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Sample Poems by Cynthia Atkins


Because the trees grew
into paper for words to write
down what there are no words for.
Because it wants to size you up
and then compels you to confess.
Because it likes to breathe up
against you on the couch,
but will never commit to meals
or absolutes. Because it has no
understanding and no excuse,
and it dares the understudy
not to show up. Because you need
to get out of the weather, where
too many secrets are revealed
in the rain. Because it knows
you need to explain, even when
your hands are clean.
Because it told you
to spit out your gum
when a taxicab is running.
Because years have proven
that each death leads to song.
Because it knows the flowers
will be of no use-the words will dream
up the phlox. Because it will always
want and want to name what can't be named.
Because it knows you say one thing
and mean another. It knows you know better.
It is the greed inside your prayer.

In Keyholes

There is an apothecary of neighbors,
who live next door with a fury
of tinctures and wisecracks.
Everybody wants a turn, a chance
to throw insults like stones into
the pool. Talk behind our backs,
Can do that blindfolded, one arm
tied behind. The shovel-ready sunlight
is falling all over window sills, dusty
underneath, piled with last year's
holiday cards, never mailed.
It curves on the furniture, conversations
peeling-off in layers. Pearls and high-heels
weigh more than their ideals-
In backyards, there are noises,
jump-rope and dryers will make it
soft and nice. Rumpled little girls
getting cornered-The homework got left
in a puddle by the bad boy (now older,
now drunk!). Blackbirds on telephone wires.
New nieces and nephews, protecting
the secrets of infirm marriages, money woes,
broken kitchen tables, what gets said
that can't be put back in the bottle.
In the very end, our bodies become a whispering
of doctor's instruments-Privacy is the fever
that will loom at half-mast, tomorrow.
All the houses congregating to open up
a gateway to our anguish-Earmarked for
the landfill of last week's trash.
Our interiors deposited and undisclosed.
With our backs turned-This flashy society
of genes and germs, will relish to expose.

Family Therapy (I)

Mother/hood, a bald egg
in a grocery bag. The chromosomes
have their say, their stay in it.
The TV shows were all smiles
and cocoa. Environment.
Crisis management. My siblings
also hatched, perfect and imperfect.
The fitted sheets still warm
from the dryer.

I am my sister. I am my brother.
I am my brother's sister,
I am my mother's keeper.
I hold the secrets. I am the writer.
I am the sister of a schizo-
phrenic. My elder split-
My sister taught me how
to shave my legs, little slits of blood
left like a lunchbox in the mud.

I'm learning how to be a member
of my family, of my society.
I'm wanting a text book
on the matter. At the dinner table,
tension played mirror, mirror.
We all had our place
at the table. That space we wanted
to be erased from. Night by night,
it took us one course at a time.

I'm looking for a cure, because anguish
is harmful to live with. And yes,
I am a little pregnant. Set another
place? Erase another place?
I am my child's child, doomed
for failure. The father is my lover,
the sheets spilled his seed,
something took hold. When I opened
my eyes, my father held out a puppy.

What the Blind See

This afternoon my son came inside
with lost mittens, but two new friends,
Jack and Ellie. He said he met them
on the backyard swings-introduced us
the way the blind pronounce faces
with their hands. He serves them
strawberry soup & pickled pudding
with a pinky, held up. I listen to him think
out loud, "Ellie likes pretty shoes,
but Jack loves pennies 'n choo-choos."
He wipes his nose, looks them square
in the eyes and chooses to love
all of the above: "Ellie's cheeks are round
as a peach. Jack's knees are dirty
as plums." Like anything worth having,
I'll teach him chores, but not the snarl
of metaphors. He's learning to see
by degrees, category, departure of lines-
Girls are soft, then fold themselves
like fans. Boys hide frogs, then spread out
like a warm breakfast. In his cramped kitchen,
he's cookin' with gas. The wide night turns on
its darkness. Two empty swings, ample in the wind.