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Poetry from Fleda Brown

The Chinless Woman in the Smart Park Booth

Chin collapsed like ripples at the shore, like a shirt

crumpled up at the waist: like this or that:

the driver thus tries to avoid coming terribly alert

from his mindless paying and passing on, who has sat

 

for hours on a plane and now is loose for home,

dragging his metaphors like tin cans behind.

The proportion that makes for ease, the natural bone

that beauty calls its own—what else can the mind

 

do with its omission? The mind, we know

from several recent studies, prefers regularity,

likes it so much that a thousand people chose

a face made up of the average of a random sea

 

of faces as the one they most admire. Now this

transgression, the depth it hints at, the human fabric

broken down! How could one stand to kiss

that smiling vacancy? Once again grief has picked

 

a place to land, arbitrary, exact, scornful

of averages. The driver, who loves his wife and kids,

imagines the chinless boiling kiss, feels its pull

of absence, all the more for being sweet, rid

 

of self-consciousness. Something in him feels lost

as a child, his father angry, mother sad and far-

looking. He would like a certainty, not tossed

from one to the other, steering with radar….. 

 

 

 

Grandmother Sonnets

Josh, 15

The grandmother collects what she can of the past, stows it

jumbled, in an old bag she hasn’t taken time 

to sort. She wanders down streets you don’t know 

the names of.  Even on the day of your birth, she climbed 

through tangles, dutifully walked the dog Samson, 

dumb lurch of a retriever, straight into the tiny clout

of two snarling pugs. Samson dragged her along, 

terrified and panting, back to the house. 

Out there, a truck revved. She and the dog—the worse

for shivers, eye to dilated eye. Across town, 

your mother’s hormones were dilating her pelvis bones,

switching the new grandmother’s life into reverse. 

As on the elliptical trainer, the brief pause, then, 

face forward, she’s running backward toward the unknown.

 

 

Zach, 14

What steers the second grandchild—thin, small-boned, 

blowing the trumpet while life grinds its gears

like a truck? The grandmother doesn’t wish him thrown

to the gods of art that need the shivering, the mere

skin’s quivering molecules. She, too, 

wanted nothing more than to be held. Apparently, 

she notes, the basic structure is enfolded: a queue

of petals, stamen, trumpeting pistil. One sees

nothing of the soft inside. What lies on the surface

tries to be cold as brass, tries to shut the door 

against the other. She hears the clatter of children 

against the screen door: She remembers the hard purpose

of their cries: the old lament, “Don’t divorce.”

Now this grandchild’s golden trumpet, the wail again.

 

 

Jake, 11

Harry Potter grandson, video forever blooming 

in your round glasses, how can she find you, how dare 

enter?  She stands over, the awkward looming

of a grandparent, the useless gesture of ruffling the hair. 

No way to revise the past, to travel back through

to your father, how she stroked his hair, small child 

kneeling on her bed, sobbing for his father, who used to

lie on the floor and raise him on his feet, fly him, wild

with joy, while she sat knowing what this would come to. 

Heart breaking, we call it, more of a steady muffled 

truck-sound in the distance—deep bass, a movie sound. 

How to comfort you for what you never knew—

how your father flew down into his books, the terrible 

dark arts thundering outside the door like snowplows.

 

 

Samantha, 9

The grandmother plays knights with you on a snowed-in 

afternoon, looking for you where you might be found, 

inside your toys. The knights come apart, fasten 

with magnets. You take one knight’s body, surround it 

with five heads, thinking up a question. The legs, strewn, 

answer that they have given up bringing answers. 

One body with silver mail, one with gold, soon

interchanged. You tuck each of their dangerous lances 

under the arm of the other, keeping the tips warm. 

Love with a safety plan. Your curls fall across 

the pieces so you can concentrate, the glitch in your brain 

at war against confusing extra sounds. The swarm

of sounds in the grandmother’s head, too—the lost

past. She strains to hear you over the cries of the slain.

 

 

Joie, 7

The child’s serious brown eyes, full without prejudice. 

Eyes like her mother’s: part mirror, part well. 

The grandmother makes the long flight, not to be remiss, 

to Oregon for three days. Ah, the child can easily tell

the truth of brevity. Here in the minivan’s back seat, 

they find objects out the window, beginning with letters 

of the alphabet, in order. She keeps on, street after street,

to the tiresome end: good reader; speller, better. 

Knows q needs u. Question: What if her parents 

had married? A gate left unlatched, an alphabet to range, 

to close it. The grandmother and the actual grandfather married. 

The grandmother comes along out of guilt, of love, of some sense 

of continuity. She brings small gifts, she changes

herself into who she would be, what she would carry.

 

 

Casey, 5

Piano for rousing both black and white, cup 

and stick for drum corps, lap harp for plucking out tones,                                                     

xylophone wall at the park for stroking the stones 

to life:  the song of Casey, wild to make up

something out of nothing, right foot in, right foot 

out. Casey, singing in his booster chair, firing 

bits of peanut butter sandwich into space. Stay put,

grandmother, a reverberation alongside, conspiring

against the sandwich song! She with her lead 

feet sweeps up what has fallen. She is all for the dancing, 

if it’s old time rock and roll—its nice four-four 

measures. She likes the way they plan ahead,

the way they let the past bounce along, advancing

only inside their exact, though passionate, score. 

 

 

Abigail, 3

Is the grandmother’s life generic, after all—the clichés 

she’s “spent a lifetime” struggling against? Her worry

over healing, over scars, nothing but the talk-show way

of original sin? Meanwhile, Abby, all flurry

on her pink scooter, drags her pink polka-dotted 

rain boot, braking. Half a block behind, the grandmother’s 

mortality feels more like a fading, less knotted.

During pledge week, she watches, along with all the other

elders, the aged Motown singers. The theme 

is death, start to finish. A lovely arrogance, legs 

and arms and scooter, then a decline. It transpires

so quickly, the grandmother gets a little queasy. 

She had something to warn about love, hesitates to say, 

afraid to disturb the balance the wheels require.

 

 

 

Fleda Brown’s new book is Driving With Dvorak, released in March by the University of Nebraska Press. Her most recent collection of poems, Reunion (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), won the Felix Pollak Prize. The author of five previous collections of poems, she has won numerous prizes, among them a Pushcart Prize, the Philip Levine Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges New Writer’s Award, and her work has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she taught for 27 years and directed the Poets in the Schools program. She was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-07. She now lives in Traverse City, Michigan, and is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program in Tacoma, Wash.

 

COMMENT

"The grandmother poems began as prose poems and evolved into sonnets. What you have here is part of a slightly longer series—each grandchild has one poem."