Since 1996 Volume XXII

Marjorie Maddox

Marjorie Maddox, Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, has published eleven collections of poetry—including True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award Bronze Medalist)Local News from Someplace Else; Wives' TalesTransplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (2004 Yellowglen Prize; re-release Wipf and Stock 2018); and Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite Press); and over 550 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. The recipient of numerous honors and co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press), she also is the author of four children’s books and gives readings and workshops around the country. For more information, please see www.marjoriemaddox.com 

After Your Transplant

The heart, those four walls of clichés,
creak in on me like Disney's
haunted home. Mid-summer your name,
arrhythmic, still clatters in my veins.
Like yours, my bloody pump now leans
this way and that. I wake dismayed
that I still wake. The ordinary trains
for ordinary: day estranged 
from day, the overarching aim
of light on blank expanse. This pain,
mundane in its display
of what is wrong and mean, reclaims
belief in miracles, the sane
or insane wish you misnamed
prayer. And yet... you plotted, risked it,
with faith—not luck, not superstition;
waiting for what finally came
from someone dead. The counterclaim
is that from death came death, a game
of synonyms, of metaphrase 
that interchanged malaise
with thumping grief. There is no name
for what you couldn't get. A man
gave you his heart. Unashamed,
you took it. At a distance,
you followed where he'd gone. To listen
to your heart you need one. To refrain
from hope? The same as arteries, veins
so bloated, clogged, they can't contain
a bit of life. You undid cliché:
the heart worked; the blood alone decayed.
Foreknowledge gone into another room,
the walls move in—the dying die too soon. 

Previously published in Crab Orchard Review and Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Wipf and Stock, 2018).

Flight Patterns
  July 17, 1996; Montoursville, PA 
  TWA Flight 800

On time, normal, through average air,
your plane came home to me 
out of dusk above the Montoursville horizon
and settled without fanfare on the runway
just as, in New York, that other plane took off
to Paris with the neighbors' children
pressing their faces to the window to see 
the last of Long Island,
their horizon waiting to explode
into sunset.

We didn't know driving home,
lugging your two suitcases from the car
and up our stairs to the bedroom,
the emptiness of other rooms,
the space on a pillow where a head should be.

Our first child slept soundlessly 
in the room of my body.
We had just learned she was there,
the trip we would all take together
as yet unplanned.

What patterns are these?
Prayers for the unborn crisscrossing 
those for the newly dead,
a strange radar of dread
hugging hope in the stomach.
Parents of the just-buried and just-begotten
circling a small town with their weeping.

Before I knew, 
I slept, exhausted 
by the small one within me
curled tight as a tornado
ticking its way to an explosion
I longed for.

Exhausted, too, from your travel, 
you didn't sleep, but read
from the doctor's color brochures
our child's beginnings, 
the daily care we must take;
then perched yourself 
before the black-and-white news
and learned.

When you woke me,
your voice was the sound of small birds
flapping from the nest,
the hush of the watching world
huddled and blazing.

Previously published in Essential Love (PoetWorks) and in Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Wipf and Stock, 2018)


Skin Rising

You say the bites are kisses,
that they swell
toward heaven white,
red about the edges, sucked by
angels, their mosquito hisses
hesitating like his brother wishing
Abel wasn't right. This other hell
inside the veins transmitted
from one to one to one: the perfect legend
of blood, betrayal, suffering, and kisses.
We swat at such divinity; we itch
for it. The summer filled with misses
and mistakes. Behind the hedge
it's Cain alone who yells;
the angels bite his heels and his legs,
then flap and flip into his eyes and nose.
The clicking wings that suck our sin and go
into another teach us how to sip
what starts out sweet, diffuses into dull.
These are angels whispering in my head,
the after-echo of the morning bells;

they tell me bites are kisses
that they swell into the mouth
and loiter in the lungs; the heavy wishes
settle in the liver, but the rest
become the face and soul, become the glistening
within the eyes. Now insect-like
we flit and lick and see about all sides,
our feet still sticky on each other's skin.
The wings are light and veil us from sin
that bites our kisses, kisses all our bites.

Previously published in International Quarterly and Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Wipf and Stock, 2018)



"Jim C., of Cincinnati, Ohio, has a tattooed
wedding band.”
—from Romance 101:  Lessons in Love
Chapter on Commitment

Before he said, "I do," the groom
had it done, inked himself
a circle of seraphs, sunk
thin swirls into skin that clutched 
the bone like a bride
unable to hide a not-slim leg 
within a garnished garter.
At the prescribed time,
he handed his love his hand
attached to an arm of Botticellian artwork.

Or maybe his best man, 
in from the Bronx, Detroit, or even Boise, 
light-skinned proprietor of The Dark Horse,
resourcefully used the only outlet behind the altar 
to jab the high-tech indigo ink 
succinctly into the fingers held out before a priest
in a Bud-Light T-shirt and collar.  

Then this friend etched matching sets
in purples and pinks entwined.
Everyone waited patiently, except the soon-to-be
mother-in-law, who fainted.

But she was revived quickly
and helped when the fuchsia-dyed cake injected, 
inconveniently, with badly burnt brandy 
was cut in precise slices
and placed on a skin of napkin.

Which is what I ate
the moment I saw your permanent eyes,
a half-heart tattooed so vividly 
on each matching lid.

Previously published in Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf and Stock, 2013)


The Storm Before the Calm
“…the tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there.”
-King Lear, William Shakespeare

She doesn’t know what rages, but each night
the pain, unpinned from logic, begins its slow spin
toward howl. Her words, flung in the vortex,
circle accusations, fly out at us,
stunned into silence while the tempest
in her brain keeps howling. Each night
she doesn’t know what rages. We circle
her flailing body, try to unpin her pain
from the vortex that spins her howl. 
Logic keeps silent. Night flies out at us,
accusing. It is a slow spin, this rage
that unpins her, flings her out into a vortex 
she cannot name. Her brain’s tempest
is the howl circling our nights. We flail
in silence, circling rage. Night unpins
our bodies. She doesn’t know.
The tempest in her brain keeps howling
until rage unpins its pain
from vortex and out
flies silence.

Previously published in True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series, Cascade Books, 2016; Bronze Medalist Illumination Book Award Winner)

All poems are Copyright © Marjorie Maddox.

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