September 1, 2016

Three poems by Nicole Brooks: "Day with Holly Golightly," "The Most One Can Hope For," and "The Poet's Apartment."

Nicole Brooks grew up in West Central Indiana, and has returned home after more than a decade away bouncing around the South and the Pacific Northwest. She is a writer and dance teacher and works in marketing at Purdue University. Nicole has a degree in dance from Butler University in Indianapolis and also in creative writing from Purdue. After earning her master’s degree in journalism from IU, Nicole reported news and feature stories for newspapers in Indiana and Illinois. She is involved with the Lafayette Writers’ Studio.

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Day with Holly Golightly

Oh Holly. Who is to say these quick moments
a sweaty rich man sweating out cologne
and gin
thrusting into you for a few seconds
and then it’s over
are too big a price
to pay for this life you get to lead?

You have the rest of the day
sleep half away
wake to afternoon sun
shuffle about your few rooms
cutting a path in the dust bunnies
in your slippers and silky slip with lace trim.

You scoop powdery Sanka into a mug
pour on boiling water from the kettle
sit before the ashtray on the coffee table
the Vogue magazines, your two keys.

Martini glasses coupled in the cabinet
alongside cat food, a box of spaghetti
hardboiled eggs and cake in the ice box.

Water the plants, scratch the cat’s ear
then an oily bath with jazz
on the record player
no desk, no clock to punch.

Just a black sheath slimmed over smooth thighs
diamonds at your neck and ears
some eyelashes and a French twist.

Out into the early evening’s gold
it is Manhattan, it is 1943
a kind smile to strangers on their stoops
a blown kiss to the cab driver
friends await you around
the restaurant’s corner table.

They pounce and say Miss Golightly!
and light your cigarette
darling this and darling that
surely you will have some champagne.

These friends of yours
are in love with your jawline
and the broken glass of your laugh
you can talk about anything
and say no as you please.

As you do this night
after the tall man leans into the table
draws everyone near and says
“Holly twitches like a filly when excited
don’t you dear?” His cigar rolls around his mouth
as he pats your head and purrs like a cat.

You are having none of that
and no dessert either.

You walk home alone
kitten heels hanging from a hooked finger
past lit kitchens where mothers feed babies
weary, you spend your last dime
on coffee in a paper cup.

The Most One Can Hope For

     I. The Child

Buttoned into my best dress
white gloves and my Sunday hat
I held mother’s hand in the echo
of the airport, sun through the glass
as men in suits carrying cases
and ladies in heels crisscrossed past
attuned to the voice above
speaking numbers and times.

Sit here, she said. You tell me of a safer place for a child.
I smoothed my dress over my knees, crossed
my legs at the ankles. I am walking just down
there, to speak to that man, mother said.
She pointed the direction we’d come.
She walked away from me.
She stopped to turn and look at me.

Mother walked back to me and took my chin
in her hand. I sat and felt myself waiting,
staring at the buttons of her coat. She bent
and kissed me near my nose. Again she turned
and walked away from me. She got smaller.
Never before had she been so far from me,
never before had she been so small.
She turned a corner down the hall we’d come.

I sat swinging my legs crossed at the ankles
my hands stiff cups in my lap. The voice above
called out Indianapolis one time, and a second
and then a final time. I wondered how far
Indianapolis was from Fort Wayne.
The light turned golden, then gray.
I had to go to the ladies room, as my mother called it.

Find a police officer, my mother always said.
I walked to the man in a blue suit.
I felt relief when I saw the badge on his chest.
Sir, I must use the ladies room, I said.
And where is your mother? He asked.

He took my hand
and led me to a counter where emerged
a soft blonde woman who smelled of roses.
Oh darlin’, she said, her arm around my shoulders.
Come. She stood on the other side of the bathroom door asking
Who brought you to the airport today?
What did your mama say? Did your mama have a bag with her?
A suitcase? Where is your daddy?

The woman sat with me in a small room, two beige chairs
before a desk with beige walls around us.
Another man in a blue suit was on the telephone
on the other side of the desk. The rose-woman patted
my hand. No answer there, the man said. You’re a good
girl for knowing your telephone number, he said.
Again he held the telephone. I watched the woman’s
plump hand on mine. After 29 pats the man said
your father is coming after you.
It’s a bit of a drive. You’ll wait here with us.
Are you hungry, sugar? The woman asked.
I pulled off my hat.

      II. The Father

I was just getting used to my new wife and her four children.

Sundays were now my favorite days.
Breakfast together, the light bouncing
off the table, coffee on, sharing the newspaper.
The children came and went. My wife and I
went to church. After, we’d smoke on the porch,
the children riding past on their bikes,
cutting the cool pure air, rattling the leaves.
My wife and I then drifted into our own afternoons,
mine in the garage, hers in the kitchen, looking ahead
to dinner. This quiet life. It is everything.

I was waxing the Buick, the sky turning pink
and orange around me, thinking
I’d paint the back fence before winter,
when my wife called me to the telephone.
The man said he was security at the Fort Wayne airport,
where I’d once worked. He’d heard of me,
of my medal and the Nazi flag I’d captured.
Your little girl is here, he said. We’ve called the mother’s house,
he said. Several times. I’ve sent an officer over and no one’s home.
Your girl is fine, he said. When can you get here?

My wife’s lips were thin, pressed white when I set the phone
in its cradle. What has that crazy woman done now?
my wife asked, her cracked red hands twisting a kitchen towel.
I couldn’t answer her. I couldn’t break the calm. I gathered
my wallet, my coat. As I backed out of the drive I thought
where will we fit another bed?

     III. The Mother

I am 70 but my doctor says my heart is 80.
My daughter is 50. I’ve been told she is visiting me today.

When the nurse brings her and she sits opposite my chair I see
clearly that she is mine. But more beautiful than I ever was.
I have been trying to find you, she says.

As my daughter talks she takes my hands in hers. Her hands
are bedazzled in silver and turquoise rings, paint under her nails.
Are you an artist, I interrupt her. Yes, her eyes flash. She squeezes
my hands but very gently.

She talks: I only recently found out. That the story was a lie. My whole life
I was told you abandoned me in the Fort Wayne airport when I was six.
I grew up believing you had left me. Everyone told me. My dad told me.

I ran around on him, I interrupt. I was a cat. He was a bore.

Isn’t it strange I can remember what didn’t happen, she says.

It’s a story you were told, I say.

As the afternoon fades into golden evening she tells me her stories.
Her daughter the dancer who loves fossils and animals. Her travels.
Her paintings and sculptures. She plays the violin.

These are the best sounds I’ve ever heard. When she pauses
to take a sip of her tea I tell her, you’ve given me the most
I could ever hope for.

My child turns her face to the window and its fireball of a descending sun.
I can see she is telling herself not to cry.

It’s a long drive for me to get here, she says. But I can come every month.

Or you could stay right here, I think but do not say. We could ask
for an extra bed in my room, I think but do not say. We could go back
to that Sunday morning your father threw me out for the final time.
That morning you were six and I was almost 26 and I read “Go, Dog, Go!”
to you dressed in your footed pajamas with dried milk in the corners
of your little pink mouth and me in my dress from the night before
stinking of smoke and gin and with runs in my stockings.

I say: Well, honey, that would be more than I could hope for.

The Poet’s Apartment

She is making tea. Padding around this cold London apartment in a robe with her stringy dirty-blonde hair.
Five rooms: dark front room, loo, children’s room, her bedroom I never see, a kitchen.
     You know everything, the poet says to me. So I am uncertain why you are here.
I believe you have something to give me, I say.
The poet is a slow pinball rolling from room to room, shuffling, never still.
Her short tour stops in the doorway to the children’s room. The poet’s boy and girl are asleep in their beds.
The children’s one window, a square of moonlight between them, is cracked open an inch. The poet and I hear the music of couples walking arm in arm. A play has let out in another neighborhood. The poet gently removes a bee from her tangle of hair.
Can’t we light a fire, I ask.
She has no wood, plus the flue is corroded.
     The kitchen is warmest, she says.
I sit under a hanging bare bulb. A bee circles and circles the light. I explain myself as Sylvia wrangles cups, saucers, a pot, tea leaves, sugar cubes, a lemon, cream and finally a small spoon.
I couldn’t help but visit you, I say.
     I get many visitors.
I just wanted to see you.
     You just? Her fierce eyes on me.
I wanted to see you.
The poet finally sits across from me, brings a tea cup to her full cracked lips.
Can I read the manuscript, I ask. The poet’s laugh is a honk.
     I am Sylvia Plath, you know that, she says. So you will read it in time.
For a moment there is comfort. The bright lemon and its smell. The sugar cubes conjure horses and their slender faces. It is warmest in the kitchen. The tea is warm. She has learned to make English tea.
     It is time for you to go, the poet says.
But I just arrived. And you have something for me.
     Oh, she dismisses me with a wave of her thin arm in its many layers.
We are quiet. Her young white face is pale and ugly under the bulb.
I will be remembered for these things, she says. My head in the oven at 30. My suffocating mother. My brilliant beekeeper father dead when I was eight. My hulking hawk of a husband. And my children, oh my children.
The poet deflates back into her chair. Her laugh is dry.
     It’s all so disgusting, isn’t it, she says. She folds her long fingers and leans forward.
But you know what is to come, she says. You know I now pour milk for the children and seal their doors with tape and gather towels to place under the kitchen door. And you know I breathe in the gas and breathe in the gas until I can no longer breathe.
She stands fast, flipping her chair over.
And now it is time for you to go.
There is nothing for me to do but follow her through the cold dark front room.
In the open doorway we turn to each other. What can I say to you, I ask.
     Soon you will be older than I, she says. You will understand saying is nothing.
A bee appears on her forehead. Another lands on her nose. I reach out to brush them away and see bees are buzzing about her head. A frantic halo of bees. They chase one another. The mass multiplies and becomes so great Sylvia’s head and face are covered. She opens her mouth to say farewell and the bees dive in. She turns to enter the apartment and as the door shuts behind her she is a floating giant draped in a dirty robe whose neck ends in a living bulb of maddening bees swarming swarming swarming.

~Nicole Brooks

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