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Poems by Grace Cavalieri

The Third Heart

The first heart is made of self,
A spirit you brought with you and
Stays after you leave.
The other heart is flesh and blood,
The person you always wanted to know.
But the heart l love best is where
The two meet, overlap,
Forming a tiny center.
A heartbeat that can be heard.
If you cannot listen, who will?
And if you can find safety,
Within these sounds,
There is nothing outside you will need.
 

Three O'clock, 1942

Elaine’s father was a guard at the Trenton State Penitentiary.
Once in awhile, I forget how often,
she couldn’t come out to play
because it was her daddy’s turn to pull the switch,
and watch a prisoner die.
He’d stay inside feeling sick, but why the family
had to close the shades, I don’t know, or
why, even if we knocked politely, her mother
sent us away, saying “ Elaine can’t come out today.”
The rest of us little girls sat on my porch
In cool dresses. Three O’clock.
Mothers were in the kitchen setting spoons.
There were iced drinks and cookies,
powdered sugar, a confection of air;
not even fathers were coming home to break the silence.
The only sound is a boy on the tracks nearby
Who’s caught a small animal and tramps through the weeds
carrying a cardboard cage, three holes for air.
The girls ask whose turn it is to make up a story.
We visit bright imagined countries and
in this way travel beyond swinging chairs,
white railings, a summer porch.
At Three O’Clock God mutes the trees
to listen. The only sound is a thrashing –
the biting and scratching as the boy falls –
the rustling and scrambling
of a small animal breaking free.

 

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)

WHAT I WON

The sack dress was in style then
          with a single strand of pearls.
The sack dress was designed to see
          the body move lightly beneath.
That's why I wore it to my first poetry
          contest in Philly,
leaving my four-month old at home.
          Of course my husband had to
drive, as nervous as I was
          so he waited in the car all
day while I sat in the big room, first time out
          since I found my mother
dead and then had a baby two weeks later.
          My husband stayed all day in that
car in the snow. I won first prize about
          wanting my mother but
It was said much better than this,
          as you can imagine, to win first.
It even began with notes upon a phantom
          lute, although The Poet
said what do we know of lutes now?
          But what did he know of
walking into her bedroom and finding
          her a pale shade of lilac.
That just goes to prove I guess I was talking
          about the wrong thing in the poem,
and The Poet was surely on to something.
          I have to say I looked wonderful,
gaunt with grief and colitis, 1956,
          hurrying across the street
where my husband was waiting to take me home,
          the first wrong victory in my hand.

 

Sounds Like Something I Would Say
2010
 

Awards Day

She always wanted to make love to a clock so she’d know when to stop.
She always wanted to be standing in the limelight in a white satin dress,
no, make that a strapless dress. Now she was older and, no, make that
one with sleeves. She wanted to be a cat hiding in a tree to catch a bird.

(acknowledgment: Poets&Artists, 2012)

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.
 

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