Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bodies Nearly Touching

Cover photo Jessica Harpham

Bodies Nearly Touching

Marianne Ware

Some of these poems have appeared in the following publications: Under the Rainbow, The Sonoma County Stump, Voices, Valhalla, Sonoma Mandala,  Iame's Daughters, and First Leaves.

Special Thanks to Hunce Voelcker and Patricia Payne for their respective machines.
© 1982 Marianne Ware
Doris Green Editions
PO Box 783
Monte Rio, CA 95462

for Dave
who comes closest


(alright my mother)
said, (when she was
frazzled, up to here
with me and shopping)
“Stop whining, fidgeting,
that hanging on my skirt
or I’ll just put you
on the escalator,
better yet,
I’ll shove you through the elevator doors
before they close
and then I’ll run,
so you’ll be left to ride
up to the roof
with strangers.”

when we were on the Subway,
if I pulled her arm
again, again, to nag:
“I’m hungry, hungry;
when will we be home;
is this our stop?”
she’d say I was a brat,
that, when I wasn’t looking
she would leave me there,
jump up, sneak out
before the doors whooshed shut.
Then I could ride,
for all she cared,
to Kingdom Come
or Harlem.

That’s why, today,
in Penny’s, The Emporium,
3 thousand miles
from Gimbel’s or the IRT
when I go out alone
I choose the stairs
at 44, I quake
without a mother surrogate
(one who is tolerant and kind)
because I’m still
a rotten kid inside,
braced for abandonment,
convinced that Hell
is a conveyance,
my punishment:
an endless, solitary


In the night my father comes to me;
he is as I once saw him,
before radiology, the knife,
even before diagnosis.
His skull is whole and thick again,
his black eyes drugless and smoldering,
skin no longer ash but coppery, arresting
like a Gypsy’s. As he advances
I become insignificant, without articulation
or body weight to protect me.
He calls me a harpy, an ingrate;
says I’ve blasphemed him for posterity;
numbered his virtues as excesses:
dedication to THE CAUSE
rather than his selfish family
that I lied when I said
he coveted me unnaturally,
because I was the one who lusted.
I am vermin in his eyes he reiterates;
he has never, ever loved me;
there is nothing I can do to compensate:
forgiveness is alien to his rhetoric.
still I go down on my knees before him
kissing the Gestapo hem of his trench coat;
swearing to make misery my mainstay.

In the morning I am insane again,
until the poem pours from me.

                For Gerrye Payne, The Midwife

I remember when we lived on 112th Street in New York City
During the sousing shortage of the late 1940s.
We shared one room, the three of us, in a decrepit old building,
Just half a block and around the corner
From the famous Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Our beds were nearly touching,
A community kitchen down the hallway,
I’d get lost in the corridors looking for the showers,
My father, a dyed in the blood-red radical,
A believer in, “The nobility of the common man,”
Reveled in that atmosphere:
The inconveniences and lack of privacy,
Our beds nearly touching.
My mother swore it was a privilege to live with him,
Down among the multitudes,
We saw twisted, legless wonders
Trussed in carts along the sidewalk, selling pencils.
And I asked to give them money,
But he said, “No! We have to change the system;
Charity perpetuates the scourge of Capitalism.”
“Oh Please,” I begged.  “It’s cold; right now it’s cold.
My God they  must be hungry.”
Which made him turn his wrath on me, to rage
That Heaven would be made on earth, in time, by men like him,
And I must never take that name in vain (the Lord’s)
Because it meant I thought He lived, was not a myth.
Angry Father, righteous Father,
Spewed his doctrine, leftwing gospel , on the pavement,
Struck me blind and mute and once more unaccountable
In the chill of my eleventh winter,
A Baptism, then, of ice instead of fire,
Down the street, a half a block, around the corner
From the famous Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Frigid, rigid, pious Father,
Was there forgiveness in his teachings,
Opiates for someone small and weak and disenfranchised?
Not until I took communion:
Bit the hook, the Party line and the Manifest with the wafer.
Then I could worship him at midnight
When his fellows had departed,
Wise yet furtive in their travels,
See him haloed in the half-light
As he strained against my mother,
While our beds were nearly touching.

I remember in the ’50s on the West Coast
Where we’d come to escape from a tribunal
Led by someone named McCarthy,
How my Father, martyred Father
Gave his relatively young life
For the true Cause and to cancer,
How my mother, sainted mother,
Seemed resigned and then unburdened at his passing,
How it took me so much longer
To become a disbeliever
See our beds no longer touching.

Now I’m older, cured of visions
Of a true church up the block, around the corner,
Or a great and holy Father
Turning chaos into order.
But there are children, little children
Always looking for a Savior
As they tremble in the corridors.
Suffer children, suffer children;
He is risen in the Jungle
Where they’ve fallen with their bodies nearly touching.


On the road to Delano
in the late 1960s
the atheist’s daughter
(a tarnished young woman)
ponders this question:
“What was his name
on the road to Damascus,
Saul something or other?”

A curious thought
for a wanton blasphemer
heading north on the highway,
up from Los Angeles,
over the Grapevine
in a blue station wagon
covered with slogans:
“Viva la Causa!”

Raised as a cynic,
transgressor, irreverent,
she is secretly lusting
to give herself up to
someone who is worthy,
a cause that has meaning.
She’s a penitent,
this journey a pilgrimage.

Not Jesus her Savior
but a poor campesino
Cesar Chavez the leader
of the Farm Worker’s Movement.
San Joaquin is her holy land,
Delano is Calvary;
redemption for bad girls,
salvation for gringos.

“And what was her name,”
[comes another odd question]
“the harlot who washed him,
sponged dirt from his ankles,
she who was pardoned for all indiscretions,
the sins of the fathers
no longer her burden?”

Back home from Delano
in the late 1960s
comes the atheist’s daughter
who’s paid homage to Cesar
(his love like a mother’s).
Now bathed in the aura
of that pacifist martyr,
she’s become a believer.

(I’m Still Crippled)

Confused at the Interachange,
he went all the way to Glendora;
90 miles in the opposite direction
away from home.
Then, miraculously off the Freeway
parked, but with the motor running,
he had one of his seizures.
Luckily a kind man found him,
called his family instead of the Authorities:
a diagnosed epileptic
having no business behind the wheel.

Soon enough, it didn’t matter;
In ’56, brakes and steering gone,
his engine stopped.  Lights out!
Obviously he’d gone over the side,
though no one mentioned a crash.

She’d begun lessons immediately,
mateless, then, chauffeurless.
But her musculature betrayed her;
stiffening in tight corners;
five times she was tested.
After a year Allstate dropped her
for damaging parked vehicles.
The CHP said she held their record
for slow moving violations.
Back to riding busses
she let other men take her.

In my dreams, though, they drag on the Highway,
playing “Chicken,” “Pardon My Dust,”
and “Crinkle Fender.”
She careens, he swerves;
the road narrows.
First I’m with one, then the other.
“Slow down!  Let me out!”
I begin crying, and then--
“Stop, please, you’re trying to kill me--
Poppa!  Momma!”

        for Gerrye Payne and Richard Welin

When asked how it’s done,
We, the artfully married,
Hats full of ready homilies,
Pull out predictable allusions
To ourselves as: barnacles,
Still clinging to a ship in drydock,
Or a stubborn pair of apples
Withering on a bare November tree.

More cunningly we’ll move
To conjure clowns
Cavorting in an empty arena
After the circus leaves town,
Or old war horses galumphing
In the aftermath of the big parade.

Shrewdly, we will never show the hand
Revealing us as:  cannibals,
Stranded by a sudden winter,
Donner-passing the time,
Our hunger, and storms away.

Then, by a not so clever sleight of mind
We could delude ourselves the most
If we forget to say
The whole routine is done with mirrors:
When either face shines back a likeness
Of the other’s private yearning.

And, in that fast-shuffle of illusion,
As we respond to what we call,
“Our partner’s desperation,”
That’s how we work our special magic,
The hocus-pocus of this long time coupling.

MARIANNE WARE, born in New York City on March 24th, 1936, now lives in the country near Guerneville, California. She is a 1976 graduate of Sonoma State University. She has coordinated a successful prose and poetry reading series in Sonoma County for a number of years and is the co-founder of the Russian River Women Writers' Workshop. She is also a member of The Poetry Organization for Women, and The Poetry Society of America. She is currently at work in her novel-in-progress, Real Writing.

Special Thanks to Pat Nolan and Doris Green Editions for the facsimile of this book.

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