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Poems by Grace Cavalieri

Japanese Cats

In Haiku there is one rule: no cats.
They are too cute, too easy to win our love.
That is the rule.
Today
my cat saw the blossoms blow
and begged
to go outside,
but first he turned to sniff his food
one last time .
 
This is not a haiku for
I have more I want to say:
 
I want to talk about my Beloved
who left before the dawn overlapped the sky—
how first he stopped to conjure one last sight
--we’d settled to a life
that no one could dissolve --
We entered it together in a bubble
floating toward a needle ,
a second stolen
 
turning back
before the blossoms.
 

HERE IS A POEM YOU CAN HIDE IN

When you come to wherever
failed hopes go, turn
here instead,
where my child’s voice is heard
in the night, still damp from dreams.
 
Talk of sweet surrender against the
February snow, and then turn inward,
where silver trims the bitter limbs.
 
I’m not afraid to mention
precious aspirations, and
all we know went wrong,
 
I’m here with you,
under the same sun and same moon,
above darkness,
right here, the source of prayer,
right here in my hand.
 
(credit: Casa Menendez)

1972

John Denver and Cass Elliott sing in concert
 
Before John Denver crashed his steel peg
into strands of sunshine,
and before Cass Elliott choked on a head of lettuce
her last Caribbean trip,
they sang Leaving on a Jet Plane.
She wrote it and I wondered
why it was so sad,
here she was rich and famous,
though I admit a little fat.
But before she left and he left,
and everyone I knew left,
we sang that song,  to keep fear away
and carried
records in the trunk of our car.
Trini Lopez was the rage then
and we kept Trini under cover in the trunk
so wherever we happened
to find ourselves, we could always offer up a dance.
Cass was sad. I’m sure of it. She had cause to be.
That smile was just a mask, and all the rest rehearsal.
I was there that year. I should know.

 

Big Mama Thornton

Last time I saw her
she wasn’t so big. Actually
she was downright skinny,
singing the final time
in Washington, D.C.
 
Backstage she drank a
quart of milk
mixed equal parts with
gin—
Seagrams, she told me.
 
Then she got the idea.
Could I contact the Seagrams
people and then she could
advertise for them and
they’d like her for
drinking a full quart a day—their gin.
 
I said no, I didn’t
think so, and I didn’t
think the milk people
would like the commercial so much
either. She still felt bad
about Elvis stealing “Hound Dog,
The way he did, even though
she was much too much of a lady to say so.
Once she talked about it, long ago,
before she started milk with gin.
 
I guess the drink left a
sweet taste in her mouth.
 
-- Grace Cavalieri
Acknowledgement: Cuffed Frays, Argonne House Press
 

Swan Lake

Having a mother who's a writer is a different grammar
from a mother who bakes cookies and measures table cloths,
That's why my children tugged each other,
after they studied a picture of me
standing on points, satin toe shoes,
a stiff tutu, with a split golden tiara on top my laquered head.
I looked like a silver string had been pumped from
hell to heaven with me in the middle.
Look at mom, they said, how pretty, perfection, every hair in place.
What a disgrace to tell them it was my cousin Marilyn
with the Stuttgart ballet who flew away like a bird to
reclusion and cancer, one lonely autumn day.
 
I, on the other hand, was the one with strangle-tied dirty toe shoes,
the ones with bloodstained toes inside
and never stood still long enough for a photo, much less a pose.
Hair frisking all over, just like now, rushing along,
For a second I thought I'd take the credit and make them all proud.
But for momentary glory, that would rub them wrong. I'll tell them
who I really am, at whatever cost, no satin, nothing to brag about,
--still going strong.
 

A Matter Of Record

I have never seen anyone die.
I have never seen the spirit leave the burnt body.
I do not know what sound is caught
from the throat, and I’m sure it’s not
one I would  want
to hear twice—
then the  stony heart,
a lack of beauty that comes to stay,
unattractive expedients,
vast disappointments.
More sadness fills the room-
enough to die of right there -
unless you believe that  
after Sundown, comes Sunrise.
After the Sunset,
as a matter of record, I am told,
it comes up gold.
 
Acknowledgement: Casa Menendez,
Sounds Like Something I Would Say
 

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