Lisa Parker received the MFA in Creative Writing from Penn State in 1998. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Louisville Review, Parnassus: Poetry In Review, PoetLore, Bedford/St. Martin's Poetry: An Introduction, 4th and 5th editions and Introduction to Literature, 7th and 8th editions. Her first poetry collection, This Gone Place, is forthcoming from MotesBooks in Spring 2010. Lisa grew up in rural Virginia and currently splits her time between Virginia and New York City.
It is about preparedness,
about making it through the winter,
and so I have always thought I would write
about the dramatics of the season; the hunts,
shotgun shells lying bright against soggy leaves,
hogs splayed, hollowed out
and hanging from the maples.
I have always craved that fine art of survival,
so honed in my grandfather, my uncles, so graceful
in their sure strides into the woods, their hands
as agile canning jars of pickled corn as they are
drawing the strong swipes of their knives over deer.
But I find myself going back to those cool days
I feigned illness to bypass school, to lie in the backseat
of the red stationwagon, scratchy carpet against
the fingertips of the hand I flopped dramatically
to the floor, my mother driving me
to Grandma’s house, not buying the act,
not calling me on it either.
If Granddaddy grew something unruly in me,
those women tempered it with long, Fall afternoons,
out on the swaying wood of the porchswing,
beneath the quilt of Biblical panels, Moses
and the tablets, his face unveiled and radiant as sun,
and Grandma’s foot always gently pushing
while she peeled potatoes into a kitchen pail
and I counted leaves as they ticked off the limbs
of great oaks whose branches touched the roof,
the side of the porch, dipping against the frame of house
as if holding it there, pressing it all to stillness.
Manhattan, September 12, 2001
Central Park, so oddly quiet, no people
walking, finches, even, subdued in their calls.
I find the trees, London Plantains, so much like
my sycamores back home, their mottled, bleached
bark, peeling like something burned
or shedding itself into something new.
My granddaddy’s voice in my head, deep and calm,
When you’re bad lost in the forest, find you a sycamore,
look as long as you have to cause they’ll always be near
water you can follow out. They’s no such thing as completely lost;
just got to know what to look for to get you home.
I step over the small metal cage at its base, lean
my forehead against a smooth spot, soft as shellac, breathe
the musty familiar, close my eyes.
There is no smoke.
There are no buildings tall as the sky.
Only this tree, my fingers pulling against flaking bark, pressing
my body flush against it until there is nothing to feel
but the bite and scratch, the worn, smooth
salvation of it.
This is home:
overhang of poplars and oaks
where we climbed and ran, snuck cigarettes
and hid them beneath the lush bend of forest ferns,
where we took boys and kissed them until
our jaws ached, rode our bikes past worn trails
to the water tower where we dared each other
one rung higher, ran from packs of wild dogs, and later
sat at the top of the tower, holding hands, making out,
drinking strawberry Boones and wondering what the hell
there was to do in this town.
I made Manhattan home for long enough
to love the city and its noise, the Puerto Rican women
on 96th and Broadway who took my 50 cents, gave me
a Dixie cup of coconut gelado and smiled with gold teeth
like my Grandma’s, the smell of heavy yeast and garlic
from H&H Bagels just beneath my gym, the mantra
of the old black man on 104th who called Jesus! Jesus!
as if calling him home to dinner.
I made Manhattan home for long enough
to break my heart when the towers fell,
when I trudged through ash with other medics
and stood helpless as all the rest
when they brought us no one.
I stayed long enough to hand a fine man my heart
and have him hand it back, long enough
to pine for fresh air and familiar sounds,
to pack my bags when my bank account emptied
for the hundredth time and my family beckoned.
Now I sit in this driveway, engine off, windows down,
alone until they realize I’m here, run out to greet me.
It has been a summer of heavy rains and already
mosquitoes and horseflies buzz my car, a dove
bends its awkward neck to sip from the standing water
between two hickories, daddy-longlegs are stretched
into corners of the garage, motionless in this heat.
The fields will have to be bush-hogged – too tall
for mowing, too full of thick weed and goldenrod.
It is all overgrown, perfectly entangled.