Poetry: Marianne Szlyk

Marianne Szlyk

My husband and I are waiting
for the biopsy that will doom
me, for the procedure that will
not save me.  I’d always thought
my heart would be the killer.
It won’t be.

Today began early.  The clinic’s
bright and buzzing colors buoyed us
as staff whizzed by as if
on skates.  All afternoon we wait
at Our Lady of Lourdes’ hall,
its muted, matte blues and greens
reminding me of silence, of
once-fashionable nail polish. 

I’d always imagined at this point
that I would be confessing
to Jamaica Plain’s last priest. 
Instead, my husband and I chatter
as we always have.  Making predictions
about next year’s elections, the Celtics,
he spoons sugar into green tea.
I rummage through the blue cookie tin
for pecan sandies, pretending to eat.

I do not know how much longer
we have beyond this working day.
I do not know if it’s dark
or light outside.  No newspapers
on the table reveal to me
the day that I begin dying.

Ms. Hawthorn thinks about the space
where the sticker’s line drawing used to be,
showing how the singer in her afterlife
had hardened into a gaunt carapace.
Amy’s hair extensions were bundled
up into a cross between a beret
and a turban.  Her face
sharpened.  She is silent.
A matching powder blue wool suit,
white high-necked blouse, and pearls
cover her tattooed body
smeared with blacks, reds, and greens.
All this is gone,
the body itself cremated,
the sticker peeled off.
Ms. Hawthorn supposes
the voice will follow soon.
She remembers
to put in her ear buds
for the rest of her walk.
A white-haired singer’s voice
floods over her thoughts.

Astoria at Dawn

Nobody braves the city street,
black as an iced-over river
between cars like snow banks.

Behind blinds a man lingers
over coffee, its taste bitter
enough to slice through sleep’s
thick fog.  He pours in
cream and sugar.  Sleep sneaks
back, washing through him.  Sweet
coffee cannot buoy him up.

His wife lies awake beneath
blankets as white as dreams
of summer’s clouds.

“Of drawers that smelled of elbow grease”
n  Quote from “Woman’s Home” by Mary Stone Hanley

The smell of elbow grease
is the body, its sweat glowing in summer
without air conditioning or tank tops,
its Lux soap in marble cakes
clinging to the bottom of a claw-foot tub,
its weekly shampoo at Rose’s Beautyrama,
its Pepsodent toothpaste, its denture cream,
its Listerine mouthwash as strong as
diluted Pine Sol in the stainless steel bucket,
its mid-afternoon smoke in the backyard,
away from sheets and underwear on the line,
its pork for dinner, its franks and beans on Saturday,
its black coffee for lunch, its coal in the cellar,
its molasses cookies in the oven, its lime
lingering in the air
long after the body is forever
at rest, the house
sold, then demolished

Into the Healing Water

Somewhere I wouldn’t normally go.
Wearing a dress, I refused
to kiss the Blarney Stone.
Wrapped up in gauze, sunburnt,
I refused to swim
in the ocean off Veracruz.
This time I go.
I climb into the well.

At first it filled with crystal waters,
just out of my reach.
Then the waters receded.
At first the wall was slimy.
Then it shimmered with patches
of purple, green, red,
and yellow jewels, reminding me
of games I’d played.
The waters shrank into a tiny pool,
the size of a puddle
after a moment’s heavy rain.

The sun is shining.  Shadows dance.
I climb back to grass and trees,
back to a path
where I do not fear my heart
slipping and skipping.

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