IN THE VALLEY OF FIRE, MY PARENTS ARE SLEEPING
My mother stretched into transparency
after years of being riddled with longing— Nights
through the halls of our house she traveled—
a child cradled in each arm, a child stretched across her back,
strapped to her waist, a child in her head,
and beneath her ribs, the nubby seeds of fingers reaching.
Night was a smoky gray river she swam through,
her boat song-driven, the weight of her prayers filling
the space in the toes of her long black shoes—
When she sank, her side of the bed collapsed
against a floor already slanting
into streets knee-deep in soot and the glint of false diamonds.
When she was ready, she rolled
toward the place where gravity pulled,
her eyes closed tight—
In her chest, the stoked fires
of coal and cherry wood
In their bedroom at the back end of the house my father slept always
on the side of the bed nearest the door to the hallway. Sleep
was the stone heaviness he climbed into each night,
the creases of his hands still greased after washing, the hall’s
dim yellow light softening the contours of his face
as he tucked his head down under the blanket’s worn binding.
His body was solid, an opaque skin covering
a mechanism whose gears hummed discordantly,
the tiny links and brushes that informed his feeling
lay submerged in a vat of motor oil and benzene,
the fires he built still spill from the rooms of our house—
At night, far away, I can glance out my window and see them.
WHEN ALL YOU OWN IS ANGER
You chew its thick meat and the heat of it
pours out in rivulets, pours like a stream
of molten iron and cleaves to the line
of your jaw, rings circles around your neck.
But hot metal can’t burn you; hot metal
gleams a shiny ore, it shows you the foundry
your face has become— a pair of smoke-rimmed
windows and a door slammed shut,
its two hinges guarding a tongue that was never afraid
except if you moved it.
The dead weight of this town is carried in one
of your hands, and in the other, thistles and slag,
the crumbled pink clay of a brick charred
at the edges. And in your eye, the left one, I see
where you look, back to the length of a street
with its curled tail of white smoke rising
at one tiny end and at the other, a blue cantilevered
bridge, its painted skin faded and peeling back.
Everywhere you look it’s rust now – mouth that can’t
open, stairway with no steps, handrail that dissolves
beneath your palms. The sky has swallowed your plume,
the bridge has collapsed into the dirty green river,
and inside your mouth,
the war between dust and fire proceeds.
Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli, painter, printmaker, and poet, is a graduate of Seton Hill University (B.A., Studio Art) and Warren Wilson College (MFA, Creative Writing/Poetry). She has been a Fellow at both the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (visual arts) and the Ragdale Foundation (poetry), as well as resident artist at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Her paintings and prints have been exhibited locally and regionally and her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Poet Lore, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ekphrasis, Anon, Blast Furnace, Hungry As We Are: An Anthology of Washington Area Poets, and others. She is a recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist’s Grant in Poetry. Her website is www.mariepavlicek.com.