In My Mother’s 1935 American College Dictionary
Between “holocaine” and “holocene,” I come upon “holocaust.” It sounds cross and bored, a child about to tantrum. “Pestilence. Locusts,” I read. The holocaust sits there making a noise like a bee-box. “From the Greek holokauston,” I read, “burnt offering.” Mad glare. “Wholesale destruction.” Chair-kicks. I decide to take the holocaust around the town where I live. See, that’s light, I tell the holocaust. There are plants growing. Whole yards, people, a calm world. From inside my jacket that swarming sound. I walk with the holocaust very carefully back to the car. I take it to see a movie with lots of violence, thinking the loud noise and blood will seem familiar. It goes into the bathroom and sets the towels on fire. Should I bring the holocaust home to show my mother? I do. She stops chopping onions for a moment. Don’t let it get too close to the curtains, she says. On the street the holocaust tramples the flowers, eyes some old trees hungrily. It is a terrible nuisance. I hold it and let it beat its arms against me.
To a Small Postindustrial City
where day empties into a wide boulevard—not so deserted it becomes interesting, not ruined into beauty. Not celebrated. No genius sermons. Some boarded-up buildings, a store with plain bread in plastic. I grew up here. Nothing charged: nothing tries to look old or too pretty. Some flowers. I get a great, blank feeling, driving. I’m a girl, driving. Poems aren’t labor, progress, robber barons; not poems. Some men sit in recliners on a grand side lot. Lush weeds, what grows without regard. Girls’ names no one thinks to pick: Lorraine. Here is the street where I lived. Where I can be—nothing. Three PM, light rain, no one asks what I am writing. A room lovingly painted sends its notions into me.
He wondered at a brief glee he felt, as if he’d suddenly imagined planning a
Inexorably, a sense of portent, as hilarity, invaded her.
She was animated by a powerful conviction that she knew exactly what to say.
Then she began to vomit.
Shuddering, she observed her disgust at her own emotional ungainliness.
She wanted to speak!
He reached for her shoulder with something akin to tenderness.
She had been restraining her character—shrugged it into a closet somewhere—
a disreputable cousin whose pecking might shatter him.
Was the moment vatic merely because, taking the sky as a sign, she had decided
here is where their lives could change forever?
Surely the vaulting light granted this hour a privilege of being.
If they spoke, the words would rest there on the coverlet, between them,
in that narrow space that quivered like—
It began to snow.
She had the alertness of a soldier in a field of frozen grass at night.
He listened as if he were about to receive a poke in the arm.
They lay back on the bed, two beings on a planet with one moon.
Her moral quandary was as foreign to him as the pain of a tropical affliction he
would never suffer.
Yet he sensed her need; it had the hopeless, unappeasable wakefulness
of an antimalarial drug.
A gust of temerity swept him.
He loved her intensely.
She recited to herself one by one his virtues, describing them with a calm that
made her doubt her love was a fit gift.
His body slipped into its customary simplicity.
She began to panic: her 32 fouetté turns were coming.
The dog made a comfortable sound, like a curl of chimney smoke in a child’s drawing.