3 poems — Ellen Elder
IN A SALVADOR DALI PAINTING
I have sex with ghosts (she says).
You look better as a clam shell (he says).
Love me ripe into a pomegranate.
The waltz of a camel.
I watched you purchase tangerine silk for her in Lugano.
A woman’s face is like this apartment—endless clock intercept.
Men are atavistic ruins after the rain.
It’s your mother that you want.
Did you know that Vita Sackville-West grew up in a house with 365 rooms and 52 staircases?
You missed a stair.
I never wore a fur coat by the fountain in the midnight piazza.
I never wanted the weight of denim beneath a starved pigeon.
It’s what lovers do best—love too little.
Fail unflappably, devastating the myth of oranges.
The cousins of giraffes and harp strings.
So why did you leave me outside Rome, with a table of white linen in my palm?
HOW CHILDREN READ
She took refuge on the firm ground of fiction, through which indeed there curled the blue river of truth.
Henry James, What Maisie Knew
Hosiery moseys up the thighs of mannequins,
the babysitter repositions her wooden leg.
To drive in the backseat comfortably, the father
tucks the girl in origami carpet.
In a manner of speaking—, he teaches her to read
Another babysitter guides her through recipes,
potatoes currying the stove.
The Russian, who had lived on a train,
blew first on every spoonful.
Custard and mink, she taught the girl to pucker,
lipstick on the serviette’s fold.
Her father bundles her in a seal sweater
and borrowed skates
with laces chalked by use. He ties them just so.
Sharing a roast beef sandwich, he reads
the newspaper before cradling it
round her toes—the skates too big.
This little Piggy went to market, and so on,
his hands stained with ink,
purposeful as a footnote
or a book unbound, pages and pages
rippling across the frozen Chesapeake,
teaching her the utility of word.
Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water.
The summer my mother dies
I am no longer a child.
I work in an Irish hotel.
In Virginia, syringes strut the fridge.
I think you should fly home now.
Father telephones Aer Lingus
to request a compassion
ticket but they request
a death certificate:
She’s not dead yet, he exclaims of his ex-wife, she’s dying.
I walk about the pond,
I hang a sign on the doorknob:
Flying backward in time,
I do not know yet
that I am five hours too late.
Over the Atlantic
I sit next to a woman
who uses her walk-man as a mirror
while humming “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
In the lavatory (slide to lock)
I put on mascara.
The mirrors are made of polycarbonate
so they won’t continuously combust.
one before the other.
After death, each hour the body’s
temperature drops 1.5 degrees
until it reaches room temperature.
It is so cold in the plane
that my nipples animate.
The stewardess autopilots:
Café, thé? Café, thé?
Fa freddo, someone complains, It’s cold.
The flight deck announces we’re flying over Iceland.
I fall in and out of oxygen.
Or perhaps there is no objective
correlative to mother.
Ellen Elder studied at The University of Chicago, Miami University of Ohio and The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She spent her summers growing up in Ireland. Her poems can be found in The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems, Exquisite Corpse, Leveler, Mayday, About Place Journal and elsewhere. She lives in Germany.