POETRY – 5 Poems by Tricia Knoll

Yes, I’m Cissy Bales

Yes, I locked up Guilt in the north barn stall.
Yes, I nailed a 2×4 across the latch
and tacked up rusty barbed wire.
Understand me. She arrived scratched
and naked, claiming she’d been raped,
her money gone on drugs. She claimed
she had no one but me.

She prefers going almost bare-assed.
I can’t stand her filthy hands,
bony butt and stringy hair. I gave
her wool socks, panties and a bra, red leather
boots, a velvet cape, a brush — no one else
has ever been so good. She says so!

She sat at my kitchen window watching
the level of my gin bottle — and looking
for bad guys out to get even.
She weighs my trash and hisses
at my cat. Her you’re-screwing-up mantra
points blame eight times. She hums like a cello
that bites and gripes in my bad ear at night.
She curdles my dreams. She claims I owe her
a hide-out. When I try to move her,
she vanishes — from that small stall.
Where to? Under the saddle blankets,
into the hay. Out of the way. I don’t know!

She needs little, impossibly little.
Yes, she nibbles fallen oats
like a rat at chicken scratch.
She licks drips from the eaves
and bathes in the goat trough.

I don’t know where Guilt is now,
how you heard she’s here,
or when she’s coming back.

Please understand.
This is NOT elder abuse. I’m doing
what any normal person would do.

The Barrista’s View of Winter Through Condensation on the Coffee House Window

They both come in once a week, mid-afternoon
on Thursdays when the weather is unpleasant.
I know his order — a carmel macchiato in an it’s-too-hot
sleeve, no whipped cream. She wants decaffe lattes.
I know their first names which is more
than they know of each other. They call me Sue.

Today he wears a Red Sox cap and stares
at the blackboard. He never orders a panini
or a curried tofu salad. I start the spitting espresso.
He tips me less than he tips her. I create
a perfect palm leaf of foam.

She’s sets up her guitar next to the steamed window
that blurs the piles of black slush the plow left.
She moves her scarred stool, preparing for more gospel
trains, cats in the cradle and the silver spoon.
I give her a non-fat heart.

While she fiddles the dial on her amp, he opens
a sudoku paperback, scribbles overlapping rectangles
on the margins. She bows her head, tunes.
Her long hair tumbles. Her knee jigs an old denim skirt

she probably wore as a hippy. Thin familiar
songs drift, spidered minor chords lift
up what’s left of her repertoire,
folk tunes of red poppies, fleeing unicorns,
double-edged swords and sleeping rough
in the devil’s bed.

He puts a buck in her fish bowl, nods at me.
He stage-whispers he’s sick of sad songs. At least,
he says, she who sleeps in the devil’s bed
does not sleep alone.

Amen, I say.
I have devils of my own.

Silver-Haired Sopranos

For Leonard Cohen

Silver-hair, silver-hair
on a woman so young
she hasn’t heard
any tick on wanting babies
sitting north of the organ pipes
below a bunch of basses.
Bleach hints of derring do
her blue tulip forearm tattoo
inside Celtic knots
talk of speeding tickets with black roots
credit card debt for a queen bed set
broken two-year marriage at twenty-two

To her left, Ruth,
real-time silver hair
curved spine
earned pelican neck
drooped breasts
five grandchildren, one autistic
husband with a cane
hymn book trifocal high
they sing Hallelujah

Down to Ash Creek for the Setting of the August Sun

I came for what is not here.
Texts. Phone rings. Bills.
That last email — she’s in
hospice, dying. Maybe dead.

These familiars. Fuschia
ballerinas on toe, the seep
of a droughted creek. Shadow angles
in the gray adirondack chair.

The cedar seedling taller
than I am. Overripe sugars
of blackberries. Foxglove and camas
seeds falling like pepper, hard and dry.

My black gnome broods over his hoard
of white quartz river rocks.
Sunlight slashes through alders
atop the hill, dimming.

I will not be only sad.
Stale water in the birdbath
is a tea of early fallen leaves.
I cannot change the taste of drought.

She is not in pain, not now.
I sit on my orange pillow
and brush brown moss off the flanks
of the alder. If I close my eyes, I hear

dusk’s burdened pulse. My fingers form
a circle mudra in Neruda’s paperback odes
to simple things. Falling seeds.
The end of summer.

The Dead Warbler on My Welcome Mat

Birds can’t all be trapped in angles of sun by a picture
window, open gawk of ailing, bent. Nor smudging the beach
where gulls rip shorebirds into sand-dredged shreds.

Or some dead ones news people exploit
to hype West Nile. Crows do not pile up
like ashes in the fireplace, mourned once
under a hovering circle of black concern,
then abandoned. Some cat-prides,
woe-be-gotten, dropped on a feather
comforter or buried under lilacs.

We don’t smell bird death in the scent of spring lofted
in feathers, tenderness of twigs and beetles unfolding.
Cold bird eyes have seen wood smoke flee
chimneys, mirages of heat on highway.
Their brains once sensed the spinning of the world’s
call on a magnet line, turned in last light’s
transect of time.

There must be a place where small bird song
welcomes dimming dusk and simple sadness,
last lamented landings blanketed in jaded moss.
Flight is not the immortality that angels wrestle,
winds beyond the reach of wrens.
I know there is an end.

Where they go to die
must be somewhere
I’d like to go.

Tricia Knoll

Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon poet. Her haiku and poetry have appeared in more than 100 journals and anthologies since she retired from a career in communications with the City of Portland in 2007. Her first chapbook, Urban Wild – images of the interactions of human and “wild” creatures in urban settings — is now available from Finishing Line Press. She is currently working on a book-length poetry project about Manzanita, Oregon called The Ocean’s Laughter. She has degrees in literature from Stanford University (BA) and Yale University (MAT). For more information, triciaknoll.com

Feature image by Kenny Ong.

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