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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Kate Falvey



The Language of Little Girls



I.
God is a project
cut out in foil
and pressed into paste
on dark red paper. He
will stick there forever,
shining in one of his guises:
a tall thin cross with a clever
tilt of halo at its top, crayoned
in a brilliant stroke of yellow and
stuck like a derby, rakishly over
a mass of invisible thorns.
In the chest of the cross a fury of
orange flames is gathered together like
a wild-flower posy and the orange is
forced hard to get the fury in and to
make the orange show up on the red.
Tiger-lilies are the shapes of the flames and
this is o.k. because God is known
to enjoy his lilies. Hosannas are
at His feet. They are chubby and puffed
and stunted in pink attitudes of glee. They have
horns instead of rattles and they make a fat
harsh invisible noise like babies squalling
into gurgles. They are cut from Christmas
cards which is a testament for God since the wings
are very difficult to pink and to my knowledge
only two tiny fronds were sheered but none of
the toes, thank God, though they curled impossibly.
This God will be a bookmark and won,
more than likely by Danny Mulcahy, who I love,
in a bee.


God is a two-way mirror and the
seeing eyes of nuns. The mirror is
any wall, even the air. There is no place,
even under the covers when it storms, even in
the candid dark of the confessional, or behind
the playfield where Maureen and I make secrets
that He doesn’t x-ray vision into. He could
see your bones and your wishes. He could see
your nails curving into claws and the jumps
you would make, and the snarls, if you lived
like a stealthy black shadow in a tree. He could see
even what you didn’t do — if He had mind to
focus you in His scanner which
you never know when He might. And, really, in a way
He is like a fly because His eyes are
many little worlds, kaleidoscopes ever rounding with
the fruit of the whole of Space.
I don’t think He sees in the
regular way. I stare for a long time at a
cherry and it does seem to make ripe
atoms of itself and the atoms do a little
dance and are paler than
the cherry, more like a blush veil with a night-
blue feathered in and then the atoms start to swell
and swivel and they become all the things of this world:
goats and cradles and grapes and my grandpa and darning
needles over lily pads in the greeny brake of Tonetta Lake. Then
like wavering flatworms or angelic banners heralding over
the creche, the atoms mean something different
and signal their change in glow and elongation. They
matter now as song and things that can’t be touched
like lies and meanness and the sharing of
cherry tomatoes with Danny Mulcahy and the taste
all the way through you after a dinner of chicken and
buttered spinach. It isn’t now the act
that the atoms are but the cave in the act where
the feelings whirl and then they are the very
feelings themselves which have no way to say them
because if you say sad there is not just a plain sad that
makes the same movement in the world. You feed feeling and
seeing to the world and the world keeps
being made. The sad when Cindy says
I sing like opera and not like shows is very
different from the sad when Daddy kisses Cindy
goodnight and she is not even
his child. This is also very different from
the peculiar sad when the monitors
Leonard and Danny
chalked Pat Hines’ name on the
mantis-colored green of the board
to report her for talking when
she didn’t even peep and this
was just because Pat Hines was
bigger than girls and wore small plaid bows
clipped to her jagged dark hair and because
Sister said she was a slow learner but
there was no way she talked and so
Danny and Leonard should not have
put her on the talkers’ list
and when Pat cried redly with
snivels and no tissues
because Sister had a voice like a thousand crows
and she punished by making you a dunce,
Maureen and I could not stand it anymore and we
leapt up and astonished every eye by flying
out of our seats and winging Pat with our protection
and I said, even though I loved Danny and Leonard played
the violin, which made even nuns clap, I said,
“You better write my name, too, because now you have
someone who really talked” and Maureen said,
“Me, too” and everyone was just gaga with
wildness and our names went up and then
a dozen names flurried that couldn’t be caught up with
in script and then someone, maybe Barbara Schul, wheezed
“Sister’s coming!” and everything died down fast like the
still and topple of fifty crazy wind-up toys.
Our names vanished from the board, and we all
had our hands laced on our desks when Sister
strode in, suspecting. The monitors were pets and so
when she quizzed them on our goodness they confirmed
our quiet and the blurry rasures under the Talkers heading
never even gave us away.
My heart slapped like paddles killing water snakes
and I brought nonpareils for Richard Armstrong ever after.


All of these sads are a lot like mads and may be
bad examples. Mad is a sin
that we don’t
discuss. The priest has to hear of it
and you can bet God
figures it out.

The atoms know this. When they shift
again they make soft energy
like faintly rosy steam
the color of kneecaps after a long kneel,
and I can see into the very insides of
angels and I know God’s sigh is the
voice of all the world.
Then there’s just the cherry again
bobbing on its stem. When I
bite it I think I am
eating the heads of angels and
the strange tongued world of
whatever all
there is.

II.
I was a worker bee and Maureen was the Queen.
She had a scepter and her throne was downy
with quilted purple cushions. Her antennae
were foiled in gold and when the drones
skulked in with hefted heels and bowie knives
raised and ready to spear and they
stomped among the bonnets of the
mewling little larvae and threatened the
industry of the whole hive I
didn’t much care but when
one particularly repugnant and
cowardly drone fizzed up to the
Queen in his jacket of furred stripes and
savagely bent her antenna which was
a pipe cleaner and so was
bait for easy twisting, I
wanted to sling in a fury of swarm
all of my catapulting menace and
sting him with sticks and stones and
all of my gnashing bee teeth and
lunatic bee punches
but this was not
in the plot.

I slept in Maureen’s bed,
our hair vined together in
early summer Irish, the early
dark pinked in fluttering warbles of
maple leaf and new gold.

Her tall sisters were as beautiful as she,
especially Kathleen, whose forehead shone with
broad pellucid whiteness, her kind eyes
blue as dreams as she helped me to
my meat. I was stunned with so much
new and dumbly forgot how to slice and so
Kathleen cut my roast beef with gentle,

unobtrusive efficiency, just like a
storybook mother, and no one, not even the tall
father, who had mild eyes like Kathleen’s,
made me feel like a
spectacle
because my manners were so
babyish and because I couldn’t
move or talk
normally.

I hadn’t known foreheads
could be beautiful. And I couldn’t believe
that Maureen had such fairy
princess sisters, such a freckled,
smiling mother, and a father who
reminded me of mine but who
joked with his daughters and chucked them
under their chins and patted his wife happily
like he did this all the time.

In the morning Maureen kissed me awake
and whispered
“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty”
and everything
even the pancakes
became achingly
enchanted.

III.
Families I did not know
troubled vacantly into the pews
and turned to mark the censer’s swing,
mechanical and raled,
the advancing swath of incense
mordant and important,
a restless, fumy palliative of dire,
insistent worth.
Mantillas and prim afterthoughts of
hankies snowed frailly from the women’s
bowed heads. A few
pillboxes in pink straw perched
absently,
without intending irreverence.
And the men in grey
and black and blue shifted
in their buffed shoes and
red hands shook hugely
with the strain of their
juddering grace. We
collected like feathers in a draft
against the coffin, grim and

moonish in our
communion clothes, tucked
organdy and serge nervously shying
the mahogany. How
could Robert Reuss be
in that trunk with God
when only Wednesday he
was missing the spelling of
immaculate and flicking up the
plaid hem of Eileen Haskell’s skirt?
How could we
let the boys grabble again
in the play yard when
the sun had one less shadow
of a teasing hand?

And it just wasn’t
true anymore
that the fingers
on the Jesus baby moved
in mischievous communion
or that His polished mother
wept a pearly piety
of tears.

IV.
In the vestibule before the
locked glass door,
the apple blossoms belling and
beseeching in the yard,
Maureen and I
lifted shirts
and showed chests
to compare the slight muzzy
russet of mine and
the perfect
pink plane of her not yet starting
the hurt



Malady/The Glory of Little Girls


I had a guardian angel
as a child. She was pert
and blonde and she rode
on the handlebars of my
blue two-wheeler to keep me
from being conspicuously
alone. Her hair was short
and fine and I watched the
fair fringe of it flicker
on her neck as I steered us
through a nagging derision of
unfamiliar streets, my new
neighborhood reluctantly entered
and browsed
with the noncommittal ire
of the choiceless.
Boys with no names
swung at our wheels
and, sturdily noncombatant, we
rose on the speed of our own
hearts’ pedaling
into the treed and brambled sward
in the crotch of the

fork in the road.

Here there were toadstools
and tiny spotted frogs and
alley cats foraging for unlicked bones
far from the chaste yards
of lunch-scraps, cardinals, and squirrels,
a dish of cream scrupled
by the kitchen door,
a routine chase and ravening
of a gusted seed-pod or
easy grounded wren.
Here, in a rough angle of
brush and bracken
pocketed between ways home
cats could be feral again
and cost
abundant lives.



The Language of Little Girls: Doll-Babies


Connie’s pink gingham is slightly bedraggled.
Marilyn’s bubble-sleeved organza is prickly with starch.
We play nurses and treat their wounds.
Behind the brick house is a dense thicket of nettles and trash.
We a stomp a clearing in the scrub and lay planks
from the being-built new buildings
into the shape of a laying-down house.
We filch real peeled-off shingles to patch
the triangle of our roof. We weigh the roof down with stones
and section our rooms with lines of pebbles and grit.
Hunched in the bedroom, we splay Connie and Marilyn
on a bed of rough mulch and wings of fern which
Mrs. Dawson would flip if she knew we scooped and tore.
Connie has a head wound and Marilyn hurt her spine.
We dot rashy zigzags and pulpy clots of blood with blood
from our own scraped ankles and shins onto the blushing
rubber of their girly skins. Then we are priests dishing out
atonements for all their ragged, prissy sins.



The Terrible Miss Terrell


She was, in P.S. 103, the tyrant of 3-K.
Miss D. looked starched and pre-arranged
with her brusque flannel slacks
and studied frowns, doling out symmetrical
rounds of yellow dough for us to lump into
cheery Christmas ashtrays. Yet she was
no match for Miss T, who looked the perfect
picture book grandma: spectacles and frizzled hair,
and pleated floral skirts outspread with what might have been
a bountiful lap. If she wasn’t secretly a ghoul.


The girls
could play in the wooden half-house,
the back cut away so we couldn’t get stuck.
The boys could play with wooden blocks,
but not the girls.
If you inched too close to the border of the boys,
Miss T. would snatch you back and stuff you
in a corner, where Miss D. would lurk
and shame you into tears. Miss T., as anyone could see,
controlled Miss D.’s direction. Miss D.
said “naughty, naughty” and made you
wash your hands, and caught you doing things
you didn’t know you did
but that you did.
Miss T., however, pinched each day
into sticky traps in which
only naughty happened
and caught you doing things
you didn’t know you did,
and didn’t.


Antiphon


A gaffe once
when I salted my
cream of wheat. We had
a shaker for sugar
in my house and the
salt was
a natural
mistake. Papa’s
summer house smelled like
screen doors slamming
and rain tipped
out of green metal porch chairs
and cool slate floors and close
maple dining-table talk and
white plates of rare tomatoes
sliced with olive oil and oregano
and strawberries and vermouth
and circlets of mesh warning the
frogs out of the drains.

Papa called me stupid
and cowed my mother
when she tried
to explain.

He wasn’t an unkind man
and he’d never said
an unkind thing
to me before.
He took me down to the water’s edge,
untied the boat, and rowed me into
the far-side lilies
in the dearest diminishment
of light. He built
this house
himself and sweated in
his tee-shirt carving shapes
in the front-yard firs. He
pressed wine in the chilly cellar
and let me watch him
fill the jugs. He rigged a

tire-swing for me and made
play pipes out of twigs and acorns. He
found safe mushrooms growing and
knew a wild hike to a clear secret stream
that you would work hard to get to,
breaking through troubles of sweetbriers
and bottle flies, oak burls, burdocks,
midges, and heat
just to dip your thirsty hands
and drink.