Imagination Comes to Breakfast
poems by Kathy Evans
T w o
After a Storm in February, Napa Valley
[p.25] On a backroad between fields
where migrants sleep
in lopsided trailers
next to their brothers, their wives,
or the red-cheeked Magdalenes;
where grapestakes darken with rain
and leafless vines, nubbed
black, climb sideways along strings
in a crucifix; where wine
distills in barrels and vats;
we stand, long-married,
in a sudden flood of light,
stunned by wild mustard
flowering in the vineyards.
Lines Loose at Midnight
[p.26] A man with a face like a garden glove
snaps a bud and lets me smell.
I do not respond to the marigolds,
but consider the wrists of mannequins,
narcotic borders, tarantulas.
Death scrambles things up this way.
Listen, said my father, there are only
a few things you have to remember:
bus your own dishes, confront all shadows
armed, do not regret the leaves,
or the young girls who run into the water
holding their skirts. Do not regret
what is possible: shooting stars,
skeleton keys, heliotrope, thieves.
[p.27] Hardy Baum, the ferris wheel operator,
brought me (I think I was closest) one half
of his finger in a greasy towel.
set it down on the counter
right next to the relishes and the colossal
red cylinder of ketchup. I had to look
away, focus on the black fly stumbling
through a spilled drop of orange snow cone syrup.
Carousel horses circled us with glass eyes;
the girls on the rollo-planes screamed; heat
rose from the black top in waves,
but what I remember most of that day were
the smells—steamed polish dogs, dead
carp at the edge of a slag-colored lake,
and his laugh—Hardy Baum’s laugh,
or was it a cry, spiraling up
from that tarred-over underworld?
[p.28] I have seen
a hungry woman
squat in the fog
between garbage bins
behind Safeway. I have watched her from my car
finger the cellophane
of stale bakery truck sweet rolls,
lick the sauce off the foil
from a barbecued chicken, choose
from a cardboard box
the soft, discolored vegetables,
while gulls swerved recklessly
around her, and crows
pimped and pecked their way along the ground.
I have seen her oval face rise
over dumpster lids, while I idled
inside my car, waited to snatch my bills from the magic mouth
of the instant-teller.
[p.29] Just what if the kids ask me
to play Clue again? I’ll make an early accusation
and be done with it. Miss Scarlet. Library.
Wrench. And how many books do we read to them
before they become principled? It’s a long haul
from Green Eggs and Ham to The Execution
of Socrates, and how in the world did I
ever manage to get this far? How many baseball mitts
do I have to break in running over them
with my car tires? How many nose bleeds, unmatched
socks, flash cards, lost
retainers, and permission slips; how many chipped
teeth, popped clutches, and learner permits?
A mom is a mom is a mom is a—I mean, how many
piano lessons before they acquire the gift of music?
And how many screw-ups before they acquire
the gift of reason? And what do I know anyway?
And which one likes it with mustard?
And which one likes it plain?
[p.30] Frost on the hoods of parked cars, frost-fuzzed lawn, frost on
the weathered redwood deck; a red ten-speed leaning
against the house; a crow with its beak clamped down on a
pellet of dog food. Across the street, Tom Abbott warms the
engine of his old Impala, and the newspaper thuds as it hits
the bottom of the driveway. Inside the house, one of the
sons sits on top of the furnace vent, finishing last night’s
homework. He is solving for the unknown variable. The
other son, still horizontal, seems laid out for burial. Thank
god, he’s breathing, still sleeping like the violin in its black
case, like the jump-rope uncoiled on the counter. The nine-
year-old, in his blue warm-up suit, is eating cold Rice Chex
from a plastic bowl, watching another crow swoop in for a
landing, while from the window the paperboy, ballooned
cheeks, legs pumping, heads for home. In her pajamas, she,
the one daughter, colors. It’s November 18th. Yellow poplar
leaves punctuate the streets—a strange kind of new legal
tender, paper coins, or large confetti, lost midterms, permu-
tations, dead poppies, dead pansies. The oldest child finally
rises, stumbles from his room, and his body goes directly to
Bach. In a long, flannel gown and old ski socks, the mother,
her hair down, glides through the rooms with a knife in her
hand. It is her wand. The father, cold fingers fumbling over
coat hangers, reaches for the work shirt. Sunlight finds a cir-
cuitous route in and out of the windows. It touches an old
iris in a vase, a silver ring in the ashtray, the trampoline, a
pogo stick, the yellow dog dish by the door, history book,
Bach’s “Polonaise in G minor.” Someone forgot to pick up
more milk. Someone will run down to the Kwik-Stop. The
wife imagines a lover in the same way the Golden Retriever
remembers the silky hen, and the nine-year-old thinks of
playing short-stop for the Cincinnati Reds, and the husband
dreams of winning the lottery. They are all solving for “X”,
all of them playing their scales. The oldest finishes his sit-
ups in front of the t.v. The dog with his long tongue finishes
[p.31] the leftover bowl of cold cereal. The five-year-old daughter
jumps rope in front of the sliding glass doors, her brown hair
bouncing on her shoulders like loose wings—”Cinderelia
dressed in yellow/went upstairs to kiss her fellow …” Each
of them spins in their own circle of being. No one talks, but
the news is on. They pass each other, still sleepy, brush
shoulders in the kitchen. It’s all been choreographed. Don’t
touch me. Your hands are too cold. Don’t forget your
lunches. Who’s picking me up from school today? I’ll be
home late for dinner. Who’s feeding the dogs this morning?
The dogs are feeding themselves; so are the crows. Remem-
ber this food chain for today’s biology test. And when they
have gone, a flurry of jackets and lunch sacks; when they
have driven off in the white van, she goes to the dryer, the
wand still in her hand, and pulls out the hot Levis, odd
socks, shirts, skirts, and underwear, all those clothes with-
out bodies that cling to her. She sits down on the edge of an
unmade bed, holds the hot bundle between her arms,
[p.32] “Heroism is exhausting.”
Look. kiddo, it takes more than aquatics
to get us through these years—yesterday’s cereal still floating
in a bowl of warm milk, cold coffee in the pot,
it’s Friday and your husband’s stuck
in Atlanta. The cat’s asleep on the vanity.
You step into Lego land
and run your hose. Sanity
is a chicken bone softening in the vinegar.
and we’ve settled into our lives
plumply blessed. Don’t worry, we’ll plant
ranunculus for spring, hold happiness
ransom. They never really told it to us
straight, those women in the shopping aisles,
picking out packaged cakes and a carton
of smokes—three items on the shelf
and we went for Kindness,
and the Maybelline eye shadow in three shades.
[p.33]Let’s face it, Lu Ann, the kids need
booster shots, your oldest is riding around
in a pusher’s black van, the dogs
are in the pound, and no one asks why you’re talking
to the myna bird, why the Levelors palpitate
against the light, what your ring finger
is doing in the Cuisinart. Don’t explain.
Just yell peanut butter or tuna fish.
Ten years from now, we’ll watch the last of them
mount bikes and ride off.
By then, the plants will have learned
to water themselves; we will have learned Arabic
at Adult-Ed. “Malesh! Malesh!” we’ll lip
at the instant-teller, while the toddler
with the double chins in the pink snowsuit
behind us will laugh cherubically, laugh
and laugh. In that moment we’ll know
what we’ve known all along
that all of our palavering
meant something in the profoundest sense.
My hot-juiced momma sat fat
one old pinner and a Coke
machine, with ruby
and a shiny, chrome bib
opan suspenders, one amplified
in a sea of feet
o a Saturday night
she could pump a beat
wail the blues
shake cement, make
swallow those quarters, heave
one more tune
in a hip-swivel
rattle, hand clappin’
dance hall weave
in the starlit sizzle
of the penny arcade
in the lipstick dazzle where
the records are played
she was more than music in her spit-rubbed sheen
she was mistress
our lug wrench queen
The Danger of Assignments
[p.35] I thought I’d teach them odes,
brought in an urn.
They whispered weird. And praise.
I thought I’d teach them,
especially in the month of November,
praise, Whitman, the grass, the stars,
the journeywork, the abundance of the world,
the brimming abundance, but they
just stared, their eyes like the windows
of lined-up slot machines. And Neruda.
He seemed important, and all that fruit.
I passed it out, said “Look at this
Landlord of a watermelon. Slice it
and all those black little eyes blink back at you.
Imagine someone you love housed
down near the rind.” Then, Whango!
A mango came flying at high speeds
from the back of the room, and it splattered,
Splat! against the board, right next to the word
“image.” Two boys in the third aisle
began sword-fighting with rhubarb sticks,
another shouted “Anarchy!” So I thought I’d teach them
structure and form, just one exquisitely
well-ordered line, but it was time
for Civics. I jumped with the bell,
gathered up my grenades of oranges, apples,
and papayas and made for the door.
“Remember, poetry can save your life,” I said,
“Tomorrow no more
assignments. Just write what you feel.
Good-bye, you fledglings, you buds,
you little fleur de lis.”
[p.36] for Alex Albertus
I think of you leeward
in the room of your mother’s
pain, the journey
of her head to your arm,
you holding her—
the hull of her,
the head, luff, leech
of her, hair falling onto
your wrists—the foot,
tack, clew, throat,
the peak of her.
Musings of a Somnambulist
[p.37] The unconscious takes the body home,
cradles it like water.
This, however, is not The Great Salt Lake,
and here in the prism of lost light
nothing floats, even the mind like a sinker
goes down. Lovers, momentarily tossed
by the currents, unlock arms and legs,
dlsembark, and become two oars moving the dream
forward. But the dream takes its own direction.
The body is tugged quietly below,
the mind, on its line, released.
All this mud at the bottom.
We can swim deeper and still not know.
Sometimes we are stones skipped across water,
lost to whatever is larger, not death,
but something else. It is desire
that brings us back each time.
We follow it with primitive snouts,
only to be delivered vertical and ignorant again,
our bodles plucked at by air.
We don’t know where we’ve been.
We know only that for awhile we were unfaithful,
while the mind scuttled along the bottom,
while the body waited like an old canoe,
while the lovers swam flipperless and blind,
while the name for the sun and all things blurred,
while the dreamer and the dream and the water wandered.
Inside sleep there is no net that can hold us,
and, certainly, there is no holdlng on.
[p.38] We were inside the world.
The children were sleeping.
Light fell through the window.
One of us wore red.
Three tulips on the ledge opened the sky.
We touched the cold white walls.
The children were inside the walls.
The tulips closed; the world
opened. We were wearing the sky.
Those of us who were not asleep
watched the sunlight bloom red.
Three of the children turned from the window.
The world came through the window.
It wobbled on the ledge and opened to the walls
where light fell through us, we, who were pourous and red.
The tulips fell over the world.
No one was sleeping.
Three children wore the sky.
No one mocked sky.
The tulips dropped petals in the window.
A light fell over us like sleep.
Someone opened the wall.
One of us blew out of the world.
All of us wore red.
[p.39] The children, lacquered red,
blew leaf-like from the ledge of the sky,
where light was wearing the world,
where the sky opened like a small window,
where we touched without hands, and the walls
blew away and the flowers slept.
Unswaddled, the dead do not sleep.
Mockingly, the windows are red.
The light of our blood falls through the walls.
All of us touch the sky.
The children are blooming in the window,
and the tulips are in flames on the ledge of the world.
Essentially, I feel forgiven
when I bathe a child
to my own body
is a valve opening
We enter it
to a new
is so intelligent
I bed down with the imagination
and wait for the
Today there will be a million choices
Maybe it’s a question
of taking nothing for granted
I wanted this
to be a love poem
Is there any other kind?
[p.41] for Stephen
does not ask any questions
the black marsh mud
up to my waist in red clover
sunlight pouring great joy
you smell of horses
[p.42] The Jehovah Witnesses are at the door again
in their long brown coats,
clutching Watchtowers in mittened hands.
I am at the sink in the day-old aroma
of turkey soup, rinsing zucchini.
What shall I say to them this time
when they ask me ahout Armageddon?
That we are all just handprints on the glass;
that faces like theirs with the manageable smiles
float detached through the rooms of my dreams?
They knock. I go to the door with a crookneck
squash, rubbing the rind for the shape of truth.
I invite them in, but they always begin
with the end, with the false prophets
and rumors of war, until the night compresses
against the house, and the trees empty their boughs
of wind. Even the repentant decompose.
It’s late, I say, so will you excuse me
for a moment, please? I have my own apocalypse.
The soup bones in the broth are bubbling.
I hear spiders in the cupboards,
and the angels shaking tambourines.
[p.43] He who loves what has been saved for the light
will awaken here near a woman who believes she will
some day die upon a salt beach next to a seal,
bearing no odors of decay. Something Greek.
He will summon seabirds to drop flowers on her flesh—
false heather, horn poppies, pale dune peas. Starfish
the color of dried blood will slide from the rocks
to cover her; waves will roll over her ankles, her wrists.
She will lift one hand toward the moon, as if to rub
an old scar, and out of respect for the water,
he will obey the tide and fish from her hips
until mornlng. They will make love slowly. It will be
the last time. The room, the beach, each small
estuary, her body, his mind, the swallows diving low
over water, the white reasons for beds
and memorials, the music of mirrors, barking seals,
harpoon, the smaller compositions of dream,
bone, flowers cut loose on the sea, the habit, the order,
the disorder, whittled moon, all the anemones mouthing
her name, the abandoned shell, his soft sea creature …
From this they will learn the limit of desire;
that the body is the only place for exile; that there
is no horizon; that after swimming this far with drift-
wood for the fire, they must enter the blue flame.
[p.44] If you were a wall made up
I would walk into you
And if I were a church
with a sacred altar, you would
enter me, not as the priest
with wooden beads, but as the sexton in boots
with the tongue and teeth of an angel.
Were we to walk off the edge
of this planet
by way of the Straits
of Magellan, we would do so exultant:
aggregates in the wind’s asylum,
growing young behind death masks.
If we were to dance a slow dance
on top of scorpions,
we would dance cheek to cheek,
until our faces were molten,
our hips grew hooks,
and we pivoted on
the tip of a pin to these amorous
sounds: hoot owls and saxophones.
If you were infinite, I would
count you anyway, and if I were the color of fire,
you would be the memory of fire.
Staying Home from Work
[p.45] Sunlight seems to slide from the leaves.
Across the valley, a chorus of dogs—
baritones, tenors, and off-key dogs.
My own dogs, mere mutts, unleashed in the weeds, prowl
and sniff the ditch banks like old pros.
One must walk out into the world again,
if only for the better part of an hour to hear:
table saw grinding across a board,
nail-gun popping, the quick swoop of a wren;
scrub jay cleaning under its feathers in a shallow stream,
a trickle from the water in a pipe.
California must pay tithes for such an early spring.
Warm earth in January, a season of chartreuse—
goldenrod and clover; acacias blooming
in profusion, the same color as my new tennls balls.
Jeffery Deamer’s red bike lies toppled on the lawn
right next to the primroses. Milosz was right.
Even unremembered, the essential, if attended to,
will surely stun, surely last. Windchimes.
For a moment I thought it was the sprinkler heads singing.
It’s not what you do
it’s who you are.
It’s not even who
but how much of you
is who you are.
It’s where you go
with the who
and what you explore
in the where
and where you let yourself
and how far.
It’s the “of”
of the in,
how far you’ll travel inside
but it’s not staying
it’s outside too,
it’s going inside out
and outside in,
so you lose the knowledge
And it’s knowing when,
and yet it’s not
what you know
but how you know it—
the audible and the inaudible religion
It’s not just looking
And it’s not just seeing
but how long you look
and without trying to know.
It’s picking up water
with cupped hands;
it’s not just drinking
but holding the cold
until you feel it.
It’s the quality with which you
to see what you
what you cannot hold.
It’s not just passing through,
it’s passing in and out
It’s not becoming anything,
but being with everything
all at once.
Wooden receptionist. Has good
legs though. Won’t kick, even
when scratched. Sturdy, but
not studious. An appetite for paper and blue pen caps.
Watch-dog of the office. Faces
the door. Keeps its mouth
shut most of the time. Can’t
Indifferent to the computer.
Holds its own. Has known
intimately the tips
of fingers. Woodpecker. Wears
ribbons. Talks in tongues.
Is a symbol-maker. Hums.
Has it all together.
Insists it’s not an unpainted
swimming pool. Invites
me in. Terrifies
sometimes. White-out. Blizzard.
Won’t answer. Picnic cloth.
The ants come. Can’t remember
its own treeness.
Fists of it in the garbage can.
[p.49] The newspaper spread all over the kitchen table
as if the painters had been here; my head propped
between elbows, I study the movie section,
the want ads, the box scores; light from eight windows;
my daughter’s eighth birthday. Outside, a warm wind
travels through the uncut grass. Serendipity,
the cat, asleep in the bird bath dish,
and the hill, terraced at last, full of wildflowers
and dog bones. My daughter, sitting next to me
with her water color set, tells me last night’s dream.
I whistle the same tune my father whistled.
The dogs, toppled like bookends,
have found the one spot of sun on the hardwood floor.
The dishwasher is singing to the white plates.
It’s as if we tumbled from another sky and woke up here,
dazzled in our exile. In the smell of honeysuckle
or marmalade, we spread jam over pancakes, hum along
with the water taps. At noon, we’ll go out
on the deck and paint our toenails red. She’ll pick
the blackberries and I’ll make the pie. Shouldn’t we
throw garlands over the heads of gargoyles,
blow kisses to the mailman? In the splendor of everything
ordinary, she holds a flower up to my chin,
then asks me if I picked her. I say yes, of course,
most certainly, absolutely, yes.
Twenty-first Century Tales
[p.50] It was in another book of tales
where the grandmother climbed out,
walked the plank of the wolf’s tongue
back into the world again,
She’d been inside something else long enough.
The zen masters praised her.
And the frog that became the prince became the frog
again, and was happy to be moist.
He came back with a full knowledge of things—
of the feminine and the masculine
and the amphibian.
It was okay being a prince for awhile,
but you don’t want to get stuck there, he yelled
from the dank recesses of the
well, where he felt his green again.
And if Goldilocks learned anything it was this:
Don’t mess with the bear’s shit.
Avoid perms and peroxide before going into the woods.
And it’s presumptuous to believe that anything
truly wild can be domesticated,
Rose Red, Rose White, and D. H. Lawrence agreed.
[p.51] As for Sleeping Beauty, she became an insomniac.
“You can kill yourself waiting for love,” she said
at a press conference. She liked staying awake,
especially at night, when the world
seemed more like a negative. She liked
driving her beat-up Datsun to Denny’s
and talking to the fry cooks over squat pots of coffee—
climbing poles with spiked boots,
the blue welder’s flame—
She liked stepping out of her long dress into the world again.
The last we heard, she went back to school,
became a very civil engineer, wrote articles
for Mademoiselle on Stamina, started her own
late-night talk show, never married,
but lived afterward, not forever, but happily,
at least, they say, some of the time.
[p.52] My third son grows taller,
his legs lifting the rest of him
like the ladder to the treehouse.
He’s sullen and wants his own phone.
When we ride to school in the car,
there are continents between us,
words that find no passage out.
Where he used to blow his breath
on cold car windows and finger-in his name,
there is nothing there now,
only the auto glass and the rain.
He wears his hooded sweatshirt like a monk.
“Thanks,” he mutters,
and is gone-up the high school steps,
up toward the clock tower, up
to the first tier, to the outer
rim of the universe, another cell membrane,
to whatever first separates
a mother from a son.
[p.53] What survives has more to do with roots than will.
The fuschia returns,
old Lazarus of the vegetable world.
Three years ago, hit by blight,
we took it down to a nub,
clipped it with the ratchet shears.
Snails gummed themselves to the woody base;
broad-leafed ivy climbed in mottled greens
to block the sun. We thought the plant gone.
Finished. Now in late July, supple lengths
shoot straight out of the ground.
Fog fingers it like hands
through a woman’s hair. A hummingbird,
in a lustrous blur, takes its penciled beak
inside the pinkest bell, and sings
to the very throat of a flower.
[p.54] My daughter says she likes the smell of White-out.
My son says sulphur. He likes
the smell of sulphur. We are traveling
toward the mountains. I say
I like the smell of a light rain
on the dusty asphalt of a high school parking lot
at the end of summer, the first rain
after a long dry season; and the smell
of boutonnieres at proms and funerals.
My husband, who rarely enters into conversations
such as these, says he likes the smell of
his Cloroxed wrist band in a tough tennis match,
toward the end of the third set, the score 5-4.
I think back to last night’s drive across the desert,
following the semis through Nevada,
passing through all those towns with the hard
consonant sounds: Elko, Lovelock, Winnemucca—
“Winnemucca,” said the billboard, “Eight billion people
have never been here.” The beauty of the desert light,
strata of sagebrush, mauve rock and sky;
crossing the stateline, rising over a ridge
of Utah granite, then dropping
down onto the Salt Flats. What desolate splendor!
Alkali earth stretched out before us in all directions
like a plain of cooled white ash after annihilation;
the sky exploding violently with color—
red inside violet, ebony inside cobalt blue.
This is what it will look like at the end of the world,
or this is the end of the world,
and I’m only dreaming of a nuclear family,
driving a white van across Nevada.
[p.55] Make a list of smells before you lose them:
Easter eggs in dye and vinegar,
scallops sauteed in garlic and butter,
dark Belgium chocolate,
a lit match,
tennis balls just out of the can,
autumn leaf mulch,
the sweat and come of love-making,
rain on a hot pavement in a high school parking lot
at the end of August,
[p.56] for Susie Stewart
You lean over
a clear pocket of water.
“Observe the order and clarity
of it all,” you say.
I stand there vertically human,
hunting for the bright stirrings
of a single fish.
But nothing moves, only your face
on my face,
riding the water,
rocking the light.
You find a thin exterior.
“The crab has lost a claw,” you say.
Gulls squeal above us.
The sun sets.
We kneel in dark wet sand,
dig for the shells of creatures
we’ll all become.
[p.57] for Bob
Our love is not a red woven scarf
blowing behind us in the wind.
We lose it, strand by strand,
then find it again, blowing without us.
The thought is a strange one,
why we choose for all time one love.
We just bought a ticket
and hopped on, stepped off those moon-fused porches.
Imagination came to breakfast, and we
sat in the hum of our appliances
In the beginning, we knew
what we had, a promise, a salubrious peach
as round as our words, and all those nights
warm enough for sitting outside
on unswept steps. You brought me
flowers wrapped in the want ads.
I have been instructed by ten carnations
to go on loving.
[p.58] We plug the space heater, sink
deeper into the nubby couch.
I read to her an old Italian tale
about Strega Nona, the grandmother witch.
She leans into my arm,
her head burrowing like a small, dark animal.
By the end of the third page, eyes,
in the ancient ritual of storytelling,
close. I place my head on hers.
We could be anybody—
two drunks on a bus bench,
two angels resting from levitation,
but tonight—Demeter and Persephone.
Outside the wind races through the cypress,
untying black branches, scooping
and heaving water onto the shore.
But inside by the one lamp, I, the mother,
continue to read long after she’s fallen
[p.59] asleep, as if words had the power to stop
the wind, or prevent the gods from pulling
her closer to the underworld. Tonight
if she gets to the River Styx,
she’ll pet the three-headed dog
with her long piano fingers, find
the vulnerable place just under the jowls,
and by morning they’ll be forced
to return her to me. She’ll have dog hair
in her hands; she’ll have dreams
the color of Italian frescoes
and stories I’ll never know
painted on the inside curve of her skull.
Love to the Second Power
[p.60] Always, my love,
I am startled by transcendence,
even my own, as if
ladders owned our feet
and urged us to climb on,
and the spaces between rungs
were windows, by which
we are taught
new ways to see.