Poetry » Lesley Wheeler »

My Translation Wouldn’t Be the Same as Yours

Since you feel cheated, having missed the pie,
here’s what I heard. The slither of a shotglass
on a homemade board. Jangle of a clock
shaped like a rooster. Children mouth-breathing
as their mothers practiced the art of prying questions.
Sugar crusting hard beneath our nails.
When the French doors shook, bam bam bam,
as if a big dog begged on his hind legs
for us to open up, we shrieked and fled.
The eldest boy remained to look, as in every
children’s book, but nothing was there. No reason.

Remember chasing the ice cream truck, its frozen
chime glinting at the corner, too far to catch?
Imagine it rushes at you, roaring, Wake up.
Be kind. Slow down. Keep your head clear. It’s not
about you, but you are important. Taste it all.

It’s hard to wait with silver on your palm.

The next afternoon, Ouija pizza box
recycled, my sister warmed her casseroles
while I played Trouble with my nephew. The baby
kept seizing the pegs, yelling, My turn now.
At last I stepped through the latticed doors, their sheers
rigid and bright, onto the cold back deck.
You could see the whole development sloping
to a marsh where some trees survived. Large houses
on lots fenced identically in vinyl.
Stupid to scare the kids like that. If
you’re brave enough to wonder, show them you’re brave
enough for answers, to maintain intention:
not to have listened, but to listen always.
A pitifully belated will to pay
attention, undo the lock, and call yes please.

Anniversary Turtles

If only I had time for an affair,
I said, kicking at the path I was walking,
I would use it to write more poems. That’s fair,
he said in a voice like burnt cake. We’d been talking
about a paternity study—the one that tested
newborns and found fully a third of mothers
lie—and wondering about our best
friends, the kids who don’t resemble their fathers.
And then, as the trail unraveled beneath a bridge,
we saw them: his wrinkly neck extended in ridged
concentration, her softness hidden.
They were aging but resisting the current,
making an eddied moment for each other.
The icing ashes but the crumb still tender.

The Stupid Truth

For a year, terror of ants swarming
            over the shadowy bedroom ceiling—
next, parasites chewing through her organs.
            Until nine o’clock she scudded around
in a nimbus of joy, a seriously
            happy child, but evening breezes
wicked off the repellent, baring
            her skin to insectile starlight. Bring
her talismans—rainbow candles, pocket-watch,
            the sun’s face on a silver ring, in a whorl
of flexible rays—and still she cried
            as the digital numbers climbed.

Night is full of tiny vampires,
            our bodies teeming metropoles, but a wiser
parent, when she ventured, “Is there any such thing
            as spiders that eat eyeballs?” would not
have answered, “Well, possibly somewhere in
            the world, I don’t know, but I’ve never
heard of them here.” Honestly. Fears
            infest me, worst of all the worm
in love: serpent certainty I can’t trust you.
            I will be upright, decent, scrupulously
good, even when rectitude is nightmare.
            The beam shone into her nest
of blankets attracts them, really. The stingers
            with black-veined wings.
The steadily advancing eyeless things.