Four Poems by Cheri Fein

BOMB 19 Spring 1987
019 Spring 1987

Lucretia

Here is what I learned
about you last night:
that your hair is a tangle of spun candy
but only on the left side;
that under your pilly charcoal sweater
your breasts lay placid and limp;
that your eyes above your placid limp breasts
are recessed and coiled to strike;
that your skin under the charcoal sweater
is bruised amber and blue;
that you use words like rectitude
as if to become upright. Who beat
you up like that? Do you love them
very much? That you mean
to hold meanness close to your throat.
You want to be a loaded gun.
You’re no fun, even when you smile.
Thank God you stay in your room.
When you come out the insects fly crazy
while you search the dirt road for asylum.
When your shoulder bumps the trunk
of a tree, you break into bits of earth.
When the pineapple greets you warmly
at the door, you pluck its thorny top. I will run
you through my fingers,
small clods of earth turned to dust.
I will cut you off like an engine,
headlights blacked out. You are the ragged nail
I smooth with my teeth, the beat
bang on my knee.
See me, smell me, I smell you
and am no longer afraid.
Your pointy black shoes are topped with bows,
a wicked costume party.

 

Blue Moon

Went back last night
where I’ve been told you can’t go,
to the view over the highway
and the water to a bridge
spanning two islands, and the buzz of cars
that batters the picture window
like a rage of insects. There’s a part
of me would have stayed the night,
stretched out on the love seat, dangled my legs
on the arm, secure that through the window wall
was the bridge and the moon.

October confuses those who dress solely for
the weather. Rang your bell last night, crossed
the zig-zag wood floor (you’ve pulled the carpet up)
and took us back ten years almost to the day
when I first felt this highrise shudder.
Exterior: civilized. Interior: doors
carefully planed to shut and lock. Yours
has a soft click, leads into a long hall.
The drama of doors, the necessity of doors, my core
opening and squeezing shut like a mollusk getting air.

If a blue moon sat in the empty sky,
its torn face alive, would I regret
knowing that its source was a rare rising
of forest fire dust? Would I hover
at this window like a pale air mail envelope
held to the light before the tissue is ripped?
If I turned three times, swayed left and right seven,
would the desire to leap fade like dusk?
Rare and fragile are the antiques
lined up on the sill, yet they’ve survived
strange hands. I’ve been here
before, to this deceptive room,
where not a thing’s out of place
and hot radiance waits for
the cloud cover to part.

When it does I could float
easily on my back, a highway racing inside,
and the moon might turn green as it did
in Sweden in 1884, once
not long after New Year’s and again
on Valentine’s Day. Both times
the color held for three minutes,
long enough for awe, but nothing
like the undisguised body that rules the tides
with its heart-stopping shrinkage and growth.

 

Backlash

She told the story well.
You could tell she had told the story before.
“All I regretted was not having taken my Dave Clark 5 album.”
Such a line, I thought,
though she did it well,
and modest too about the act,
running away at eleven
to New York City
after stealing her Mom’s rent stash,
wearing two pairs of jeans
(I did not ask why or what else.
And how many panties?)
It was her story. She chose the details,
just as I am choosing mine now.

Reticent, you said back there
at the restaurant. A touch too controlled.
Well, what exactly would you like me to describe?
Want to hear the bloody details of the rape?
Not that it was bloody.
How much easier if blood. Then at least
you know a crime has been committed.
What passes through your mind
then and now,
not your’s, but one’s, no, mine:
That I will do what I must to get out of here.
That I intend to get out alive.
That he intends to kill me.
That he only wants one thing.
That it’s just another fuck. Get it over. Get out.
Who says I’ve been an angel anyway.
That still they were wrong about a woman travelling alone.
That my mouth feels like I’ve sucked a dirty penny.
I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast.
What do I remember?

Like tumbling suddenly from a chair,
I can’t believe I’m on my back,
can’t believe the house of cards has collapsed.
Girls like me do not get killed.
If it’s not a fact, I’ll make it one,
enter it into this version,
even while the mind details the birds
hundreds of them hovering over the water
and the smell of middle-aged car
and his fastidious hands
on the wheel, on me.
There are two of me, the Doublemint Twins.
How many more will I become
before this life event ends and I freeze it in memory,
not like a photo being born in fluid
but like the finished product, cropped and framed,
stored in a box or hanging in the den.

Get out now. I’m tired, need to rest.
Yes, I’m talking to you.
Reticent? I’d say it’s only good taste
to list the producer and director as one credit.
Who needs to see the name slathered over the screen?
Reticent? No, damn it all: taste.
But that’s not what people have come to expect.
“Take Four of the scream scene.”
“She has such a pretty face.”
“And loads of promise, if only she’d loosen
up.” What? I want to know. Loosen up what?
Here, it’s your chance. Fill in your own line:

(Continue on reverse if you must.)

How odd it is
to have turned out this way, more
and less than expected. It seems that
what I’ve held on to is loss,
even as I’ve moved on.
Loss. Loss. How sad to shed the skins
that bind, not as a clumsy package
but as harp strings pulled taut in a heavy-bottomed frame,
so many you can’t know which to pluck.
That’s the magic, the slow progress
after years of lessons. And then
the payoff, the occasional evening,
of entering an elegant room
where a young lady plucks the harp,
of sitting to a meal, signing the charge
with a signature that doesn’t change,
a name that matches my childhood papers,
so that this and any story I tell
is dedicated to me,
the only one (selfish bitch, endless friend)
I can be sure will not leave.

 

For George On My Birthday

March 10: not yet Spring
yet an urge to claim
that the flat grey sky
is a fluke and yesterday’s thaw
the real thing. Inbetween

the brightest sharp sliver of moonlight.
I walked home from work, wearing gloves,
and ice did not settle
layer upon layer in my lungs
as it has done on other nights
which is why

this poem is for you whom I come home to
and the life you have thawed,
as when cupping my hands you
put your mouth close
and shared breathing.

Now when I study
those I once envied
because in knowing nothing of their lives
I imagined them
perfect, now in all light
the reflection
is my own, which in this
tender season
is thrilling

Cheri Fein’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Pequod, APR, Nimrod, 2Plus2, and are forthcoming in Mudfish. She lives and works in New York City.

Wheel of Fortune by Cheri Fein

Originally published in

BOMB 19, Spring 1987

Willem Dafoe, Kathy Acker, Ross Bleckner, Janet Hobhouse, and St. EOM.

Read the issue
019 Spring 1987