Poetry and Prose from the Center for Writers
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by LAURA GOLDSTEIN
Dreams are for Children
“Sweet little Shirley,” were the first words my grandma spoke
after her stroke. I, too, admired the curled girl,
tap shoes and dimples. Shirley had been around longer than I had,
she knew only my face, the hint of my smile.
In the nursing home she hides a cookie
given to her at a New Year’s party. “They won’t like it,” she says.
I tell her it’s ok, but she shakes her head,
looks off. A book bound in pale yellow reads in bright green,
“You Are Somebody Special.” She tells me she needs to pee,
so I push a button, wait. Her roommate tells us her husband was gay,
died of AIDS. She survived three strokes, was 52, balding.
She told us her husband sucked cock, even fucked
a horse. I don’t know what to say. I say I am sorry,
that the world takes all kinds. She says, not that kind, but it’s ok,
he was a pig. If she got enough money, she would change her last name.
In twenty minutes no one comes, so I go out in the hall, find someone.
The nurse says she is busy, she will be there soon. We wait ten more minutes,
it is too late. She cries, feels ashamed, says she is going to die.
I wait in the hall for her to get changed, and a woman in purple leg warmers
offers me a Cheeto. She says, “I’d sit next to you, but they wouldn’t like that,
would they?” Yesterday, I saw a rat chased from a restaurant, slide under a tree
between the sidewalk and street. I felt the owner’s hiked shoulders, saw his
etched victory. “Oh, I said, I don’t think they’ll mind.” A nurse steps between us,
like dodging spent toys. We look at one another and laugh.
I find my grandma and she grabs my hand, brings it to her face.
“Oh, sweet, sweet,” she says. Outside, winter grass glows from the cracks
of the grey and weathered sidewalk, snow slips from its edges like burned paper.
Crossing the Midline
My child is born with Band-aids in her mouth— she cries not like a neonate, but like a teenager who no one understands. She wraps her pink wrinkled hands around my finger, claws at the seams of my nail. I want to place her somewhere sturdy, cylindrical. But like a seagull she studies each white tipped dock, feels her own smooth webbed feet, continues flying though uncertainty balloons through fear of slipping. She is transparent behind a screen, does not hear me hum lullabies to her.
She roots her own feet in fine, filtered sand so that her toes can’t be seen, so she can begin to wrap her arms in pale vinyl rub rails, perhaps blanket herself in layers of thick fungicide. She looks only toward the grey horizon, laughs when a brown wave splashes to block her view, sings in the coming of dusk. Soon she will reach to soft spots in her head, shape her skull into a sharp cone. She will bend under the weight of a storm, keep seagulls from resting on their long journeys home.
The Blonde from New York
At five we danced on all fours to my blue and white record player, swept our hair across the carpet until it stood up as if rubbed with balloons. We got caught kissing on the stairs by our older sisters at the end of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, but that Christmas we didn’t care. The next we played hide-and-seek and you tugged my hair, chased me with your new fake snakeskin pocketknife. The summer we were seven you gave me a drawing of your name crafted with crayons and animal scribbles. I both admired and resented the way you peed outside, caught blue crabs from the bayou for your family to eat. You couldn’t handle the chlorine pool, had to wear goggles, earplugs, arm floaties. I slid to the bottom in my ruffled one-piece, stuck my tongue out at your silver shadow while I grabbed the plastic dive sticks you couldn’t reach.
A Tight Space in Dominos
A child was born inside a blue, glowing morning glory.
Torn from her mother, she was unaware of her violence,
the war that caused her birth. She didn’t know why
she was explored, why she was weak, why more energy
was used silently for her creation than she was worth.
Her eyes would slowly pour into the bay, leave hollowed
spots like brown pumpkins washing ashore in smoky waves, foam
hugging every rippled shell. Yellowed apple cores pieced together her
skin, reeled her to stories of rich lore. She began
searching for witches in the dunes, her dresser drawers filling
with glass carved from sand. Was it misuse of ore
afforded by hurricanes that kept her from spreading melted wax?
Her story fell into castles, shifted her smile into warm
sand. She couldn’t ignore the pages any longer, turned her
flashlight into a ship. The ice left before she arrived,
a woven duck rug stuffs itself under a wooden door,
floor shadows cup wolves, men with real silver guns into
bedcuffs. More books, more stuffed pink bunnies, hairy golden monkeys,
hooded dogs, sore baby bears with bandaged ears. Nightmares wrap
themselves in blankets, scores of clouded cocoons night after night.
A tiger’s golden buttered roar coos into twitching legs, sleeps
lovely in umbrella shade. Outside, shores rush, rustling pines moan.
More to fear than humans, a poor scrap of fly
floats in transparent jellyfish. She learns of stores, of six-
ringed plastic. She cuts them over eighteen times, hoards their
shredded frames in her room. Dreams of blood-soaked boards
moor her in fuzzy halos. A shark in chlorine waters,
detached gory limbs beside noodle floats, flippers mistaken for seals.
You point to the window, say “take here nice side”, what my three year-old niece calls, “robot talk”. She laughs as I count your leg lifts for therapy, offers you a carrot stick with her Play-doh hands, lays her head over your pacemaker, pats your replaced knee. She watches me put in your teeth, lift on your glasses, puzzles you together as if each gnarled piece were hers, storing you in her mind among blocks and coloring books. I think about your strawberry stained fingers, scars shooting across your body from various surgeries. When my dolls and I had the flu you gave us sweet tea castor oil, jellybean aspirin. I apologized many times for hitting my sister with a bat, though it was red and spongy, bounced lightly off her head. You were afraid of what I find fascinating—owls, the ocean. Now I read you a poem, and you take the book, look at all the words again as if you were reading them.
Laura Goldstein is from Niceville, Florida, and has lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi since 2003. She is finishing her MA at the University of Southern Mississippi, and will be moving to Boston in the fall for the BU MFA program with her cat, Mari.