I Ate the Heart
"The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor."
I heard the news from the hallway,
my parents crouching in front of the radio.
Then my father wore an air-raid helmet and carried a flash
light door to door every night.
At last, "All clear."
Once, by accident, I turned on the hallway light
then collapsed, waiting for the bomb to fall,
sure I had killed my family, wiped out the whole town.
At the post office, Uncle Sam pointed at me
but no Zeros made it to Sioux City.
All winter we saved gas-rationing coupons
to drive to our grandparents’ farm, away from war.
Grandmother ushered us into hallways of peace.
She hoarded her coupons for baking cherry pie,
too sour without sugar, served platters
of fryers. I ate the heart.
My parents laughed and chased us in tag.
We swam in the Republican River,
pumped well water for washing our hair.
I hated to go back to the War.
On the drive home we picked up a sailor in uniform.
He held the baby in his lap.
When couples parked to spoon on the banks of the Missouri
they sighted German U-boats tunneling beneath the River.
Onawa, Iowa, Halloween, 1943
Mother walked us to school that day. We lugged the Winesaps for apple bobbing.
Not enough syrup to make popcorn balls like last year. Cold out.
In our jacket pockets we carried war-bond books.
I carried my grass skirt, too, for show and tell. When I wrote my soldier I confessed my longing
for a grass skirt like the ones they showed in the war movies. Army censors marked out his return address but I knew where he was stationed because he also sent me a shell bracelet that spelled out Figi. Mother said my grass skirt smelled like seaweed, but I loved it.
As we passed Mrs. Wilson’s house we remembered when a soldier and Father Murphy stood on the porch. Mrs. Wilson yelled, “Oh no, not my boy.” My sister and I ran to her. Neighbors gathered to help her back into the house.
When we got to school, we read on the blackboard, "Help finance a Jeep." "Jeep" was easy.
We had to sound out "finance." That day our war-bond money went for the Jeep in honor of our school. In class I read my poem about my grandfather's long johns on the clothesline leaping like kangaroos. Someone asked if she could hear it again. Then again.
I didn’t know how to write poems about the war, only kangaroos, Figi Islanders, and Athena riding Pegasus.
Tricks or treat at night. Pumpkin candle for a light. I wore my grass skirt over pajama bottoms. Sad at Mrs. Wilson's house. Her three blue stars in the window; now the gold one. She smiled and handed out Hershey bars. Wherever did she get them? On the way home, snow surprised us. We walked over ice, covered in white. We followed in someone’s footprints, maybe the ghost of a soldier looking for home.
Sick Room Story
You name it, we had it.
Flu, measles, strep throat, ear aches, a mastoid operation
not counting the time I ran my arm through the washing
machine wringer, elbow broken, two places.
We landed in the Sick Room
bureau crowded with cod liver oil bottles, my sister's adenoids
floating in a jar, the portrait of General MacArthur.
Mother rang up grandparents in Nebraska.
They came to Iowa by train carrying liniments, snake oil, and the two
Rhode Island Reds I raised from chicks last summer
on the farm.
Fresh eggs, a good start.
They bundled us in grandmother’s quilts and told us stories.
Grandfather told about crossing the prairie in a covered wagon,
two thousand dollars sewn in the mattress,
played Shenandoah on his mandolin: "Cross the Wide Missouri.”
When the Sioux raided, Grandmother hid her birthday cake in the barn.
They took a hog instead.
While we napped she went down
to the river bank to dig turmeric and gather peppermint
for our sore throats.
Then told the tale, “Sacajawea picked herbs from her keel boat,
and Lewis recorded them in his journal.
When Lewis dropped it into the river,
she went in after it, papoose and all. She called it
Chief Redhead’s Talking Papers.”
On my tenth birthday father built me an easel.
Mother gave me paints, a brush and a notebook for my poems.
Father bought a sunlamp for the Sick Room.
A six-foot intruder, it glowed and ticked, did the trick.
We got well, listened
to MacArthur’s farewell on the radio
bought an automatic washing machine.
The thrashing lasted only a few moments.
Then I was calm.
They told me that I had a stroke,
the area affected was the basal ganglia, a hemorrhage
in the left frontal cerebellum.
All I knew was that I wanted to talk without stuttering,
I wanted to say, “Good day how are you?,”
but it came out, “Err, err, err, cock-a-doodle-doo.”
After that, there was no more jealousy in my bones.
The Fifty-Two Year Cycle of the Aztec Calendar Stone
This poet who fancies herself Sherlock
envisions the ghost of her nemesis, Moriarty
embedded in the Aztec calendar stone.
So we meet again, Moriarty.
You handsome and hefty, all fifty pounds of basalt.
You knew the man I loved and kept him from me.
You called him Cipactli. In Nahautl that means dragon.
My name was Zochitl, flower.
Your language sounds like the water in which you tried to drown me
at Pie de la Cuesta. Always water, always children, always in Spanish,
your ghost comes to haunt me, to taunt me.
You taught me duende, told me I was a fighter worthy
of your wrath, told me my heart would get me.
Fifty-two years ago they sent a diver out after me.
The waves tossed me but I could still see my son on the shore.
Thrashing, I watched him getting smaller and smaller,
I couldn’t drown.
I had to drive him to Little League ten years later
in a town where we had not yet lived.
I gave that swimmer my last hundred pesos, sodden, hidden in my bra.
Next time on the Rio Grande,
birth of a daughter in El Paso, deep vein thrombosis.
I ran the household from a wheelchair. I had cases to solve.
You’re playing with me, Moriarty. You wanted to save me for yourself.
I should have known we would meet in Cuba.
I almost bit the dust in Matanzas. The doctor said I would die if I got on that plane.
One week in hospital, my son flew me home first class.
Your ghost loved that, Moriarty. If only I could wait fifty-two more years,
I know you’d give me one more scare.