schnauzer who took a corner of the spread and pulled it onto the floor to stink it up.What was the big deal? Of course, the chair knew too. Every night he sat and watched, holding himself as rigid as he could.
The Clothes Grinding Down the Line And now they are separated from the sweat that made them, the bump and grind that brought them to the dirty stage and hung them like so many dancing convicts in a line, their heads missing except the parka ballooning in the breeze. To be cut off like this from what informs the flesh, what gives it substance, listen to the stories the poor rags tell. Every sleeve is an empty mouth, and you’ve heard it all before, work and love, the little red hen, I’ll do it all myself. So you are condemned to wash the aprons, and now your fingers ache with hanging, any colder outside and the socks would freeze.What was it your mother said about the daily flap, “Hang the brassieres on the middle line so the neighbors cannot see”? The sheets were strict as figgy leaves.You should be writing, you should be reading but love keeps bringing you to this—labor and your mother and the sex she never understood, now why would a woman throw her panties to Mickey Mantle? You stand, arms uplifted, wondering where Freud’s wife hung his long underwear, still smelling of analysis and stale cigar, did she tell the maid to be sure that the flaps were buttoned down in that stiff Austrian tease.
The Fan A man opened all of his windows so the wind could carry away the odors that had built upâ€” the smell of haddock cooking in the iron skillet, the sweat of undershirts and cum, and more subtle the delicate stink of his silk ties, the lint inside his pockets, and the smell of the skin in his navel, the oil of his hair, and when the wind did not prove strong enough, he bought a huge fan and installed it in his ceiling so that it would suck up the smell of everything, the oil left on napkins, the grapefruit rind, the odor of chemicals he was using to clean, bleach and pine-sol, and when he could still smell himself he began cutting more windows and opening them, round and square and octagonal until his house was a lattice and people passing could see him moving from one space to the next. Soon the house was like a webbing, the lights were gone. At night watchers could see him moving from his room with his flashlight so that the light from his bedroom might fall down into his basement. Sometimes he called out, can you smell me? and they said no, and he said then that is because you have spoiled your noses by too many odors, the perfume samples in magazines,
the fragrance of laundry soaps and fabric softeners, fingernail polish and power, red meat and catsup, for he could still smell himself the whiff of mortality, nothing he could blow away.
Venetian Blinds I like the way light binds the skin, makes a bird cage of the body. The striped neck patches of the common loon, the sooty shearwater’s pleated wing. I raise my arms, bound at the wrist, breasts float the dark ripples. When I hold my breath, I sink under the buoy that divides shallows from the deep. At the pool’s bottom I wear the spirals of my own descent, my eyes ribbon open. Five fingers slit the sun, my crazy lover is wearing his brindled suit. I explain how I will throw his shadow onto a cloud, it will take a stiff light. He holds his mouth just so— my words find their prison.
The Cuff and the Sleeve They learned to live with each other as couples do, ironing out differences, but the cuff was often angry with the sleeve, especially when it was hot and the sleeve rolled the cuff into himself. I wish you wouldn’t do that, she kept saying to him, when you hold me this tight I can hardly breathe–and your sweat, it’s toxic. The sleeve chided her, Darling, why do I have I to take the heat? Can’t you give a little. Stop thinking of yourself. The cuff tried, but she couldn’t help hoping for cooler days when the sleeve was less amorous and was willing to let the smoothest bit of her show.
Forks and Hammers The difference, he said, between a fork and a hammer, is that you lift with a fork and hit with a hammer— ball peen or claw, it’s all rat-a-tat-tatting the talking of a tool. And with a hammer the man several houses down listens, knows you are working on something new, building the dog house—or fixing the gate his son rammed with a bicycle. He thought you didn’t know. But the fork, he said, the fork is almost silent, an instrument of humility, sweet sweep of rye or hay into the wagon, gathering of food or waste, fresh bed of straw, the feeding and cleaning, the mare suckling her colt, the slide, the shush.
The Garden of Artificial Light A woman built a garden of artificial light. It took years. During the day, she worked inside, gridding the volts while outside her lamps basked in the sun, masking themselves as flowers, iris and tulips in tiffany rows. Almost no one knew what she was doing, but as the sun dimmed, she watched tin insects candle the grass, poppies spill merlot in the pond, and gauzy snapdragons slip into a brighter skin. For what seemed like years she walked her garden at night, sometimes alone changing bulbs and adjusting shadows, sometimes with a trusted friend or lover who would seem endlessly delighted with each new bed, each shimmering wisteria or orange blossom, each rosy-fingered couch, and among the artificial lights, their backlit bodies mirrored themselves in a round of water. But eventually she began to weep. No one could console her. She could see now in the reflecting pool that she was no longer a pretty woman, however discreet the blossoms. Her lover got down on his knees in the glistening clover and held her as he had done before. How can you say you are not beautiful, he said, looking at what she had wrought. As if to convince her, he began
adding tender lamps of his own. Perhaps another’s muted light would dim her sorrow. He calibrated a silver lantern in the butterfly bush. He brought a gilt mantis. He installed a glittery artichoke. But she kept weeping, and he left as lovers do when they can do nothing else, when all their gifts prove wrong.Weeping, she tried to walk in her garden, you cannot say she did not try, but she kept tripping. All her light seemed nothing but a tangle of electrical cords exposed as the roots of trees. She stopped feeding the artificial canaries. She stopped fertilizing the peonies. She stopped making fake sunflower seed. She began one by one replacing each lamp with a stone.
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The Plumber The plumber understood what was public–the water main, the cleanout, the building sewer line, service pipe, and outdoor sillcock, but he loved the private, and so he allowed the town its dwelling assessments and dog licenses, even the water meters that measured his privileged domain.Why should he mind when he governed the concealed: the double basins in master bathrooms, the bathtubs plugged with confidential hair, sometimes fine and silky, often roughed and kinked. He had shower fixtures that dripped so loudly children ran to parents’ beds, toilet tanks that filled and overfilled, undisclosed waste that suddenly slopped onto shaggy rugs. He knew which diapers and sanitary pads, pregnancy tests, cotton balls, grapefruit peels and solitary socks had been hidden. He liked the overflow bends and tricks that snared partial plates and diamond rings. He loved to explain P traps and waste stacks to woeful women and deliver lectures on stack vents and roof flashings to distraught men. And when the hot water heaters burst and basements were flooded and the laundry lay sorted and soggy on the floor because some dumb Joe had tried to fix it all himself,
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the plumber was there to explain why copper was better than PVC and how closet bends could so easily dam.
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Potted Mums You see them squatting on front steps and down sidewalks, propped against tree stumps and in window boxes, the potted mums, looking fuddled and crocked in the late October sun that cuts through the maples like a distillery mirror, the slick hooch in the gullet, addled flush, past season in their sotted yellows, rummy reds, their frowsy white hats like the one your mother used to wear in spring, the white feathers reeling across her forehead and the veil screwed to her skin at cockeyed angles. That spring you lost so much weight she grew pie-eyed, telling you to eat more please, all this long before anyone had heard of anorexia or those things that would smash your sister and your father, depression and Alzheimer’s. And you feel sorry a bit for the poor dears trying to keep up appearances in the cold sober air for you know you could loop on your hand the drinks your mother had in her life, she has never been drunk, not even that evening you moved her and your father into the retirement village, he already
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stoned into forgetting, his task to smooth out the paper you had wrapped all the dishes in, something mindless and unnecessary to keep him unoccupied, and you wondered if he felt humiliated to be set to such a dumb task while you tried to keep him from sloshing teacups and breaking plates. True, she did bring out the bottle of Mogan David, 15 years old and still half full, kept for medical emergencies, cough medicine, and she poured one-half inch into those old Kraft pimento cheese glasses and gave you each one, even your father, and said you should all celebrate having come to a new place, a carouse which surprised you, and then she threw the rest of the bottle down the drain.
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Moving the Furniture The chair which squatted so solidly by the couch is across the room like a stranger waiting for a bus to come down the other side of the road, choosing uptown this time, not down, like my sister, who has suddenly stopped wanting to live, next stop, the plot so far down the road I forget my parents and grandparents lie there, the grave little court in New Bedford. I’ve painted the walls, I’ve made everything new, but yesterday, as I was returning the stuff of my life to the living room, I found a tape from 1991 I couldn’t play—my parents talking— I didn’t want to hear what they guessed before they moved.
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The Paperweight The heavy egg that does not hatch. When the hen entered the hen house and laid her fortune, I lost a double sun— hers and mine. Like that virgin saint holding two yolks on a plate, her eyes. Well, said the cafeteria boy, eating an egg is eating a period. That’s disgusting, said the girl, don’t write it up or down. The epoch sags in the sentence and the verb throws a shadow. And that’s not what the bard meant when he wrote nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his braid.
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All this plaiting just to look beautiful. Stone, scissors, paper— don't cut your hair too soon.
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Piano He had always found the piano so difficult, so peculiar. One day she seemed happy just to have him touch middle C, just finger-kiss me on your way out of the day, she said, but others she complained that all he was doing was tickling her ivory, she couldn’t stand it, his fingers on her skin, press harder she would say, but rarely would she consent to everything, all 88 keys set into motion, he was so clumsy, he could play her, but it felt as if he were just practicing, on what, she didn’t know, she didn’t think there was another Steinway in his life.
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Bureau How to clean it out, what to do with the band-aids, college notes, wedding negatives, surely they wouldn’t see the drug store again—and the children, would she want a reprint of the grinning boy who cracked one afternoon? Oh, she tried to speak. Or the girl who was such a sweet baby except she never slept. Memories like scabs. Scratch and sniff. Better pitch the scissors too that she had used to butcher the girl’s self-esteem, not that she knew then.Too much testosterone in the womb, she now read, and a boy can’t look anyone in the eye, but what could a woman do about that twenty years later? And the diaphragm with its dry dome might as well go with Candy Land and Animal Rummy. There, said the geek, who had come to fix her computer, you can play solitaire again. She had liked him even if he was a bit odd, but she guessed he was a man who didn’t love women, not the way she wanted to be loved, a man like her husband who preferred someone else.
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The Closet Most of the skeletons were intact, but who was who? The housekeeper could no longer remember. The Janet with the oversized carpi and metacarpi– was that the Janet who didn’t practice piano as often as she said she did—or the Janet who smoked Newports in the Baptist church bathroom before she went home from choir practice? Had it been Melinda with the missing metatarsal who murdered her son’s white mouse by freeing him in the cemetery where that nasty little rodent could be eaten by any passing owl or fox—or was that Helen with the artificial knee? The housekeeper didn’t know any more though she sometimes wondered why some of these skeletons had entered the closet in the first place.The housekeeper was always relieved when skeletons decided to come out, but who were still hiding in the back with the tutu– Peter and Jim or Erik and Michael? The housekeeper could identify Tom by the three hair plugs, embedded in his skull, three more secrets, she thought, that man had never mentioned to his second wife, but the housekeeper had never known whose bones were rattling about in the Scholl’s shoe box. The skeletons that reassembled themselves to reveal — 20 —
their secrets upset her—Danny’s phalanxes caressing Thelma’s femur and Bill’s epicondyle entering Felicia’s orbital cavity—she’d have to put a stop to that with her broom. But the housekeeper was most worried about the headless vertebrae that snaked against the wall.They looked so much more sinister than they had when they entered so many years ago. Sometimes she wondered if their head were her own.
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Putting the Refrigerator on the Curb On the hottest day of the summer, 98 degrees, the refrigerator decides to walk to the curb with the stubbornness of a woman in a nursing home, who wants to go home to her crib and comforter. So we help the poor thing begin her journey back to dust, no easy trek with all her glass and plastic, aluminum and steel, those adamantine substances made to last without the memory to keep cool. But before we begin dismantling doors, we tell the refrigerator that it is her own fault just as we blame our fathers and our fathers’ fathers for ancient misdemeanors, all that sweat and rotted fruit. When it’s our turn to go, we say, no one will have to unscrew the hinges before we can be carried through the door.
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The Housecoat Here take it, I won’t wear it, perfume on the stopper blue as ink spilling the page bottle-glass blue, arteries too heavy for my clavicle you bought it for me. My mother’s face still within her theatrical fragrance— Topaze, Evening in Paris Hawaian Ginger. To be as I am, smaller than a whiff lacking her green flashes— red hair, her eyes like limes. O she could be sour and strong, forcing the thumb back into its socket. I do not have such redolence, the grunt and grit to drag myself from garage to kitchen
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the day I fall from the stepladder and crack my hip. Everything happens once and then again, a different odor. Now she rubs the swollen wrist— maybe I should have seen the doctor. She begs again, here take it home and wear it— this housecoat still breathing something I do not want to breathe.
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Yoke And what did I hope for when I hoped, immortality? That gold coin passed from one hand to the next then suddenly lost in a drawer, closet, chink, dropped so that an earthquake later, volcano, hurricane, it can rise to the surface where gold has no value or small.When I was thirteen, I hoped fairy tales, the fish on the table cleaves open, and lying there, the endless life in its gut. I am a princess, I am a beggar. When I was 15, I memorized Thanatopsis while I was ironing my father’s shirts because my Latin teacher said everyone should know that hope by heart: So live that when thy summons comes, you will be starching your father’s collars. Didn’t the old book say something like that? It has always been my hope to cram more things than possible into the possible, the collar first, the stays, the yoke, the cuffs, the sleeves, this is how it is done, first things first, the bed, the lip, the mouth, the rising up, the lying down.
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From Labyrinth to Linear —•—
We can hear the labor in the muse, Daedalus at hawk and handsaw, farsighted and sweating, oh we get ourselves into muddles and can’t get out, did you bring the brief candles? —•—
Imagination waxes the body but the sun wicks it and wanes, and somewhere above, the stars keep splitting the comet’s hair What logic lasts more than a month? —•—
Any lathe can round the rigid corners of sense, spin substance into air turn wisdom into grief. — 26 —
Though each letter mazes its astonishing way through the corn, we want more than meaning more than Icarus dropping his plumb line into the world.
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Biography Lois Marie Harrod’s chapbook Firmament was published by Finishing Line Press in 2007 and her PutYour Sorry Side Out, by Concrete Wolf in 2005. She won a 2003 poetry fellowship, her third, from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Her sixth book of poetry Spelling the World Backward (2000) was published by Palanquin Press, University of South Carolina Aiken, which also published her chapbook This Is a StoryYou Already Know (1999) and her book Part of the Deeper Sea (1997). Over 300 of her poems have appeared in journals including American Poetry Review, Blueline, The MacGuffin, Salt, The Literary Review, Zone3. Her earlier publications include the books Every Twinge a Verdict (Belle Mead Press, 1987), Crazy Alice (Belle Mead Press, 1991) and a chapbook Green Snake Riding (New Spirit Press, 1994).
You can order this order this book by sending $8.00 for each book plus $2 shipping & handling per order to Grayson Books PO Box 270549 West Hartford, CT 06127 or check us out online at www.graysonbooks.com — 28 —