Another pas suel

They were always dancers,
the women you loved.
You imitated their moves, their steps,
but when their choreography got old
you’d dance away, using what you’d learned,
convincing yourself that artistry hid cruelty.

You’d spot another dancer
and start over to learn
a bolero
a soft shoe
a quadrille.
Then you’d leave,
waltzing away again.

I am not a dancer
and so saw a coward’s retreat
instead of a smooth glissade.

Backstage, Luckenbach

The wine buffet is just left
of the table with cocoa-rubbed wild boar
and mesquite-grilled axis deer.

The women in line ahead of me
could be twins: long, flat-ironed hair,
giant sunglasses,
skinny jeans and tall boots,
and the rest of The Look.

The wine guy tells these two
(who are younger and thinner than me):
That’s our plan! Free wine
to all the pretty women.

Amid much girlish laughter
he pours them generous glassfuls.
The women
drift toward the boar.

Which puts me first in line.

The wine guy gazes at something
far away and just over my head,
not acknowledging my existence.
After an awkward pause,
I say
“I’d like some wine, please. Red.”
He slowly refocuses
splashes a bit into my glass
while he tries to conjure up the other two.


The Final Elm

Maybe it was the house north of Steele Hill
or the one southwest of East Afton
but it was the one on a road so insignificant that even
the big atlas didn’t have a number for it

Maybe it was built in the 1930s, as the Depression wound down
or maybe it was built to house a returning soldier,
a once-young man ready for the simple life
of a high plains farmer

Maybe there were elm trees all around, once,
or maybe the trees were only lined up on the west side,
shielding the place from the unending wind

Maybe it was abandoned when the wife died
and the husband did, too, the next winter
or maybe the farmer went broke or sold out to a larger place

but the paint fell away
and the window glass did, too,
and the porch fell down
and the roof caved in

And then the final elm
delivered the coupe de grace
crashing through what was left of the structure
giving it a boost toward oblivion


The color of being old enough

Sixty-four Crayolas –
the box that tinted my childhood.
Midnight Blue was the best, the hue of juvenile dreams:
the color of Sunday stained glass,
of strapless taffeta ball gowns
with tulle underskirts, of glittering
gold-sheathed jewels, of being old
enough to stay up until midnight.

Rose window sentries guard the sanctuary.
Dust floats on cerulean shafts of light,
settling on pews, prayerbooks, penitents –
a bride’s benediction.

In a tumbleweed town, my blue-green dress
balances, for a moment, the raw
sienna sadness
oozing through adobe cracks of life.

A narrow band set with sapphires
rests uncomfortably on my finger,
the stones’ blue coolness unable to
calm hot magenta madness.

The pacific blue midnight sky watches
over my sleepless nights –
a bittersweet reminder of false Crayola promises.

Dancing at the Salvation Army

Cast off televisions,
two dented washing machines, a partly-unraveled
wicker chair, a sun-weathered
beach umbrella, and a rack of donated clothes
crowd the thrift store’s driveway.

An eggplant-colored gown
dusted with rhinestones
hangs at the end of the rack. The wind
catches the thin fabric, throwing shards of light
into the air. Invisible hands
lift the hem in a curtsey
as the dress begins its solitary dance,
backed up by the stag line
of brown and tan shirts
squashed together on wire hangers.


When I Had That Choice

The winter of el niño
snowed stayed on the ground for weeks
receding from bright drifts
to desiccated lengths in ditches,
reddish brown stains leeching from the soil:
giant bloody bandages
stretched out and drying before the next wound appeared.

Those mornings
I wanted to drive on,
until the falling snow became
fat liquid drops squishing on the windshield,
until the icy fog turned warm,
until I could smell the salt in the air,
air that stayed warm
even in the winter of el niño.

But in that winter of el niño
when I had that choice
between cold or hot
between snow or warm humid air,
between the known and what I wanted to learn,
I chose what I knew,
understanding that eventually
those bandages would be for me.


Wonderbra Soldiers

Almost simultaneously
a score of SUVs arrive,
adorned with bumper stickers for recently-victorious Republican candidates.
Society girl drivers check their look in lit visor mirrors –
when mascaraed lashes, Lancômed lips, carefully careless hair
are perfect, they emerge
in the uniform of the season:
slouchy shoulder bags
white shirts tight across Wonderbra breasts
capri pants showing fake-tan legs
casually expensive shoes.
As though choreographed
they open passenger doors
and help small daughters climb down.
Juggling children, beach towels, birthday gifts
the entourage parades to the party room.
they discard gifts, towels, daughters
and stand in a clump, blocking the door.
Little girls,
all blonde and dressed to echo their mothers.
strip down to their pink swimsuits
and march away, like a team of tiny synchronized swimmers.
Society girl perfume draped on the air
overpowers even the pool chemicals.
I start to leave, picking my way
past pink girls, gossipy moms.
Lacking their protective coloring
I am the one who becomes invisible.
Neither groups moves aside:
they do not budge for one who is not
a soldier in their identical army.

(Previously published in Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)

La agua de México

On early morning sidewalks
beneath soiled skies,
residents and shop owners swab away
yesterday’s footsteps.

Gaunt men with yellow brushes
clean Benito Juárez’s bone-white marble feet.
Young boys wash two cars
from a single pail of sudsy water.

Near the corner stand
bicycle bells scratch through the morning
as vendors transfer a slab of ice from bike basket
to orange plastic crate
where it will take all day to melt,
cooling the jumble of Coca, Pepsi, Peñafiel.

In la catedral,
a mother holds her little daughter to the font
guiding her hand – forehead, chest, shoulder, shoulder –
then helps the girl kiss her thumb
before they hurry down the aisle.
A fledgling priest begins Mass
with bursts of water from antique aspergillum.
Plumb-bob chandeliers
illustrate the tilt of the old church,
pulled down sideways into the ancient Aztec lake.

Delivery trucks honk their way
through complicated traffic,
their cargo of 20-litre containers of water
for tall office buildings on la Paseo de la Reforma.
On la calle de Niza
shelves at el super K crowded with water jugs
beckon like pale, valuable gems,
while around the corner, hotel maids
leave two new bottles on the cheap plastic tray
in the tiled, fluorescent bathroom.

Courtyard fountains
lure babies to sleep, an easy transition
from amniotic swoosh.
Statues of myth, of revolution,
bathe daily in splashing spray
in centers of palmy glorietas.

In the patio of Hotel del Cortés
elderly waiters deliver tall limonadas,
one careful ice cube each.
Beer ordered con lima receives four cubes,
a quarter-cup of lime juice,
a salted-rimmed tumbler.

Mid-afternoon cloudburst causes commuters
leaving the Metro at Copilco to stop,
fold barely-read newspapers into inadequate hats,
then splash up stairs,
now a waterfall from the rain.

Boutique clerks on avenida Presidente Masarik
put squares of brown cardboard over polished granite steps.
Thick drops splat against rolled-down plastic walls
of sidewalk cafes in la Zona Rosa.

After the storm
rain remains puddled in broken sidewalks.
An old woman brooms water away from her flower stand,
the hem of her pea green skirt drooping and damp.
The beggar who squats between the María Isabel Sheraton
and Starbucks
returns to her post,
left hand cupped and outstretched.

(c)Melinda Green Harvey

The apparition speaks

Are you his people?

I was at home that day, the day
it happened.
I was waiting
on my son to come by
to carry me up to St. Joe
for my sister’s funeral. I’d just
lost my husband,
you see,
and wasn’t up to the drive.

Those two cars hit
and there was a fire
and that boy and his little dog
You could hear the dog, too,
for a minute,
but it seemed longer.
An ambulance came, of course –
closest one is in Sedalia – but by then
it was just too late.

His people do come by
and put out new flowers.
I get my grandson
to mow around it.

No, it doesn’t bother me
to have this
outside my window.

But I can still remember
that little dog’s howl.

(Benton County, Missouri, 2006)

The only other highway

The Only Other Highway

The scene plays out:
a young family driving to Presidio
for Christmas never arrives.

The children’s gifts,
purchased only the day before
at Family Dollar,
help fuel the roadside inferno
that melts asphalt and turns an elm’s rough bark to charcoal.

Life looks good. After too many years
of seasonal work – a flagman on the highway
one year, the cantaloupe harvest in Pecos another –
he has a steady job with the propane company,
making deliveries to ranches all over the county.
She’s checking groceries at Thriftway, her first job
since high school.

Feliz Navidad, indeed.

They leave later than he wants to – there’s no way
to make it to mass at Santa Theresa
unless he can make up time on the roads,
roads he’s driven his whole life.

Three-across in the back seat,
the kids speculate about their presents,
giggle about seeing their abuelitas again.
Their noise gets on his nerves. Just where the highway curls
around Cathedral Mountain, he turns his head
to snarl “¡Callense!” toward the back seat.
He misses the curve,
but not the elm.

In February, unable to drive past the four crosses another time,
he throws what matters into his car,
leaves the key where the landlord will find it
and takes the only other highway out of town,
escaping this new prison.

When he runs out of gas in Las Cruces
he figures it’s as good a place as any to start over.