It’s when she drops to sleep in some odd spot,
the floor, a chair, curled to her beginnings,
hitchhiker’s thumb lodged in her mouth,
index finger compulsively brushing
the tips of her lashes, blue pulse
beating like a fast drip at her temple,
shaking the translucent face; it’s when
the whining and the stamping have
knocked her cold, and we find ourselves able,
like faith-healed cripples, to end a sentence,
complete a thought, stretch into the silences
that punctuate our talk: fear
at our impatience, fatigue at her will,
panic at her fragility and need;
it’s when the leaves of marriage go small
time-backward, glowing, tender, and petals float upward
to blossom on the twigs, that we catch ourselves
struggling, like novice gardeners, to separate
the honeysuckle from the sweet autumn
clematis, train one vine to the left, its neighbor
to the right, so each might thrive without
laying hold of the other, and bloom the summer
in parallel waves, knowing which
is who and who is which as if
both would forget if left to themselves
to reach and tangle and thicken to a cloud.
Through the Grate
I used to listen to my mother’s nightmares
through the grate of the heating duct at the end of my bed.
Pressing my cheek to the warm iron, I’d hear her,
like an antique radio or a long distance call,
mid-conversation: talking, pausing, talking again,
her voice becoming louder, sharper. Then yelling:
Nein! Nein! Nein! Bitte!—half-sobbing,
and my father woken up: it’s ok, it’s ok . . .
At first they whispered (I pressed hard, held
my breath) but soon, if I was lucky, she’d go on.
Often about me, snatched and carried away
while others held her back; I’d see myself flailing,
kicking, biting to the bone. In her dreams, I always lost.
Long after they’d gone quiet, I’d still be listening,
to the boom . . . boom of the contracting ducts,
the ticking, the tinny resonance, as if the place
that I’d been carried to was a room in her mind,
and she and I were waiting now for the same thing:
the clicking to life of something deep and hidden
with a wuoof of fire, the shuddering walls, the rumble
and roar, the steady, burning exhalation.
Marcel Gauthier received his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was a Randall Jarrell Fellow. He is also the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the question of authenticity in contemporary formal verse. He has published individual poems or small groups of poems in a variety of journals over the years, but most recently in Poet Lore, The Louisville Review, the Spoon River Poetry Review, and Still Home, an anthology of poems generated by Hub City Press in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A lifelong educator, he is currently the Assistant Head of School at the Waterford School outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.