Laura Ross - "On This Night of Stranded Women," "Taming the River," and "Dogs Barking in the Night."

On this Night of Stranded Women

          Sorrento, Florida

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

across darkness—

 

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.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .