Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2002

Poems by Alice Ann White

January 27, 2002


no more than four

i must have been no more than four
a tiny smiling child with popsicle stains on her shirt
in the picture a yellow t-shirt with a blue brontosaurus on the front
no pants on, just my underwear and a band-aid on my knee
running around barefoot in the grass with my big sister, hopi

we were in the old house then
a garden was a farm to me then

dad said i had to stay away from the well
a stone circle wall with a roof on top and a bucket on a rope
just like snow white sang into when the prince first came
daddy said to stay away from the well
through the kitchen window i'd sneak looks at it
and my breath would fog the glass in winter

hopi whispered to me one night in bed
she said if i fell into that well i would land in china

we had a bee room in our house
no one could go in because it was filled with bees
they lived in our house before we came
because they liked the yellow flowers in the bushes right outside
i could hear them buzz around all day
with my ear pressed up to white styrofoam wall
those bees were angry, wanted to sting me
and even when the bee man came
left a carpet of dead bees covering the floor
i would not go in that room
hopi said they would be back

tonight i lie and listen to the rain
remember the world of that four year old girl
and though i'm tall and all grown up
i taste the cherry of that popsicle still melting in my hands
in the fading picture i found today
and with my childhood long behind me
i still wonder what is in that well
and will those bees forgive us

A Supplication to the Dread Goddess

Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, protector of cities, hear this prayer.
If I ever loved you and poured you libations with sweetest wine
So many nights and pale rose mornings, do this for me now:

Come sprinkle my chest with ambrosia and nectar
As you did for Achilles when you flew from Olympus
To where he lay on the ground, tearing his hair out over Patroclus,
And gave him the strength to save all the Greeks and conquer Troy at last.

Or close my eyelids with your immortal hands
As you did for Odysseus when he crawled onto Phaeacia's shore
After two days of treading Ocean, fighting Poseidon's wrath
And gave him soft sleep to soothe his pain and restore him for his journey home.

Or if you cannot do these things, since I am not a hero and never was,
Then, Goddess, if you can, just stay with me now
And stand beside me as the black fates gather
For this is the hour I need you most, and no one else can save me.

when they broke my jaw they did it just right

i woke up in a white room i couldn't quite make out
and couldn't sit up or talk at all
or remember what had happened
why i was lying there and why no one would give me any water

i mumbled for it and my parents to the nurse
who was trying to feed me ice chips from a paper cup with a tiny wooden spoon
she jabbed into my mouth over and over

and i wanted to throw her on the linoleum floor
so hard she felt like i did
unable to decide if i'd been through a war or hit by a semi in mid-sentence

i hated the smell of the plastic
the oxygen mask the nurse put on my face
when my shaking finally stopped the ice chips
it smelled like death and nursing homes
and the air was making my lungs dirty

when i noticed my left arm asleep at my side
there was crusted, dried blood all up it and red instead of clear liquid
flowing through a tube leading down from above
and into the needle stuck in a vein on the back of my hand
they must have had to use the extra blood they said i wouldn't need

i was contaminated with it, the filthy red all inside me and left there spilled on my arm
and i couldn't move my lips,
swollen up over where my top jaw had been screwed to bone and sewed in place
to tell the nurse to just let me die

when they broke my jaw they did it just right


i didn't know dandelions were weeds
until my mother told me
i thought that they were beautiful
in the spring, primary yellow with jungle green leaves
sprouting up everywhere
they were strong and smiling,
wild and what a lovely name
lions in my own backyard
who turned to wishes when the summer came
i had breath enough for all of them

but in the kitchen once, she told me
when i brought her a dandelion bouquet
that they were weeds and sucked the life
out from the flower bed and from our climbing tree
and that summer i knelt down in the grass
on my knees beside her for our revenge
and we pulled at those weeds all day together
till we were good and dirty and sweaty in the sun
and we'd killed all the lions, one by one

fighter jet september

that was the fall that fighter jets raided my dreams
each night, they zoomed above our roof and the whistle sound would make me wince
as bombs dropped through the ceiling, leaving shrapnel with me in the sheets
and i'd wake up panting, looking for cover, wet with sweat that felt like blood,
the hot streams flowing down my face in muddy red
until i turned the lights on

that was the fall i walked home from school and wouldn't take the bus
and i'd kick the rotting leaves in the gutters, trying to shake out
the things i'd seen and would see again
when i'd fall asleep

and hear them coming for me
the men whose faces i never could make out, in groups of twelve or twenty-two
who wore all black and always could catch up and didn't care
that this was my dream, my head, my bed they were ravaging,
tearing it up until the only things left were
bits of pillow and bloodstained pajamas and the lone head of my teddy bear

that was the fall my mother told me
the news was no good anymore, and when the same thing was on all the stations
she'd turn the tv off and say, let's play a game
how could she guess that even the little green houses in the monopoly box
and the tiny top hat and thimble piece
would turn against me in my dreams, spiraling down from the swarming jets
with grenades and little notes that said,

nice try, but remember
you can't stay awake forever

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