When the presentations and work assignments and utility bills and to-do lists all keep rolling in and over me of late, I have to tell myself: Okay, slow down, mama. Breathe. You're doing all right where you're at. Have a poem. :)
A Center for Women
I hear the women at the back gate of the shelter, out late,
words hushed, shuffling around a coffee can, the implied ashtray.
I see a young mother step out the screen door
to join the others to sit on the cracked concrete steps,
the blue-purple flowering around her eyes like morning
glories, the blooms of red knuckles, I see another young mother
with a long cigarette between her fingers standing
with her back against the dumpster, holding herself
carefully due to rib cage fractures, the chain-linked
fence locked and circling, its aluminum glinting in the dark
under the security lamp, here the women will counsel, turn things
over, reach conclusions as role players, champions
and runners, victims and idiots, they are vulnerable,
they look at each other and the innocence is
see-through, their wisdom is copious. I want to step out
into the cooler air with them and ask for a smoke, say I know you
like I know myself – you’re in the right place, I hear my own
words, the other place – that home – was the wrong place, and
you might ignore me and leave. I might ignore me and leave.
I’m nowhere higher. I cannot imagine what could be, where we’ve been,
what hurt such a bad love can leave with our children,
if we go back we’ll revive the cycle, the throb and ache, the promises
draw flies, we will want to die or need to murder.
There are lies you can tell and pills to make you feel
better at either place. Behind the fence in the midday sun
I want to step out and say it to her bruised face
as she looks over me, her weak limbs and tight lips, safe
for the time being, her narrow eyes rolling by my narrow eyes,
my weak limbs and tight lips, hide beside her, I won't say anything.
I want to share a smoke, one lonely union. I let myself out the screen door
like some orthodox girl sliding into a high school bathroom, take to
the smoking women as queens and smile if they smile, let them
take me in, count my scars, smell my hair. Finally they'll say, before
the curfew of this shelter kicks in and the smoke break splits, tell
a story of what we have lived through, and we’ll tell that story too.