Poems from In the Kingdom of the Sons

  The River

                                    The women we needed to call mother
                                               were silenced before we were born.
                                                                                  —Adrienne Rich

There was a dirt road we’d follow as girls,
desiccated and rock-strewn, past
the filling station and train tracks where
dark-skinned workers waited with six-packs,
past milk weed, cattails and trash,
down where the brown river unfurled
and shook beneath the empty sky.
That’s where we’d sit on stones,
with part of a downed tree half-hidden
in the shallows, with the air steeped in honeysuckle
and bumblebee hum, sitting, not moving, so we wouldn’t get stung.
Shot through with long-legged flies,
the surface of the water broke and rippled
lapping our dangling feet, worrying the roots
of the dead, drowned tree. We waited—
we didn’t know why. None of us wanted to go
home to act ladylike in overheated kitchens—
our pale mothers gazing from pill-pink eyes,
longing to discover in their well-swept rooms
reasons for their own waiting.
So eyeing each other, we stripped off underpants and bras.
Bare-chested—silly as boys—we dove in,
at once in love with the silky ribbon of water
stroking our thighs, risking leeches that lurked
in the thick, mud bottom. We floated, letting the current
take us in strong velvet arms. We stayed long after
shadows wheeled over, until the wind filled itself
with silver leaves and evening began its low whimper.
Then slowly we’d dress, walk home along the humped,
road shoulder, each of us dripping and dazed with hunger.



Straight-up noon over the kitchen garden
and you’re down on your knees
or squatting again, hip bones splayed,
sun on your back and ass.
Trowel turning—no grubs here,
they wouldn’t have the nerve.
Sowing seeds, those heirloom shoots.
Manure. And then you water; you wait.
Your mother had them too—
planting hands. She could stick
anything in the earth and make it grow.
You can only say what it feels like. It’s
when everything goes right down
into your fingertips. You watch them work.
They do it themselves. You can feel how it is.
They pick and sift. They don’t make mistakes.
They’re with the plant. You can feel that,
right up your arm. They know. When you
are like that you can’t do anything wrong.
No, you’re not rich, but you eat.
Tomatoes, spinach, beans, squash.
Twist a chicken, dredge it in flour and there’s supper.
It’s like weeds, or a question of desire—
if you want something that’s one thing,
if it just appears without your own hand,
that’s another. Under your eyes are dark hollows.
You rock a child in your arms,
another in the cradle with your foot.
Sometimes there is an unraveling,
something seems unfinished.
And now that you are half-old,
it seems the job didn’t get done,
like it happened too soon and something’s left out.
And later, when crickets hum and the dishes are done,
you stand there in the good, clean kitchen looking out,
hoping the rain won’t come wrong,
won’t ruin those golden chrysanthemums,
heads as big as dinner plates.


  There Is a Small Wind

No one else can own this beginning or this end.
It looks back at you from your own face,
until you don’t know your mind.
Overhead, the tick of exhausted ceiling fans,
the round brown stains; the dull hooded fluorescents buzz.

Low down to the floor is a small wind,
like the one through cornrows,
down where seed becomes some other thing.

Soon enough I will lie beneath it all.

I know who I come from—
not from women who ate the lamb,
but from the ones who bled it into a pail.

You can see there is nothing polished here.
You can feel the calloused fingers.
You can see the reddened hands.

But words draw closer, words spill into bright air
and I wait in the shine between them.


    © 2011 Bonnie Bolliing                                                                                                 Web site design by R. Cocco