Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Tuesday Poem Project"

Fifth Floor Walk-U, 6th St., Avenue D

Stupid and twenty-six, head full of words,
I napped to escape -- earning a living,
raising a child, keeping the man with an Afro halo,
light brown skin, dancer's body and a painter's mind.
His sights were on San Francisco for a clean start or another woman,
but before he left me and our daughter,
there were worms, diapers and thick summer heat.
All day, kids screamed in the rubble below.
After dark, shadows of men scurried past the window, up the fire escape.
Our mattress lay on the floor I'd painted Chinese red.
Over my desk I taped a torn magazine reproduction --
the Magritte painting of a woman on horseback
shimmering in and behind tree trunks.
The crib was in the far room, past the room with no furniture,
past the narrow bathroom,
and the kitchen with no table or chairs.
One morning I found tiny worms
writhing at the bottom of the make-shift diaper pail.
Trembling, I rushed them and the baby uptown to the clinic,
"What does this mean?"
The sparkling doctor, middle class like me,
had never seen anything like it,
but worms meant medicine.
He prescribed three bottles of purple poison.
There was no persuading the father to drink it, but the baby
and I swallowed ours.

Magritte's rider's back was straight, her tight boots glistened.

(published in "The Real Story", a chapbook,


  1. Nostalgia and regret. A flood of memories and the feel of life in the east village in the 1960's. The woman in the poem turns toward the clearer life of art: the Magritte, and the red floor, which is also art-full. Was it Chinese red? The sixties was a period for floor painting. I remember a floor painted violet in the South End. I painted my floor with Benjamin Moore's "Daffodil Yellow." Oh, the redemption of color.

  2. That lovely last line puts a spine in the poem, a predictive, perhaps, that you in the difficult real world will always be riding toward the redemption of art, as a parallel to the inexplicable worms. So evocative, Melissa!

  3. Thank you for opening the door on this moment from your past, Melissa...

    A vigorous river courses through your writing; I am struck - again - by the love and solidarity between you and your daughter.

    L, C

  4. Thank God for Magritte. Great poem. Thanks Melissa.

  5. What a fantastic poem, Melissa, so vivid. You've brought a whole new world alive for me.

    And an old one, too. Those awful wriggling worms.

  6. so...the tuesday poem project is...posting a poem every tuesday (i am quite clever, yes?)
    i might be seduced by a wednesday painted floor project....