On this Night of Stranded Women
In front of the mower repair shop,
a woman holds up a sign
letting those of us in traffic know
she is homeless. Laborers
from the orchards and greenhouses
pause in their trucks to read
her face, resolute in the sharp
evening light of summer.
Her long, white dress floating
above the oily pavement,
is a mist by the time I pass
the nurseries. Orchids, gardenias,
lilies, African violets coved
in a filmy, humid sky. I wonder
later if anyone stopped for her
when two girls at a gas station
in the city ask me to drive them home,
their baby blue eyes petaled in black
mascara. On this night of stranded women,
the moon is pursed like a pale mouth.
The blooms in the nurseries on my way
home still parted in fragrant softness
to receive the shadows. I meant
to whisper a prayer for those at the edge
of the road but I am distracted
with gravel and diesel and orchids,
and all the cruel possibilities weighed
between the roaring stars of headlights,
until I see a mother dog lolling
in the weeds at the shoulder of the road
with her baby, her soft, wild baby.
Taming the River
for my mother on her birthday
She came from a place
where four rivers meet—
Ouachita, Little, Tensas and Black.
A rare confluence of current—
water, spirit, breath and wanderlust,
merging the way the endless thicket
of stars would condense to a quivering
on a stem point of Queen Ann’s Lace,
a single dark red flower at the center.
When the main artery had formed,
the salamanders were jettisoned
in their slick, jeweled skins.
Ribbon snakes, mud turtles rocked
from watery, fossil beds. Pine flats
and tidal marshes became dowsed
in sweet silt, while the cypress pushed
their knees up to pant for breath,
and the baby first wailed on a Monday,
after her mama had cooked breakfast
and served it hot to her farmer husband,
who left early for the cotton fields.
Petals in his pear orchard breaking
that morning into pale pink shivers,
the river raw at its humid brim.
It was a cold May and with no heat
in the house, the baby girl trembled
in her bathwater, was lulled only by the flow
of warmth from beneath her mama’s skin,
the shush-shush of streamlets in her veins.
The baby’s own circadian rhythm,
a meandering path, welling into a thirst
that would grow deep enough to pull at her,
like a bend in the course of a tide without
any eventuality, but a need to travel it.
Nothing in that small town but current,
rising over the flat, flood etched horizon,
and a yearning to find her way back in.
Dogs Barking in the Night
It is an ancient sound, almost
as familiar as the smell of smoke
to the marrow of bone.
I think I can recall it
back to the cradle, where it felt
heavier than the dry weight of kisses
across damp eyelids and more
dispossessed than the emptied hollows
of hunger or whispered lullabies.
It will always be night-speak,
the weight of stars in a dark blue window,
the yearning of earthbound souls
all rhythmic breath and walls
kicked away like warm blankets
in this language of our dreaming—
one to another, back and forth,
and beyond solemn rooftops,
dark quivering leaves,
and territories that cannot be claimed
by fences, instinct, or buried bones.
Laura Sobbott Ross was nominated for a Pushcart Prize both this year and last, and has poetry forthcoming or published in The Columbia Review, Tar River Poetry, Slow Trains, Natural Bridge and The Caribbean Writer, among many others. She was named a finalist for the 2008 Creekwalker Poetry Prize.