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DELAWARE POETRY REVIEW
Jeanne Murray Walker
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PUBERTY

The woowoo of my brother’s American Flyer
promised to carry me across some border
beyond the plaster of Paris mountain to green
ruggy meadows, where three thumb sized
elephants and one llama were perpetually
rounded up by a tiny German Shepard.
No hurry, but someday I’d wait with the plastic people
at the station. How sophisticated, the miniature
business man reading his toy paper, how stylish
the tiny women, chattering of sales and children
in their silver voices. If they had sent their voices
in thimbles to where I leaned in the sky above them,
still, I wouldn’t comprehend their meaning.
What did I know? As the train pulled around
the bend, it burped out bitter smoke. Its searchlight
arced across the track ahead, and in that sweep
I saw this was my final chance. I lowered
my gigantic child’s body rung by rung
till I could plant my sneaker, no bigger
than a grain of rice, on the first step.
The tiny station master took my arm
and with a deafening click, shut tight
his tiny watch. And we pulled away.

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~

AFTER IMAGE

He holds her down and crams his fist
of gravelly snow against her neck
until a fireworks of ice explodes inside
her shirt, and her eyes brim. That some
grimy fingered, snot-nosed boy who can't even
say his R's has worked her like a puppet!
Nights she lurches up sweating, pebbles
of terror knocking at her heart. No matter
how many quilts she sleeps under, or
what degrees she earns, she hasn't wrenched
his red fingers from her neck
even though somewhere he must be
selling linoleum, wandering streets,
or lying in his grave, ignorant of how
he comes to her nightly, forgetting
the day when ice and his torn
clothes and nothing in his lunch box
made him crazy. Around them
who saw it? Mr. Nelson plowed the street.
Mother inside the house made dinner.
No one raised a flag or noticed
the ceremony that made them one forever.

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~

TEACHING ANNABELL TO READ

Then one day I turn the spigot
and warm water slides through my fingers,
causing Annabell to walk into the room
from a thousand miles and thirty years ago,
our classmate who never washed her hands
after she peed. Miss Gifford has given up on her,
passed her on to me, her poorer chance.
And if I can't teach her, who will
take her in? She needs someone to pull
her socks up, brush her hair, release
the tic that shrugs the curtain of her cheek
to one side. When she sits down
in the chair beside me, I try to feed her
consonants, a spoonful at a time.
She twists her mouth around each one,
blowing it out with a little jerk of pain
until it breaks apart like dandelion seeds.
We could both eat for years from
the alphabet I cultivate in my desk
but she can't keep anything down.
T's and L's scatter like bits of vegetable soup
on her sweater and sputter like sparks
going out. Will she walk into her savage life
without a light? We stand at the mouth
of her cave, where I can hear bats scratching
on her walls. She pirouettes and smiles,
lifting her dirty palms. If I knew how,
I would turn on the faucet and let the water
run until we could both drive our hands
into happiness like lifeboats, her story
stretching out behind us like a wake.

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About the Poet

Jeanne Murray Walker's latest book of poetry is A Deed to the Light (The University of Illinois Press).  Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Image, American Poetry Review, and The Atlantic Monthly.  Among her awards are an NEA Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship in The Arts, The Glenna Luschi Prize and seven Pennsylvania State Council on the Arts Awards.  Jeanne is also a playwright whose work has been produced across the United States and in London.  Married and the mother of two children, she lives in Philadelphia and is a Professor of English at The University of Delaware.
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