The gap between

the platform &
the train meant

certain death
Granma said. Not this time,

no, of course & maybe
also not the next

but one of these trips to see her only
daughter’s family, soon & then

won’t you feel like monsters?
Mom took her suitcase, we nodded

yes. With Gran in town, it was
no swearing allowed, no

boys, seesaws, and loud voices
were reserved for her daily sacred shrill

devotions to panic
& rage, should she

find me playing tightrope-
walker on the curb, or petting a too

large dog, or letting my face
go under water

at our nextdoor neighbors’ pool. Still
we managed to smile & tiptoe

for however long it took (except once
after she chased me through the garden

with a spatula, Dad said
pack up now, get out) —

or else we’d whisper in the upstairs den
until the sighing died

down in the kitchen, which meant
she’d finally fallen asleep. But all together

on a round flowered rug
we’d sit & sing “Once had a

sweet little doll dear” on rare visits
to Granma’s apartment, or so

at least I always did think — & yet last
week when we went there to divvy her

things: her home, I hardly
knew the place, must’ve been

years & the carpets ran
wall to wall. Beside the bed

was a pink jaw-shaped box
& I remembered how she

never would lock
the bathroom door, how

I learned about dentures one
morning & how awful

her fledgling gums, caught,
prayerful eyes — ghoulish — how small

she was without teeth. & it might
well have been seismic —

the chasm
till Track Number Seven —

from where she pressed
her bag tight &

considered her exit:
it often distorts how depth

& distance are felt — an astro-
cytoma — though we’d

never heard of
such a thing

back then, or of her favorite
sister, Lilibet, who drowned

when they were both girls (in the belly
of that ratty bench, Gran’s original pieces

for piano, all titled
To Lil). & we’re still not sure

if she ever composed the famous
plaint to Amtrak (if so, it passed

unanswered: she would no doubt
have saved their reply) — or in the cupboard

why a chipped
saucer was kept wrapped in linen

alone on a shelf —
or what chinks,

distantly, in her night-
table drawer if you pull at

its porcelain knob; that tiny key must
have vanished, I swear, we looked

everywhere. We tried.

  

*

 

I’ve missed you
as a woman misses the last words
of a poorly dubbed film

everyone used to love.
Listen: she’ll
play through the start of the end

credit song, & then she’ll press
rewind, still
all night, still, all night.

  

*

 

My mother used to sing me
this song before bed

about a sweet little doll dear

who is the most beautiful
thing in the world

but then she gets lost
in like a field or large meadow. My beautiful

mother’s hair smells like trimmed hedges
& the kind of off-

brand loose cigarettes she
gets from the Chinese

discount if it’s late & all the regular
stores are closed & she sits very

very close & tucks me in so
tight it

hurts but I really
don’t mind & when she’s done

singing she
leans in for a kiss & I see

there’s a hole in her face where
her face should be. & her

arms trotted off by the dogs dear.

 

 

Danielle Blau’s Rhyme and Reason: Poetry, Philosophy, and the Art of Living the Big Questions is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. Her collection mere eye was selected for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Award and published in 2013 with an introduction by D.A. Powell, and she won first place for her poetry in the 2015 multi-genre Narrative 30 Below Contest. Poems, short stories, articles, and interviews by Blau can be found in such publications as The Atlantic online, The BafflerBlack ClockThe Harvard ReviewThe Literary ReviewNarrative Magazine, The New Yorker’s book blog, The Paris ReviewPloughshares, The Saint Ann’s Review, The Wolf, the Argos Books poetry anthology Why I Am Not a Painter, and the Plume Anthology of Poetry (#5). A graduate of Brown with an honors degree in philosophy, and of NYU with an MFA in poetry, she curates and hosts the monthly Gavagai Music + Reading Series, and teaches at Hunter College.

Issue #67 February 2017
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