Takoma Park, Maryland, 1970
Out past the greasers' corner and the four-way stops
is the end of the nine-year-old earth:
the Savage Market. Savage long gone, it's run by Joe:
fat man, invisible cigar, heap of a belly,
the boss who palms our mothers' pay
and returns our five-cent pickles
from the dim swimming jar,
our candy rocks and jawbreakers, our foamy tonics.
We always come in from the back, up the alley
by the Gilhooly house (the one that burned,
Mom said, for insurance), around the front
where Joe sits, back to the window,
finger-quick eyes on the stock.
Sometimes, I let the kids with more coin
go on ahead. I stop by the shade of the green iron bin
and gather the spills:
half-shiny caps, crown-edged, each with its bright legend.
Nehi, Dad's, Crass, Crush. Sometimes
a strange make calls: some root beer, usually,
from a place I'll never travel,
or its exotic kin, sarsparilla.
I hold them in my hands, study. I press
their teeth into my white girl-palms. I turn them over.
Sometimes I pick at the cork insides,
looking for their secrets:
numbers, cork-bit runes, a dull half-mirror.
The Problem With Chickpeas
for Joyce Lionarons
The problem with chickpeas isn't
their mutability, their waxy-hard faces
turning soft in the rising embrace
of bubbles. They lay down their lives
to save a sentient protein, disembody
in the hymn of hummus. They have
many names: garbanzo, cicer, Indian pea,
chana, sanaga pappu. They were prayer beads
for Rumi, and their name, to him,
is hidden from us. Small imperfect
spheres, collapsing planets, transformative
clay: their problem is not the ways
they change. It is that they are
humble flesh, cheap in the can, and we cooks
expect so much from them.
Watching Game Shows,
Early Morning, Living Room
Gray faces, gray eyes, gray couture beaming down
from some satellite as if from a planet
where it's always 1953.
Gray, but not dead:
Arlene's earrings bounce, Steve's wit zings,
Joan's arm thrusts the pick-me wave
of every teacher's pet.
Cigarette ads. Spray deodorant in swank bottles.
Swanson dinners. A parade of gray ordinary
people, innocent of Living Color,
let alone YouTube.
It's those humans - women in stick-pinned hats, pimpled
smart alecks, squirming immigrants
condescended to, coddled, handled
like unexploded bombs
by the hornrim men in Cardin and Vitalis -
who seem most like aliens, recovered
from some lost world where no one knows
when to look at the lens,
when to look away.