My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.
Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.
My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips
till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,
she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head
tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair
from her brush, strands he wraps in Kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father
drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.
So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.
(Originally appeared in Avatar Review, Spring 2010)
Two of each—cup, saucer, bread plate
in lukewarm water, I wash away
thirty years of dust since Mother died.
At 42, ovarian cancer like Queen Mary.
Bloody Mary quite contrary
why leave your subjects crushed?
I thought I’d run into Mother if I traveled:
Chicago, Barbados, Edinburgh.
Against the sun, I raise the porcelain
eyeing it for chips and cracks. Bone china
fired from bone ash like Mother’s gray powder
handed me in a bronze urn.
Or is this cup with songbird glazed in blue
mere clay: my lips where once were hers.
Dust devils swirl to Beethoven’s Fifth and sun
burns my eyes between Albuquerque and Grants.
Living in this forsaken land is unimaginable
until I see shadows on desert hills
and think of Georgia O’Keeffe
traveling across New Mexico—water colors
dislodging dark New York her lover old
enough to be her father posing her
day after day in his studio
infatuations in black and white.
Stieglitz dies. She escapes to open plains
cloud vistas where nothing presses
no camera traps no skyscraper blocks
her stretching into whiteness—
bone on red hills.
It was April again. It rained every day
floating seeds downstream.
Cold white sheets covered cold
white skin & you said it was useless
caring whether hands met at night.
You said in Poland lovers lost
sleep over other things. We lay unspeaking
like the couple in Sunday’s LA Times.
She slept with his silence ten years & two
children. After coffee one morning
he burrowed a kitchen knife in her heart.
(Originally appeared in Spillway 13, Spring 2007)
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher. With a Ph.D. in American and British Literature and an MFA in Poetry, she is the author of five poetry and four flash fiction chapbooks. Her poetry appears in numerous anthologies and journals including Non-Binary Review, Spillway, Pirene’s Fountain, and The Los Angeles Review. Originally from the Appalachian South, Courington lives in California with another writer and two cats. For more information: chellacourington.net