Waking at Night
Such a short distance between genius
and shit. Take those elephant turds
Bruce Nauman (1991 Walker Art Center)
stacked in piles on the floor, soft cannon balls,
so appealing to some humans, something we can
all relate to. In my claustrophobic little corner
(compared to the Milky Way) I am happy,
moon-devotée that I am with a rag of the ancient
floating first hand outside my window. Take
these lines written in the darkness around
my bed. I hope they don’t cross
over themselves creating rows like il-
legible barbed wire some French girls
stood behind at the end of a world war,
brunette and blond collaborators
whose hair was shorn, the sign for bedding up
with a Wehrmacht man who gave them cognac
and nylons they could sell on the black market.
The girls’–women’s– heads, skulls, spat upon,
cross-and-bones thin, reviled little female
christs. It’s just dizziness. It’ll pass. It’s just this
time of night and the room so small. There
are bad dreams and then it’s over and they/
we can go back to sleep again.
But why would anybody
take this shit from the elephant kings,
their balls. Even the elephants were
astonished that their turds
were sold with their ivory.
We Missed the Boat
after Brave Irene by William Steig
Never compare yourself to another,
especially when she’s Irene Bobbin,
at the door to her mother’s little yellow
parlor with its pictures and mannequin.
“Bye! I’ll deliver the gown to the duchess.”
Mrs. Bobbin, a single mom, brimming
with exhaustion called from her bed,
“Don’t go, Irene. A storm’s in full swing.”
But Irene set off with gown in box,
into the darkening winter afternoon.
(You and I set out, too, on a mission.)
Even though the wind tore open
the box, even though the snow
was hip high, even though Irene
thought she was lost, maybe going
in circles, she struggled on.
(Did we quit too early?)
Somewhere past Farmer Bennett’s
pasture the wind was so strong it
blew away two tissue paper ghosts
that sheltered the beautiful pink,
sparkly dress. And the dress, too.
(What went wrong for us?)
Irene had a mission for sure.
She was focused on succeeding,
a matter of food for the cupboards,
wood for her mother’s cold stove,
and something for the pot on it.
(We could’ve tried harder, I guess.)
Irene‘s tasks doubled: now
she must find the lost gown.
Through gangly, primordial woods
where there’s no sense of direction,
she stumbled on, snow blind, from tree
to tree until her little legs protested
they could lift themselves no more.
But there! At wit’s end, there was
the dress, plastered to a tree,
decking the trunk out for a party.
(Maybe the Fates were against us.)
A sight indeed for sore eyes.
And not much farther on, an amber
window light spilled out over the snow.
The palace! Irene huddled before the door.
Like a snow sculpture, but she’d made it!
(And if she hadn’t? That happens, too.)
All good things followed: the Duchess’s
pleasure at the gown, the warm ballroom,
the delicious feast an absolute joy
for porridge-fed Irene. And best of all,
a purse full of money for her mom. The end.
(It almost hurts, others’ triumphs, they feel so good.)
Sharon Chmielarz has had eleven books of poetry published, the latest, “little eternities,” in Sept. 2017. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize seven times and five of her books runners-up for literary awards. Kirkus Reviews named her “The Widow’s House” one of the 100 best books in 2016. She was born in South Dakota but has spent her adult life in Minneapolis, MN.