Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Poems by Alice Friman

From the Book of Accounts

I speak of work. How he'd come home 

coughing wet and loose in the chest 

from the Chesterfields, the hauling
of bundles. How he'd stumble to the sofa--

long underwear drooping at the seat--
flop down, snoring before his head

hit the armrest. Seven o'clock and blotto
as a burnt-out bulb, while across the room 

far into the night, Mother and I for her sake
played cards, shuffled and dealt, shuffled 

and dealt. So much thin-lipped work 
it took to arrange and rearrange 

the hand she'd been given. So much 
work to have to pick up every morning 

the death card of hard labor 
that any cut deck eventually lays bare.  
 
All those hours of heavy lifting 
to gather, dole out, and try again--

draw and discard, draw and discard 
amid grunts from the sofa--troubled dreams 

and fortune's shuffle. Night after night, 
the long march of deuces and kings, 

three of a kind, four of a kind, any kind, 
before she'd finally get up to shake his shoulder

and walk him to bed, while I'd wait for her
to come back, sit down, and tally up the points.

First Published in The Georgia Review



Mirage

                    

Across Kachemak Bay
black mountains rise like judgment
towering above the inlet, black
streaked with snow. Black,
white. Nothing in between.

When suddenly like a phantom
floating across the water,
a fishing boat chugs past, and there
we are again, steaming out of Freeport 
with Captain Charlie. Little family
bundled up against the cold.

And it must be close to noon  
for there's Mother doling out 
the egg-salad sandwiches loaded 
with lettuce for health and green
good fortune. The bay too, a green
bounty crowned by white flashes
of gulls skimming low over the stern
to eye what the wake churned up.
And look, there at the rail, chumming
for fish, that's my father, roaring
his smutty songs with mother laughing
because they were in the open air
and free to let themselves be--Oh
dare I say it--happy. What difference 
if the fluke or flounder weren't biting, 
for wasn't it fluke enough their being 
at peace for just this once? On the scales
of judgment, shouldn't that day--snatched
from the angry current of the rest--count?
Add up to something? That day when the gulls
weighed in, balancing the light on their wings.

First published in Prairie Schooner and subsequently featured on Poetry Daily.


Dumped at Heaven's Gate


When a hurricane spirals

down, spinning like an unhooked
tongue shrieking in the wind's 
wet mouth, beheading trees
and cracking open the sky,

pregnant cows in the fields
let down their calves. Whether
the cause is barometric pressure
or the trauma of a bovine nightmare,
the legs buckle and the great spasms
of the uterine walls begin. All day
and into the night, hit by a fury
of flying leaves and limbs
she labors: a fifteen-hundred-
pound bellow nailed to the spot.
All the world's misery concentrated
in that heaving flesh, that drenched
monolith of quiver and rolling eyes.

And if in the wind's howl and rain,
her warm, slick package manages
to slip out and live, and she--
remembering to turn her head and
lick it clean--blinks to find it next morning
wobbling on first legs, that too is Easter.


First published in Shenandoah and included in the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology


Alice Friman is the author of 7 collections of poetry; the latest is Blood Weather, (LSU Press) from which these poems are reprinted.  Reprinted with the permission of LSU Press.

 
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