The Novodny girl back then

One time she hid behind the group room’s bookrack and another
in a lavatory stall, always
someplace where invisibility,
like crabs in the down-there hair,
seemed possible.
Then she did it to herself while sighing
and thinking thoughts too complicated
for anyone to guess. Her mind
was the Milky Way, light-years beyond
chipped beef on toast in the lousy cafeteria.
She was a bear hibernating in a snow-blocked cave
as, nearby, lake-ice creaked
at the bottom of the hill in her head.
Masturbating, for her, was
a lifetime occupation.
The wind
hummed in the trees as she floated,
a wisp of smoke above the steelmill
at the town’s north edge.
But escape didn’t happen. The officials
found her out, removed
her clitoris and taught her
how to pray.
According to what one patient told Matthew’s aunt, Nurse Wukoski,
doctors took the sawed-off little penis
and placed it in a box, which afterwards
they periodically opened, so other
disobedient inmates might know where the trigger
of the joyful Luger goes
when the lights blink out.


In childhood
by the barbed wire fence,
an act of violence.

A stranger, passing in the night,
strangled to death
an iris’s scent.

Under an apartment window,
his cigarette flickered, a signal
to no one
of absence’s arrival.

That night, a woman, unaware
of eyes browsing her hair, slept
while in her dream wolves howled long ago
in Idaho. She awoke
in the Brass Rail Bar on the corner.
“Mommy, let’s go home,”
her daughter begged.

Where is the strangler now,
where the sleeper?
And if she returns, what kind
of noises will she make,
a human’s or a blackbird’s?

Once Bill Muller thought he saw her walking
near the gully west of Stensen’s house.

On the wall above my kitchen table
hangs a picture of her daughter. I cut it
from a milk carton
a long time ago.


All day the guard, overweight
and with a mustache, tells visitors how yesterday
one of the sharks died and had to be

removed. Now
he laughs, “Your shoelace
is orange”
to an old lady, her elbow held by a middle-aged man
with a guitar tattooed on the back
of his right hand. It’s almost

closing time and the dark outside
is the color of the car grease under the man’s fingernails or of the print
in the book he found years ago
under the drillpress

in the humidifier factory
where he used to work
a few miles to the north. As he turns away

from the tank, he wonders, like every other visitor
that day, what the dead shark looked like
floating around. Meanwhile, the guard

observes everything, how the old woman moves
forward inch by inch in her walker while
the man with her, maybe
her son, looks around
not knowing

how he got there
or where the exit is or even if
there is one.  

The Way Eventually Rejected

“. . . we step out from our shores.”
-- Marina Tsvetaeva

The blackened salmon on the plate
at the table’s edge, that’s what I want
I say as I wake up on the grass.

“You must’ve been dreaming,”
Don tells me from his perch on a rock.
I blush, knowing
that remembering what’s a dream and what’s not is important.

Below, the Pacific pounds boulders. The spray,
ungraspable as always, is thinner
than Auntie Helga’s reveries.

I go into the old stone church to pray.
Next door, Pastor Green once fell down
the stairs leading to his apartment, after which
his sister moved in.

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be . . .”
The ocean wild below us, Don cuts in:
“You haven’t been there in twenty years.”
“Where?” I ask.
“In the fucking church!” he bellows.
“I want my blackened salmon!” I insist.

Don shakes his head.

“You’re drunk again,” he states disgustedly.


Like everything else,
it depends on how you look at it,
how your eye grips the stem
then crawls up and pries open the petals
in search of the delicate stamens within.

Fascinated by it, I place the flower
in a small water-filled jar on a shelf
and watch its radiance ooze,
melted butter from a dairy with no name,
all over the room.

My little flower, the last thing I have left.
At least no one will steal it;
it’s too imbecilic.

© 2008 Underground Voices