Toby Olson

The question rises up aggressively
this morning, black sun a silhouette
in fog.     Somebody's father
stacks a cord of wood,
the pattern crosshatched against dampness;
everything seems ready for the fire.
Cats cry,
and the question lowers in the golden stream
above the toilet bowl;
        goodbye mystery train,
faint whistle into day's dream.
It's going to rain.

Fire in the flowers then, before the rain,
petunias and the yellow dots
on the wild indigo and the black
        and blue dots of the ripe berries,
dots of blood,
blossoming into Rorschach
on the chopping block.     Somebody's husband,
and the axe rising aggressively,
each chicken cast aside for headless running,
and the cats crying and the cringing children
laughing, in the pattern of cord wood.

There were flowers on her dress,
frenetic lilies as her arm descended,
thin as my arm then
at twelve years old and in desire of her,
a husband old enough to be my father.

of this leaking into awakening
on the golden stream,
                in fear of his arrival
and the memory of her neighbors at a cookout,
children running in the bloody yard,
voices of invisible women from the kitchen,
heard now, as residual, in this foggy day.

Perfected melody of the one singing,
that was the song.
        until the others joined her
in dissonance, then that was.
Never was their song simple enough.
The men heard only sentiment in lyric
of their story,
        telling lies about women,
where there is not singing.
Say it isn't so.

Dreamed then of the children running
in silence through the breezeway, the old Ford
with its sticking power of misogyny;
men gathered at the fender
talk incessantly of women; children passing
at their thighs,
hysterical from bigotry,
await the death of chickens.

Count them, platters of radicchio and macaroni,
tuna inselada, mozzarella
        in oil above tomatoes at the cookout,
kiev, ancillary breads, "she who may, in her turning
                only, have cured me,"
cunt or gown diaphanous in summer fog,
still talking of women
who are singing, dissonant, and spitting
into the food backstage.

Maybe now it's raining, a soft summer soaking;
little bird in gluttony at the feeder,
whine of a trucker in the distance,
        maybe fallen thistle, identifiable
finch feathers;
                then she shaking,
her whole small body shaken as her lifted wings
reveal the markings, cuts bleeding
on her breast.

All this for the interlude in a day darkening
into light of early evening
in the morning.
        dreams draining on the golden stream
in waste of memories sprayed up again,
and then there's this:

the chickens last night of the holocaust
and blood to her pathetic elbows,
marguerites and the chopping block.

Carolyn's a trumpet
blowing in feathers and blood, the fashion
of talk among women, desiring
a boy leaning in silence beside her;
        gown, grown diaphanous,
slips from her shoulders, and she's
holding his sad, healthy question, rising
                to innocent blossoming, as her children
cringe in hysterical screaming;
"You can be the man!"
and not men standing at the fender.

        But the chickens are running, the boy's
in uniform.     Thus,
then, is the story half told and the dream
of their singing, like flutes
dissonant to her trumpeting.

I could spit into the food.
I could make a bright sinking sun of this dark,
silhouetted one.
        I could hold to a fragment
to find Carolyn,
convenient as any crazy angel,
and her husband, the absent trucker.

A moment of memory, precipitant, as the question
sinks in the residual
of a dream;
flight of sparrows'
        shadow reflection in porcelain
turns morning to night.
I could shake free of the last
acid drops, turn to rain on the pane,
        streaks of children gathered
in warmth of a hot grate
reading the paper towels:

of a half dozen houses, farm house
and silo, be-level and Cape Coder;
the trees
        are sprays of inverted tear drops,
descending flames, but a pattern of perfected dots,
a melody of rain
or snow to quench them.
                Hearts at the border
and flowers, and there's a legend
mowed in the common lawn, "Bless Our Home."
No chickens running headless, or a mother
this father boy in uniform, no absent
        trucker, men at the fender,
marguerites near the chopping block,
no blood, cats crying
in the cord wood, lilies shaking
        as the axe descends,
talk of women spitting into the food,
backstage, in the kitchen,
        and the absence of a swing-set,
as if in yearning
for a past only
in that brief history of imagination.

It's the Bounty
Summer Collection, a sheet stained
with spilled coffee
I wipe away
as rain steadies, the fog clears, and I think
        I hear chickens singing,
dissonant as those women,
but they're only robins
attentive on tree tips
in this neighborhood of nests.

No rain in the California that comes to me then
with that uniform,
a sailor's suit, and another self beside me,
        only twelve, in fat and desire,
watching the descending axe.

Maybe it's a mother's touch, a bloody finger
        shaking in anticipation,
then arrival of the unexpected husband, maybe
                just the kind of kiss
given to her shrinking children, brushing
at the Ford's fender,
feathers, and the bloody smell.
I can't remember it too well.

Still the axe is poised,
animated lilies as her dress collapses;
        then he's heading for her,
the absent trucker
in talk of women, and the children weeping,
moving away from the fender,
                maybe I can hear
the others in the kitchen, still spitting
into the food.

        Of course it also
may be silly
in this rain, in sun breaking through.
Maybe there's a cat or two,
a kiss
given to a coffee cup, and lilies
in their bounty
ready for the bees' suck.

I can see
        the roof caps on the distant houses now
in fake harmony of neighborhood,
imagining what might have come to pass
even in your wobbly name, forgotten children
and chickens;
we might have spoken to each other,
        shy sailor, woman wanting
some singing, both in frustration and hearing
of men at the fender: all this
        in the truculent thrusting of a dream
into a morning's darkness
become twilight of those fragmented chickens,
flowers shaken on your bloody dress,
a telling of lies about women.

Am I keeping us from something?
Is it memories' grave?
Is it California and childhood,
        the future in a boy turned to a sailor
in anticipation of the absent trucker,
children at the fender,
        diaphanous feathers drifting
in silhouette of the poised axe:
                bounty of our different losses,
still speaking of women,
theatricality of cook-outs and decay?

The rain drifts under sun now, heading for the sea.
Resignation reads the clearing sky.
        Chickens float by,
old Fords, salads, pathetic elbows.
Clouds crumble at the margins, ragged
and sentimental (lyrics
                blown through a breezeway).
The Atlantic Flyway,
travelers in shadow patters on the wing,
then trumpets and flutes answering.

Let us turn from the porcelain and the draining,
wipe at the spilled coffee.
The stream was golden in the sinking question,
but it was only, like memory, a matter of waste.

Fire flowers beckon at the window, wild indigo,
        black and blue dots of the ripe berries,
rain drops, prisms of light on the poised lilies:
these momentary curatives. Clouds gather again.
It's going to rain. Goodbye mystery train.