Other notable works by Beth Copeland.
His howls must have been heard
all the way up
to the Crown Cork & Seal
on the 5th floor, before
they turned the ball field with tall
yellow weeds into a parking
lot for Glidden Paint.
He spun around the steel railing,
crashing to the cement
embankment, bruising and cutting
his face and left arm & hand.
The neighbors heard but didn’t
stir; after all it was 2 a.m.
and it was Charlie. The police
report was dutiful but found
no reason to suspect
an assailant as Charlie
claimed. So he was left
to fumble, find the right key,
pass silently by his wife
asleep on the couch, her false teeth
with the pink horns resting
in her palm as she snorkeled
past him in a dream
going the other way.
He found the bathroom he built
in the old days, mounted
the high step & wincing through
his rotted green teeth & horrid
gums began to clean his wounds.
It looked like another breast,
but it was growing from
her forehead and there was
no nipple. She could not speak,
just flutter her eyelids and lips
as her complexion grew
a pale red, similar to faces
on painted basement window
screens on our Baltimore street.
The Crown Cork & Seal building
bestrode the inderpass.
I found her lying at
the bottom of carpeted wooden
stairs on a carpeted wooden
floor, in front of the 1948
Westinghouse ice box
needing defrost. Blood seeped
from her ears nose and mouth,
a partly dried pool of blood
alongside. Her sister had accused
her of casting spells: she put
hex marks between my eyes
when I looked in the mirror
my aunt Honora said.
And when Honora put a saucer
of milk down for her familiar
the milk turned instantly sour.
Not even the large economy
box of Morton’s salt could
have saved my mother then!
A Life So Sudden
(For Carol Weinberg, 1947-2001)
Too many lives loves and arrows
from the sun coalesce
at the base of your
confinement, this perplexing
tree discovered faltering
faultless in the park
on an evening I now
wonder about. I remember
having sailed from you
& me but the gate crashing
sun awaits us now.
Will we accept the evening’s
invitation to reply?
Ice thunder rumbles but behind us,
new moon blue moon tumbles
but toward us and you are
forming in a sky
somewhere. I hear wind bearing
the weight of your afternoon
in the rafters, you cry out
with an abandon only
the birches know! A shovel
drops, shutters are thrown open,
light floats out, the shovel’s
dream socket floats oddly
too. We look up who hope
to see you there. A sun spot
moves across the dormer curtain.
(For Marian, my cousin, born 1938 profoundly disabled)
I look up in my play and see you in
the yard attached to the clothesline, flapping
with rugs and blankets, Japanese beetles,
and your mother’s ironing face. Hearing
your clicking harness I try to find an opening
window I can hide through, but I don’t.
Instead I see your trolley pulling
the lightning along behind you from
the wire, like a yo-yo poking moonlight
to a string guitar. Though you cannot see
or hear you seldom fall and rise quite lightly
when you do; a lodestar angel of
the evening lights your unseeing mind. Blankets
flail on the line, droopy iron arms
drip shadows on the grass. Breeze picks them up,
sets them down. Your mother and you
go inside where there are no gowns,
no shirts, no pinafores, no French cuffs
or collars to starch and iron out, only
your father sheltering you from low clouds,
a drizzle forming in his whiskey smile.
And I wonder how, in your long flight
down the runway, your propeller will ever
sputter to an end? When you are far
from the child my father photographs,
painting in the colors already there
in your lovely cheeks. A flower fades
but the memory of it will forever
stay in your hazel eyes, no matter
how fat and forgotten you become.
(Mother, in memory, d. 1986)
Reclining in her glacier,
upholstering her wrinkled
grave, she flows as though time
were a hassock rounding out
the silence. Spun to gold
the sundial of the late-late show.
She dreams in shadow.
On the plaid slipcover
near dust-ghosted now
she lies and yet in patterns
of the woodwork there
beside her there’s a scratch-proof
worn. Torn plats of chenille
adorn the bathroom stained
with beer. Dialing still
and melting she consigns
the coasters that protect her
to the glass rings of
a long-evaporated God.
Old rote hoof beats ride
through the armchair cushioning
her groin, a shawl’s thrown off
into the April snow.
Paw in the Raw
I didn’t keep the 1915 photo
of my mother age six looking down
and out toward the camera–her outcast
gaze, hand-held arms dangling at
her sides. Nor would she want to stay in
the faux gold frame on the dresser with
the tin drawer pulls painted gold.
Heather Angel looked better there anyway.
At 12, fainting in church, Paw’s ungainly
monster growing up inside her, they shipped
her off to Aunt Mame, who talked about
giving up sugar babies for Lent. The fence
around the compound was sliding down
the hill, everyone in that house was
throwing up chasing after it. Lemon
Pledge couldn’t have concealed the scratches
in the fellated mahogany bed posts.
My mother’s sister later saw Chinese
men in white vans coming to re-bore
the terra cotta drain pipes in the basement
& flood her home with shit. That was not
as crazy as what really happened. Once;
my mother told me she had a breakdown and
was sent away. She was already broken.
“School days, school days, dear old golden
rule days, readin’ an’ writin’ and ‘rith’metic,
taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.
You were my queen in calico, I was
your bashful, barefoot beau. And I wrote on my slate
‘I love you Kate’ when we were a couple of kids.”
“Schooldays,” words by Will A. Cobb, music by Gus Edwards (1907)
Bill Duvall is a retired Federal employee and realtor, living in North Carolina near siblings, children, grandchildren, and ex-wives. His work has been featured in North Carolina Literary Review, Pinesong, Comrades, kota, sidereality, and other places.
Nagasaki—July 4, 2006
Rain falls on the Atomic Bomb Museum
where radiation-scarred angels
from Urakami Cathedral
weep behind glass
with statues of headless saints,
stained glass shards,
a melted rosary,
a charred rice bowl,
a child’s scorched robe,
a steel helmet with the remains of a skull,
a clock stopped by the blast.
Rain falls on the shoreline
where a girl once drew circles in the sand,
trying to remember her mother’s face,
on the earth where the dying cried for water,
on a watchman’s shadow burned into a wall,
a twisted ladder leading to the sky,
on the Vault for the Unclaimed Remains of Victims,
a camellia tree that survived the flames,
on the black cenotaph at ground zero,
umbrellas blown inside-out
Rain falls on camphor trees at the Sanno Shrine,
on stones inscribed with names of the dead,
a chain of a thousand origami cranes,
the statue of a mother and child,
the Fountain of Peace where water flows
in the wing-beats of a dove,
on the city where 70,000 people died.
While school children pose for photographs,
holding two fingers up in a V of peace,
North Korea fires seven long-range missiles
into the Japan Sea.
I wish I could wipe clouds from the sky
like tarnish from a platter,
as the shaman makes rain
by scattering ashes in the wind.
If I draw a smiling face on the weeping
windowpane, will the sun come out again?
I rub the bruised tray
until I can see the moon
of my face in its clear surface,
wiping shadows from teaspoons,
fork tines, and the scrolled handles
of knives, controlling whatever
I can hold with sympathetic
magic, this internal weather.
for my son, Joe, at age 16
Outside your window the sky looks like you rubbed the edge
of charcoal across it, smudged with sfumato clouds.
You sketch from a photograph taken
on Christmas morning when you were two
and your sister was five. A contour of smoke
curls around your cherub cheek.
You’ve captured your sister’s smile with a soft curve,
but the crown of her head floats off the page
as if its flat surface could never hold the memory
of that moment within such limited space.
Do you think it’s a mistake to spill over the edge
where the image bleeds into negative space?
When your mind goes as blank as untouched parchment,
when you follow your hand wherever it leads—to the empty space
beyond the margins of safety—when you risk falling
from the horizon line of the world
into the ellipse of the earth’s revolution,
when the skylark bones of your hand soar in an arc
of swift, penciled flight, when you trace the line
of rain falling straight from heaven to earth,
you will know how to draw from life.
Beth Copeland teaches English and Creative Writing at East Carolina University. Her poetry book, Traveling Through Glass, received the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award in 1999.