REBECCA HOVLAND

I Knew

 

She could have done it any day, but

it is tonight she chooses to tell us.

The night the window panes shudder

with the growling bass of thunder,

mechanical hum of the house subsiding—

electricity gone, lightning piercing

the dark every thirty seconds. I’d known

the news was coming—heard the hushed

phone calls, the clatter of dishes over

whispered fights. I’d seen my father’s

weighted steps to their bedroom

and my mother’s lips tightening above

the bread she sliced and the broth she salted.

I’d stand behind doors, ear at the crack,

listening for more, but hoping it wouldn’t

come, hoping that if I pretended nothing

was different, nothing would change.

But tonight is just us—my mother, my sister

and I. We search in the dark for candles—

Balsam Yankee jars, stubs of wax with crumbling

wicks, Diamond matchbox in the spice

cupboard. We gather quilts and pillows

to layer onto my mother’s bed. She draws

us close on either side of her, folding us

into her sides, tucked beneath the bends

of her elbows. Yellow glows on our cheeks

from the shifting flame on the nightstand.

We are safe from the low rumbling

that swells into roaring and flashing outside,

the rain drumming on the roof. Our bodies

grow heavy against her as she puts

a hand on each of our foreheads, smoothes

back hair and sleep, then leaves her warm

palms to rest on the tops of our heads, as if

to weigh her thoughts. Girls, she says,

Can you look at me? Slow, we turn our chins

toward her face. I know what’s coming, want it

to stop—I feel the warmth of the flame leave

my cheeks and leave a chill in my stomach.

Your father and I are getting divorced, she says.

She said it, and because there’s no taking it back,

we shrink away from our mother like flimsy

paper held to the candle on the nightstand. 

Belonging

 

My sister and I lie like starfish in the intersection,

where Orchid Road meets County 189 meets

our driveway, spread across gravel rocks that poke

sharp corners into jeans, shoulders, backs of heads. 

Home from school for groceries, laundry, a bonfire

tomorrow with old friends, we stare into the July

night—buzzing with the drone of crickets-bullfrogs-

cicadas, the whistling rustle of swaying cornstalks.

The deep, black sky pockets us, shields us

from traffic, worries, even from time. It stretches

on forever, past the sketch of the Big Dipper, the three

specks that line Orion’s belt, the creamy haze

of the Milky Way—and I wonder where I belong.

Only back for a little, not long enough to do the things

we did before we grew up and got busy: pull

on puddle boots and wade thigh-deep in ditchwater,

climb evergreens so high our hair mats

with sticky-sweet sap, stack fallen branches

into forts. I look down the raised strip of grass

that winds along the center of the driveway, untouched

by tires. Thick trees fold around the farmhouse,

its shingled roof, weathered, white siding, dirty

awnings curling over windows—the place I forget

to call home when I’m away. I press my back

into raised bumps and deep grooves, close my eyes,

smell the fresh air, ripening corn, damp soil

and summer grass. This belongs to me. 

Caravaggio’s Magdalena*

 

 

I watch her from the shade of a portico,

stone column at my back, three strides

over sun-warmed bricks to reach her—this

large-breasted, plain girl who rests on a doorstep.

Auburn hair tangles over her shoulders, head sags

like the soiled lace across her chest. A pause

before she moves again, curved over a basket

of linens she pulled from the line strung

in the narrow space between houses—housekeeper

by day, prostitute by night. I know how men

approach her with wine-soured breath, lean down,

their faces shining with grease. And lust. They slip

coins under folded hands on her lap; her cue

to rise, to lead them through the door behind her.

 

No need for seduction in daylight—thin lips

slack, mouth turned down, though skin is still

velvet to a rough hand. I don’t seek to penetrate

her body, but to capture it—the delicate splay

of fingers across her lap, the fragile creases

under her chin, her nostril puckering the soft

rose of her cheek. And the shadow that brings

her brows close together over downcast eyes.

I already know what my brush will do: ring

her arched wrists with silver bracelets, attach

a pearl to the lobe of her ear, stroke

a tear down the length of her nose.

 

I breach those three strides across the street;

her white face turns toward me—the deep hollows

of her eyes don’t reflect the sunlight. I take

her hand, brush my lips against it, gentle

like paint on canvas. Il tuo nome? I ask, releasing

her hand. Anna, she says, each syllable soft, slow.

Anna, I say. La mia Magdalena.