Marcia Brown’s poems in this selection give us first in “What Comes,” the sense of childhood security, when a father seems to have everything–even a future storm– under control, or at least seems to. Then in “Sunday Afternoon, Late October, 1963,” we sense how that sense of sanctuary is on the verge of historical change. Everything is so familiar–the attic, the childhood food. But we know a tragic change is just weeks away. “January Nights” is a love poem maybe only those of us who live in cold climates can fully appreciate. Marcia is an elegant poet whose line breaks, for one thing, carry a lot of meaning.
Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry Editor
“Here it comes,” my father would say,
scanning the clouds from our porch,
as the season’s first feathers of snow
floated absently to the walk.
I’d look up at the vast grey sky and feel
safe, like a thing in a pocket. He had,
after all, announced it, knew what was coming
and would be there with his stockpile
of candles and creamed corn nobody liked.
Propping the shovel against the house,
jingling the change in his pockets, he’d sniff
the upper air like a horse stepping out of the barn.
Up and down the two-lane street,
the long grey wings of uncertain skies
spread over us. And there we stood, alert
and keen as tuning forks, looking up
for the great cold whitening
of that small place, thinking
we knew what would come,
that we were ready for it.
It is one of those nights. I am
up and down. You hear, I know,
the water, the air in the tap, the rattle
of pills for some mortal discomfort,
the light switch again.
It is one of those nights.
Dogs prowl and a fingernail moon
through the front hall glass
ices the carpet, a row of white tapers,
alabaster eggs in a bowl.
I slide shivering back into bed, reach
for your mountain shoulder. My fingers
trail your arm to the soft bend
of your elbow, to your pulse, warm
and steady. I hold on
tracing circles there, imagining circles
where people dance in the woods at night,
where travelers huddle around a blaze,
where an arm extends
to motion a wanderer in,
where I am the wanderer,
so grateful for your sleeping kindness.
Afternoon in Late October 1963
Melted cheese in a playmate’s attic,
cavern of taffeta draperies, a stringless
violin, rack of ruffled tulle whose prom
long since drove off in a borrowed convertible.
Dead slippers curl like dozing cats. We find
a sapphire ring in a box lined with satin
marked “Swan and Sons.” But we need a costume–
flapper, pirate, beatnik, hobo, Gomez and Morticia?
Jack Kennedy’s voice on TV pushes youth fitness.
Black and white, we all suffer
from jumping jacks. The Music Man
sings Give that Chicken Fat Back to the Chicken.*
“I’m here,” her mother calls in waves
of cinnamon after the bath, climbing up to us
through light snow of dust, tightening a robe
strewn with fringed gentian.
Set a needle in Blue Skies. It feels
like soaring in a plane we’ve never been on.
Warm sandwich of girls, all we know
is twirling under the eaves of a long-gone
homebuilder. Cobwebbed frame struggles
to contain the grey decade, layered clouds
like feathers of a white bird scuttling.
When it happens, you’ll know where you are forever.
*In 1961 President John F. Kennedy launched a Youth Fitness Initiative, accepting an offer from Broadway lyricist Meredith Willson (The Music Man) to compose a song to encourage schoolchildren to exercise more. The result was “Give That Chicken Fat Back to the Chicken” which was then sung by Music Man star, Robert Preston accompanied by a rousing brass band. Vinyl 45’s were pressed gratis by Columbia Records and distributed to classrooms across America, encouraging teachers to lead classes in daily calisthenics, motivated by the song.
— Marcia F. Brown
Marcia has served as Poet Laureate for the City of Portland, is the author of four books of poetry, editor of the anthology, Port City Poems, Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine, and an essay collection for book groups. Since 2011 Marcia has hosted a monthly reading series featuring local authors and poets in her home town of Cape Elizabeth, ME
Featured image above, top of page: Kathy Bradford, “Roast” acrylic on canvas, 72” x 60”, 2016