Five Poems

Poetry
Chris Abbate


Photo credit: darwin Bell/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Before You Were Here
For Beth

Dad points out the unicorn
in the empty lot along Jordan Lane.
He does this every Saturday night
on the way to my grandparents’ house.
Everyone pretends to see it except me.

When we arrive, Grandma pulls
our wrists into the kitchen,
a bowl of Chex mix and a deck of Bicycle cards
on the table, a Benson and Hedges
dangling between her lips.
Downstairs at Grandpa’s bar,
Ro pours air martinis for me and Steven.
She tops them off with invisible olives.
We toast and drink them down in one gulp.

When Dad calls for us, we stumble upstairs,
tripping over each other like we’re drunk.
He stands behind Mom,
his hands on her shoulders,
and announces we are having a baby.

Grandpa goes to the liquor cabinet
for a bottle of champagne.
His twelfth grandchild—
they are cheaper by the dozen, he says.
We feel Mom’s stomach for a bump.
Grandma calls into it,
promises to spoil you rotten.
Steven and Ro make a bet
about whether you’re a boy or girl.
They tell me I will have to burp you
and change your dirty diapers.

The moon follows our car
on the way home.
As we pass the lot again,
Dad asks if I can see the unicorn.
I tried to draw a picture of God once,
but drew a sunflower instead.
Now, I squint into the dark
and imagine you—
a shimmering body and legs,
a long head, nodding.

 

Drawing the Tree

The picture
she drew
of her childhood
was the maple
she climbed;
a respite
from the turmoil
on the ground—
the broken machines
of the day
and the father
who beat
a path
to the garage
searching
for the tools
to fix them.

He took the tree
down one day
without warning,
or explanation.
The earthen heart
of its upturned stump
and dismembered
limbs were strewn
across the yard
like dead soldiers.

As she aged,
the tree became
one more thing
she was deprived of;
an object
of her father’s
combustion.
How little
he knew about her;
all the climbing
she still had to do—
to look down
from above her house
wearing a crown
of leaves,
depths of sky
to fathom.

 

Invisible Roots

Let’s talk in marigolds, mother,
like the orange and yellow blooms
you planted along the stone wall back home
where I sat and posed
on my first day of grade school—
my crisp Oxford you ironed, and clip-on tie,
a White Owl cigar box of school supplies
in my lap, and Buster Browns on my feet.

You knew to capture the moment
before the school bus came—
standing over me in the driveway,
a halo of sun above your head
while I squinted in the light;
head cocked, legs crossed.

I wonder what you thought that day
in the mother’s clothes you wore.
Was it how to fill the fresh silence of a house?
Or finding a name for something you lost?

When the bus, as imminent as any bloom,
turned onto our street
and I stood up to leave
did you sense too,
the invisible roots between us
stretching thin through the lens?

 

Day Care Report
for Ella, December 21, 2013

You won’t remember crying at naptime yesterday,
or soaking your sleeves while washing your hands,
or how apple juice leaked from your bottle
and dripped into your boots.

When I sat at my desk this morning
and read your day care report
the sun peeked into my eyes
beneath the porch awning.

I have always anticipated daylight’s
rise from the ashes of December,
like ancient tombs in Ireland
whose entrances were positioned
so that light might pierce
their inner chamber
for a few fleeting minutes
each winter solstice.

What if all we have of a day
is the sunlight captured in stone?
The recounting of a day care report?
If so, I wish you ones
with no more weight
than you can bear—
with restful sleep,
a clean, dry shirt
and a well-sealed bottle—
knowing that tomorrow will be
a little longer,
a little brighter.

 

Station of the Cross

It was the closest I would ever get to Maggie,
the eighth-grade beauty playing Mary to my Jesus
in our school’s presentation of the fourth Station of the Cross:
a freeze frame of Jesus meeting his mother.

Maggie is kneeling before me in a sky blue robe
and white mantle, a look of compassion on her face,
which I would like to interpret as infatuation
rather than fabricated sympathy for my impending crucifixion.

During rehearsal, Sister Grace instructed me to rest my hand on her head.
But my palm wasn’t sweating then, or quivering like it is now,
because I can’t help but think that I am touching her
when I should be focused instead on saving humanity.

I wanted put down my cardboard cross and confess
to my classmates and their families my feelings for Maggie
despite how she regarded me that day no more than she did the day before.
I would have told them how I was beginning to appreciate Jesus more,

because love isn’t reciprocal, and saviors and boys are mostly misunderstood.
I was sacrificing a piece of my boyhood on that altar;
I had given myself over to an emotion I didn’t understand, and tomorrow
would have no choice but to pick up my cross, spread my arms, and die.

pencil

Chris Abbate’s poems have appeared in Connecticut River Review, Chagrin River Review, and Comstock Review. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award. His first book of poetry, Talk About God, was published in 2017 by Main Street Rag. Chris resides in Holly Springs, NC. Email: chrisabbate[at]yahoo.com