Marilyn Kallet is the author of 14 books, including Packing Light: New and Selected Poems (Black Widow Press, 2009). She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, and teaches poetry workshops for the Virginia Center in Auvillar, France.
Lines I Can’t Cross
When I don’t enter the lava tube,
I’m my father, stalled
at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel,
sweating and praying,
my Grandma Anna
locked in steerage, then in her airless apartment
on Coney Island, yellow paint peeling,
When I don’t enter the lava tube,
I’m me, December 28, 1946.
They took me from my mother.
My bassinette, a hospital drawer.
There are lines I can’t cross.
Kapu, Hawaiians say,
when the Marchers of the Dead
When I don’t put on kneepads
and a helmet,
when I don’t crawl back in,
when I don’t enter the dark tube,
I’m still closed in.
God of spaces open and
narrow, God of desert
sun, sunless places,
help me be less narrow.
Let my daughter
live more fearlessly
than me. Keep her
resilient like the o´hia
first to grow back out of lava,
waving red blooms
over the shoulders of ghosts.
The neighbor’s baby goats wail like human infants,
bawl for milk, sound off
when they’re afraid, when I run by.
They can’t see their mother.
Louder, they bawl for milk, sound off
as I jog by the wooly sirens.
When they can’t see their mother,
these babies freak out. I’m their Godzilla.
As I jog by the wooly sirens,
my nipples tingle, hot
with milk-needles. I freak out—I’m 62.
Can’t be! But this is summer, Hawai’i-nei!
When they can’t see their mama, I’m Godzilla.
Neighbor goats wail like my long-ago baby girl.
At Red Cinder
“The only man in the house
is Mr. Coffee!” the director says.
We women laugh with her.
At sixty-two, we think,
“That’s okay.” Or pretend to.
Here on the Island women’s
bodies hold sway.
Pele appears barefoot at
the geologic station,
helicopters try to rescue her
have seen her move
in murals, have given
a white-haired woman a lift
on the loop road. Her hair
brushes against bodies
in the tropical air, her dreaming
wafts through screen doors.
fix their eyes on her.
Not that they want to
sleep with their mothers, no—
they speak a language of respect,
let down thick waves
in the presence
of loved ones, enter the
hula, calling with bodies,
their hands echo
full hips in play.
The old men with ukuleles
croon to American women
someone is dreaming of us, too
We are kin to undulant
pines in the trades,
to green, white, black sand,
to Pele, who one day
will take back not only night
the land that is hers,
shacks and houses with good bones,
the red cinder road,
on her way back to Namaka,
Pele is dreaming back,
before men invented her jealous war
with the sea,
dreaming of Women’s Time,
sisters draw stick families in sand
and laugh like shore birds,
call dream visions
in the spirit of hula, weightless,
fragrant as plumeria.
Even the wild boars lie down drunkenly
on banana leaves.
Here fire is for roasting
and warmth. In the Dreaming World,
before the descent beckoned.
Pele’s sister Kapo possessed a detachable vagina,
unlike us. We can’t distract
wild boars by flinging decoys. In high school, though,
I dated a guy with ADD, bristles, and pig eyes.
Unlike ours, Kapo’s twat was detachable.
She could fling it like a Frisbee. Kamapua’a, the pig-eyed god,
never caught on. I dated a guy like that, dumb, bristles
on his back. One day he was buying me a charm bracelet,
the next, snorting, boring, pig-eyed and dirty.
I’m not saying he was a gigantic eight-eyed hog like
Kamapua’a, but those black bristles down his back,
mood-swings and his rooting around my pants, marked him,
son of a pig. At South Side High, boys grunted like wild boars.
Lucky Kapo, unlike us, she possessed a detachable vagina.
Visit Marilyn’s website.
Visit Marilyn’s Red Room blog.
Order Packing Light: New and Selected Poems
(Black Widow Press, 2009).
Read Marilyn’s ‘Fireflies’ at American Life in Poetry.