You can have clouds and letters, the leaping of distances: three poems by Barbara Ras

You Can’t Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.


Our Flowers

After the storm white and black clouds hung
in the sky like dogs and cats drinking
out of the same blue bowl.
It has been so long since we danced,
not counting the slow shuffle at the Zoo Ball,
you in the black tie the valet knotted in the parking lot
after the Internet instructions failed.
“Failure” is such a beautiful word for something
lousy, the lure of it not at all like the rain,
the drenching rain after the long hot drought that ended today.
When you said you loved substations, I thought of long
sandwiches until across the street I saw
the electricity-making equipment you’d already started
naming the parts of. I wanted to name the clouds–
dogwood, tiger lily, lilac, the lost flowers
of my girlhood, and of course the thousands of blossoms of phlox
in the rock garden my impossibly young grandmother sat in
for the photograph with the three stone ducks.
What if we went back,
as children, to where no one asks how long the blooms
will bloom, to sleep with our grandmothers
in the feather bed carried from the old country,
all of us dreaming our own painful music, the songs
that will wake us in time for the next storm,
and even if it brings down limbs and live wires
dancing in wild arcs, we’ll watch
the wind rouse the trees while the petals
of where we belong bow down
to rain on the unkissably muddy ground.


A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country

Because those cows in the bottomland are black and white, colors
anyone can understand, even against the green
of the grass, where they glide like yes and no, nothing in between
because in the country, heartache has nowhere to hide,
it’s the Church of Abundant Life, the Alamo,
the hubbub of the hoi polloi, the parallel lines of rail fences,
because I like rodeos more than I like golf,
because there’s something about the sound of mealworms and
leeches and the dream of a double-wide
that reminds me this is America, because of the simple pleasure
of a last chance, because sometimes whiskey
tastes better than wine, because hauling hogs on the road
is as good as it gets when the big bodies are layered like pigs in a cake,
not one layer but two,
because only country has a gun with a full choke and slide guitar
that melts playing it cool into sweaty surrender in one note,
because in country you can smoke forever and it’ll never kill you,
because roadbeds, flatbeds, your bed or mine,
because the package store is right across from the chicken plant
and it sells boiled peanuts, because I’m fixin’ to wear boots to the dance
and make my hair bigger, because no smarty-pants, just easy rhymes,
perfect love, because I’m lost deep within myself and the sad songs call me out,
because even you with your superior aesthetic cried
when Tammy Wynette died,
because my people
came from dirt.

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You can have clouds and letters, the leaping of distances: three poems by Barbara Ras

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