Three poems

Dream Lover

All those nights I wanted John
to call. See how good? See
how really good I can quit you?

But he didn’t listen. Or call.
Just shows up in a dream last week
with the past slung over his shoulder,

Sinatra-style. This time’ll be
different. No fists. I fix him
dinner. We never get to eat.

When Mama phones next day,
she asks about my men,
rich ones, kind ones,

ones she might have dreamed
for herself on those nights
she faked sleep. Daddy came in,

tore her from the bed, shook her
upside down like a corn flake box.
Next day, the bruises, the flowers
stinking with other women.

But that was then.

Now, when Mama calls,
we talk of the good times.
Then, when she asks about my men,

I think of John, with nothing
to do all day but let gin click fine
down his throat. I think tonight
he might show up in a dream,

and even if I try to hide,
pull up the covers nice and tight,
he’ll just work himself through
like a big toe.

And me? I’ll be waiting there
to cook for him same as always,
and when Mama phones next day,
asks about my men, I’ll say
“kind, Mama. They are rich,
they are gentle, they are very, very kind.”

Hand Model, photograph by Nate Stein
Hand Model, photograph by Nate Stein

My Cousin’s Hands

are famous. They’ve posed nude
in ladies’ magazines, skinny-dipping
in the lush, indecent suds
of dishwashing liquid.

In one pose, my cousin’s hands
pull a champagne flute from the water.
She caresses it like it was part
of a man. Her fingers spread
and languid, white bubbles hanging
from them like a falling negligee,
the glass going rigid under her touch.

Over the years, I’ve heard men
tell me they’d like to meet
my cousin’s hands.

Party, 1991

The coats lie in the bedroom,
a cart of tubercular bodies
whose souls have slipped off
to dance. I follow mine
to the living room. Pan shot –
elbow of moonlight through
the mini-blinds, everyone
with a gorgeous face on.

I twist inside the fabric
of my own skin. But that’s the last
layer I could peel down to.
Next step’s blood and bone.

And just then, John struts in,
new face, eyelids sloped
like a suicide run. He fires
up a Marlboro,
blows out steam, not smoke.
Soon, we’re dancing a foxtrot
of innuendo, eye contact
like a polar pull.
Where’s my life been
all my life?

God, it’s a sin
to want a man
I don’t even know.
But I’m breathing Marlboro
fumes like a mystic
fog. John’s all man-sweat
and leather. Insanity perfume.

And just then fear
of AIDS comes tapping
like a horn-rimmed toad
trying to cut in.
John sees him, too,
cause he whispers,
whiskey-low, we can do
other things.

Sure, I think, safe.
Safe like 15 years
ago, Jimmy’s Bar,
rum a la moonlight.
Across the room, a stranger’s face.
Tornado watch. But I’m stuck
with this creep who says
it’s time to switch to Cokes.
That wimp. He’s that same stupid geek
who is right now standing
at the curb, my car keys dangling
from his white and bony hand.

–Francine Witte