Cheryl A. Rice Cheryl A. Rice’s work has appeared in Baltimore Review, Chronogram, Florida Review,  Home Planet News, Mangrove, Metroland, Poughkeepsie Journal, The Temple, Woodstock Times, and in the anthologies Wildflowers, Vol. II (2002: Shivastan Publishing), Riverine (2007: Codhill Press) and For Enid, With Love (2010: NYQuarterly). She is the author of A Thousand Candy Vaginas: Poems 1989-1995 (1997, Palaver Press), Aleums (1999, Flying Monkey Press), Egypt (2001, Flying Monkey Press), Nobody Slept Last Night (2003, Another Poor Bastard Productions, CD), Auction (2004, Flying Monkey Press; 2nd edition 2010), Girl Poet (2007, Flying Monkey Productions, CD), Roses: three poems (2011, Flying Monkey Press), and Outside (2011, Flying Monkey Press). Founder and host of the Sylvia Plath Bake-Off, Rice has held her RANDOM WRITING workshops throughout the Hudson Valley, where she has lived for over 30 years, after growing up on Long Island. Her poetry blog, Flying Monkey Productions, is at http://flyingmonkeyprods.blogspot.com/.

POEMS

 

TAKING OFF BILLY COLLINS’ CLOTHES

It was easy, with the spotlight in his eyes,
focussed as he was on his poetry, the crowd,
the floral arrangements girdling the podium.
I slunk across the dark stage, my movements obscured
by guffaws and applause.
I reached around and, almost silently,
pulled up the velcro tabs on his loafers.
What was it about academics and loafers, I wondered.
Some kind of contractual thing?

I had him where I wanted him then.
I slipped off the shoes, then rolled the argyles down
with equal ease, going on as he was about
the dog, the phonograph and the orchestra.
It was no challenge to reach up for his buckle,
unfasten the scuffed brass catch,
slip the old leather strap from its loopy
cage around his tender gut.

His chinos all but fell from his hips then,
exposing pale boxers at the edge of the reading light.
Boxers? I marvelled. Boxers?
Even a hatful of candles couldn’t have stopped me then.
Gliding up from the blue igloo of his manhood,
I slipped my hands under Billy’s jacket,
poet king corduroy, mandatory elbow patches
from all those hours of musing late on Friday afternoon,
September sun slanting in under tin blinds,
dust motes doe-see-doeing in the ivory air.

He helped me with a shrug, while on the page,
in the air, out of the speakers – –
I slowly rose and reached down over his shoulders,
my arms slithering down his chest like fuzzy pink cobras,
and loosened his tie, navy with red media stripes.
It slipped gratefully from its windsor noose,
out from under the plain white collar, and I thought,
Old Spice? Old Spice? What about Aramis, Calvin Klein,
something a bit more – –

The shirt itself, stiff with laundry starch, fell into
a crisp origami boulder at Billy’s feet.
He went on with the one about the Buddha, the cocoa
and the shovel, and I thought of him out there, like this,
shovel in hand, soft feet trudging through the snow,
on to the card table, strip poker with the Enlightened One.
Billy’s t-shirt, v-neck, was marked by a slight shadow under the arms,
tuft of hair poking up like a grey nosegay.

Of course, I cannot tell you everything – –
About how the volunteers assembled at the wings of the stage,
how they tossed the white net over me before I could escape,
the pretty red lights singing in the starry night like midway barkers,
the reporters, the headlines, the bad credit.

What I can say is that the three blind mice
scurrying around my feet, humming Art Blakey’s version of
the theme from, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”
cannot be said to have made matters any better.

 

AUTUMN MAYBE

Waiting for the false oven to heat to temperature,
the dishes are in my power,
stacked just; as bowls, plates, forks together.
Egg tarts wait to meet the heat,
velveeta-capped, home ec throwback.
Breakfast is all that interests me after dark,
beans and rice in the morning, pudding anytime.
New windows will be in before snow curls my ears,
as will the tile return to the center of the wobbly kitchen floor,
grout around so smoothly reworked that
the patch itself becomes a jewel in the mud.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Senator, I yield, the radio faintly drones,
eloquent speeches timed more precisely than
any open mic I’ve ever been to.
I know there’s evil in the world;
it’s what makes the good look so.
I have a nephew, 15, Ritalin-deprived, who might
be a prime candidate for the front lines, maybe
born to warm the Group W bench.
My boyfriend’s son, 20 or more, might just be
talked into free tuition, three hots and a cot.
A private plane toddles over my small house.
A chill approaches, autumn maybe.
Black is all I care to wear these days.
It all matches. It is the only
clear choice I am capable of.

 

WHERE THE WATERS WILL TAKE ME

I. There is so much I want to ask
after we have hung up our phones
and you have turned over to the dark side of your bed,
heart escaping into night’s afterlife.
I want to know, did the fish look back in those bare brooks,
recognize the angler in you returning to the dry shores
in the autumn of your most dry year?
Or did the thought of hook and line,
rubber lures the color of disco boots
make you hesitate, empty-handed
at the trickling water’s edge,
cast for words instead,
a pen your quick lasso,
ink the fire you brand the pages
of your notebook with?

II. I scan the maps long after you
have faded to your well-worn sleep,
following the lines like slender veins across the mouldering paper.
Capillary miles between us,
I aim to follow the flow,
the rhythmic path to your tin door.
So many unmarked routes,
I switch from view to view,
measuring with pinkie the tangled journey,
beating my belly on the pavement,
upstream from my own good sense.
The shortest distance between two points is passion.
Infatuated fins clash with infrequent tollgates;
I disregard invisible mountains on the flat pages,
knowing already it is all upstream.

III. I am too blind, driven by the season,
my own open days, to know where to stop.
It is the slant of sun, maybe,
the high, cool air that has begun
to weigh down my hunched shoulders at every turn.
Your voice is all the bait I need to spur me on,
your smile the light at the fold.
Aortal destiny, I flop at your feet,
out of my element, ecstatic exhaustion,
here for the chemicals that blend between us
as if we were of one mother,
spawned in the same grey tank,
raw flesh that blesses my tongue like a river of awe.

 

WHAT SPRING DOES

“I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
– P. Neruda

After wintering over, blanket of burlap and snow,
what Spring does, his dewy kiss,
what Spring does, his green fingers
empty daylight into buds, blooming
bark, erupting blossoms.
Plums we held all winter inside us
begin a quick burst to completion,
heaving purple skins, sheer amber flesh.
What Spring does, his defrosting smooch
delicious alarm in late morning,
satisfies after bare months of dreaming,
sap made manifest, rising insurrection.
What Spring does to me will be no less
than what I do to spring.
Smoky breath uncrate new season,
marks bark with promising nicks,
what spring does, what we do, what is done.
Dusty with pollen, all potential,
I want to disrupt the common ash peace.
What ice does, dancing on long, rough limbs,
what bees do is what is required.
We queens of the grove give Spring his purpose.
Communal beauty coaxes round blossoms,
enables flowers on the path to plumhood,
fruit dividends, dreamscapes of harvest
memory, winter’s nap.
What Spring does is what we expect,
like a man, face mumbling in the flowers,
intoxicated, rusty at the edges,
his short, shiny life spent in our woods.
Sisters, this Spring is a gentleman bee.

 

BEACH IN MEMORY

Miss it? What was it to me
but always there,
option for Senior Cut Day,
but they never came,
never alone, never in winter.
I took off down the shore on arrival,
collected purple chips of shell
I know as wampum from less
politically correct times.
Some big as half dollars, I’d
carry them for weeks,
a sort of worry stone,
then like all the tokens
I favor, they’d fall out, return
to my green glass bowl, imitation ocean.
Wet sand, tangle of seaweed at ankles,
smell of salt spray when tide came crashing back,
and the waves themselves that slam against your body
through the night, long after the sun
exchanged his place with stars,
and Noxema soothed hot kisses
he’d left that day, rough hugs no lake can match.
All the ocean parts are what I miss,
and a lime green bikini that somehow
I was allowed to wear
even after my breasts began
to overgrow the top.
I miss the gulls tearing mussels
straight from their blue black shells,
screeching in warning, competition.
I miss soft dry sand, the light breading of frost
of it on damp feet, temporal footprints
on the wet shore,
the pull of the tide as it
retreated back to its main mother,
the sun, after all its damage,
its lingering goodbye
on the straight edge of England, Europe,
anywhere but Long Island.

 

DRIVING PAST THE CORNER

Driving past the corner of the block you live on,
past Columbus and his careful curls,
past where the deli was you said
smelled of stale chicken blood,
where the snails escaped from great baskets on the sidewalk
and slowly, over years, made their way to the alley
where you sweep them aside after rain,
past the river and its makeshift beach,
remainder of docks where the ferry used to run
and now does again, but for pleasure now, not work,
past the river where Henry Hudson
as we have been told over and over again,
made his way up to Albany on a fraction of a planet,
not for fun, for profit, and nobody talks about
the mutiny on another voyage two years later
when his crew got tired of it all and set him adrift
in St. Lawrence Bay, and he hasn’t been heard from since,
and how will the Chamber of Commerce
commemorate that historical event?
My mutiny, where you were concerned,
was subtler, more prolonged.
I imagine you are still adrift, but don’t know it,
still seaching for gold up your own ass.
Maybe it was me who cut the rope,
pushed the rowboat away from the mothership.
Maybe it was me who set sail for China,
and maybe it was me who wrote about
the stars first, after my pipe was done,
and the sails were lowered for the night.
Maybe it was me looking for spices, gold, anything but you.
And maybe, someday you will look up from the island
you landed on and look past the water,
past the sky full of not yourself but stars,
look down the river, remember what’s passed,
where time flies, how long it takes a snail
to return to the basket.

 

ABUNDANCE

Early June, pears in the orchard
are doll’s pears, food for a doll’s house,
perfect miniatures, and the
plum blossoms that made him drunk
are small plums now, filling one
tree from top to bottom.
The other beside it has a single
fruit on one top branch,
out of reach, and another hidden
in the thick leaves, he insists.
The apple tree is full, too,
growing the small, green apples
his wife likes. Only a few years
old, the orchard already starts
to produce in return for little attention.
Chickens, purchased in middle age,
struggle to earn their few
handfuls of feed, salad scraps.
He says they lay two or three
eggs a day, one apiece.
We both are amazed, consider
how a human egg, if given at all,
takes a month, but he doesn’t know
the agony of it firsthand,
how much trouble that tiny egg
can cause inside. His daughter,
big eyes and blonde bob, goes in
to check for the chicken’s contribution
to the family larder. She comes
out of the coop with six eggs
in the sling of her t-shirt,
small, precarious basket.
She isn’t surprised, accepts what they offer.
The chickens and I have both
been spared for one more day.

 

NO JUDGMENT ZONE

O beautiful woman at the gym with your big body and your highlighted hair, your black button-down shirt and sneakers,
thank you for being here, whatever the reason.
It’s a no-judgment zone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look
at the pregnant woman in the long tight shirt pulled snug over five month belly,
man in the wife-beater and sunglasses, fingerless gloves,
tattoos that blend into his dark skin,
soft man in white , bright red face,
twenty minutes on the treadmill, TV tuned to MSG,
soft woman in pink sneakers, t-shirt advertising our gym, following a
trainer from station to station like an advocate of an unseen cross,
all here to look better, or feel better, or because their spouses want them to be,
or to be somewhere that’s not their own house,
to meet somebody sober, somebody in the same sweaty boat.
I’ve never found romance here, but I’ve taken kisses
from an old friend dripping with effort on the elliptical,
giggled at later by ladies watching, not judging me.
And there is the beautiful man I’ve been watching for years now,
beautiful because he keeps coming back.
He is always on the stationary bike when I begin my careful routine,
is still there when I come back for my last fifteen minutes, on a bike too.
He’s the only one I recognize week after week, three years now,
and he isn’t getting any smaller, but he’s here, keeps coming back.
I want to thank him, this beautiful man in the dark goatee.
I want to tell him that some days the idea that he might be there,
keeps being there, is the only reason I come.
I want to thank everyone for coming, and to skip the free pizza
on first Monday nights, unless it fits in with their food plan,
but it’s a no-judgment zone, and doesn’t that include cheerleading?
I am there myself to get it over with,
to lounge guilt-free before the fireplace video,
devour homemade popcorn ’til I pop myself.
I am here not so I can live forever,
but so I don’t die quite as badly as I might otherwise.
O beautiful man, o beautiful woman,
thank you for joining me at the purple fountain, for the company
on this arduous stroll across the universe of machines,
into the path of most resistance.

 

TRIGGER AT AUCTION

“When my time comes, just skin me and put me up there on Trigger, just as though nothing ever happened.”
– Roy Rogers

Handsome as my grandfather,
Roy Rogers, the original Chinese cowboy,
had his best horse stuffed in 1965,
the year that Trigger died,
for all to see, Golden Palomino,
because he couldn’t bear the thought
of Time galloping past them.
Finally, Time pulls ahead,
and the museum in Branson, MO
closes, all the little buckaroos
gone to Florida compounds,
assisted living facilities, none
stuffed, none really preserved
for the ages. Along with the
silver six-shooter, the fringy shirts,
Trigger, what’s left of Trigger,
ends up on the auction block.
The winning bidder is a TV station
in Omaha, intentions to follow.
Where my father grew up, in
rural Long Island, before pavement,
when the best way to get there was
by train, truck or horseback, my
Chinese grandfather had a
corral full of horses, and as each
one went on to that Great Pasture,
they would dig tremendous holes
here and there, and bury the bodies,
hide, bones and all, deep enough
to keep the raccoons away.
Is there a separate museum where
Trigger’s bones are safe, or
someplace where they’re honored,
at ease, carefully arranged in
the sign of the Double R?
Or were they buried, along with
his sins, his temporary flesh?
Skinned like a buffalo, like
a young hunter’s squirrel,
are the bones of Trigger
planted deep enough to beget
a fresh crop of sidekicks,
ready for the next new Roy?
Is the Golden West ready?
Or should we, as Roy suggested,
go on pretending nothing
ever happened?