I lap up clean the halocline,
That place where two waters
Meet, salty and fresh, martyrs
Washed of their individual souls.
I lap up their milky effect like cream,
Dazed by it as I nap in muscled ease,
Egyptian in my tendencies.
The great River Nile knows me—
But I drink from a different place:
Daytime hallucinations beneath
Closed lids. Within short, unfettered sleep.
Silky white and brackish on my tongue.
I become the night, speak to my dream
In rhythmic silence languidly taken.
Witness through brush of whiskers in
Dust-worn darkness ghosts stolen
From graves beneath each golden
Pyramid by dry slanderers of time.
Rending, ribboning, ransacking crime.
I don’t care, accustomed to forever.
Not fleeting, but a slow unwind.
Then I roll, and awake.
To My Grandmother, a Letter
Dear Grandma Myrna,
I’m a little late in writing this,
Seeing as you died when I was 16.
I’m 42 now and still pissed
At how you died: heart burst open—
Every morning your husband gave you coffee,
So sweet, except for that undetectable poison.
Here I am, remembering you, an attorney
Like me. Also a lover of poetry,
Art, animals, and good pecan pie.
I inherited your long fingers, but can’t play
Piano with any of your virtuosity.
I can’t trust people like you did.
I’m always looking for the lie.
Watching who pours my drink or coffee.
At 24,—you were dead by then—me,
Drugged and raped by a false friend.
I didn’t die, but at the time, I sincerely
Wanted to. My heart burst open
In a different way, but the same:
Broken of love and trust. A ghost.
What I miss about you the most
Are your Thanksgivings. All the food.
(I now aspire to one day have a deep freeze
Stocked with homemade pies.)
How you invited all those people
From Jesus House, even though we’re Jewish.
It was the right thing to do. They were hungry
In so many ways. “Eat, eat, eat!”
You would say, and your cat, one of many,
Would swish his plumy black tail, white
Worms crawling from his pink puckered ass,
As your guests would pass platters of turkey,
Stuffing, and cranberry sauce, boats of gravy.
Just like one big family in Oklahoma, with us
As outsiders: near strangers from California.
I always called you “Grandma Myrna,”
Not “Gram” like my other grandmother,
Or “Granny,” or just plain “Grandma.”
Always more formal, more distant, yet
A little sad and shadowed. The dirty secret
That you abandoned my mom as a toddler.
Married another man, then twice again after that.
My mom taught us to say “Grandma Myrna,”
Smile shiny and bright as your black grand piano.
And do you know? My mom still loves you
With the eyes of that toddler,
Hungry for whatever you gave her.
Wishing for a feast, but always getting the deep freeze
Concealed as a dimpled smile and warm hug.
So close to the surface, she still is a child, my mother.
To her, your sunny love would have brought peace.
She still sees things as she did back then, you know.
A child wanting to control how it would go,
But no control over anything and starved for love.
You abandoned her to your own mother.
Bitter orange juice every morning.
She watched your younger brother
Dying on the sofa, while you played cards
Lounging on a sofa across town. Red lipstick.
My grandfather used to throw you over his knee
For wearing that lipstick, made you laugh,
But you left him and that little girl
Who only wanted to be like you.
Instead, she circled us with love,
As best she knew how, even though she
Married a man who beat her children—beat me,
Just like your next husband beat her.
So off I went to my other grandmother,
Just like she went off to hers. A parallel story.
My mother worshiped you, if you must know.
Sang your praises. When I see your obituary,
Which she wrote, I think,
I have a lot of stepping up to do.
You, a concert pianist,
First female law student at your university,
The only one in your graduating class.
I have your 1945 copy of Leaves of Grass
About which I wrote another poem.
You at age 17, longing to be older,
Wiser, more knowing. I wonder
About all the love you had for the world,
But what you did not mature to wisely know—
Love for your own daughter.
I think of you, shutting my mom out,
Closing your heart. I think of her,
My mom at age three,
Alone in a strange house at night
Without you, her mother.
Yet, my heart breaks as I imagine
You warming yourself,
That last cup of coffee.
Not an act of love, but
Poison hurled your heart
Into so many shards of light.
Karen Poppy has work published in The Cortland Review (Best of the Net nomination), Naugatuck River Review ( 11th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Finalist), The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, ArLiJo, and Wallace Stevens Journal. Her chapbook, CRACK OPEN/EMERGENCY, is published by Finishing Line Press (2020), and she has another chapbook forthcoming with Finishing Line Press, as well as one with Homestead Lighthouse Press. One of her poems has recently been selected by 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith, for her national radio show and podcast, The Slowdown. An attorney licensed in California and Texas, Karen Poppy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.