poemoftheweek poemoftheweek.com poemoftheweek.org poem of the week
…all stories if continued far enough end in death…
It was for the novilladas, the beginners,
The matador, the flourishes,
And the backs turned on death
That I begged my father to take me to the bullfight
The summer we spent in Ciudad de Mexico
As far from the influences of drugs and sex
As he could remove me when I was seventeen
The last summer before I got pregnant.
He went with me everywhere: to the plaza
Bargaining for the silver trinkets for my sister and mother
To the bodega for the cigarettes
He let me smoke in front of him
To the pool where he sat upright, reading,
In hard shoes in the shade as I sunned myself, bored.
For the corrida we had sombra seats, the best,
Sparsely filled. As the sun’s orange deepened
Town boys from the gradas came down,
Sat around us, sometimes reaching out
To touch my gringo hair. In the ring, I expected
The pirouettes with the muleta, color against dust.
Not the other red, cascading down the beast’s black flanks—
To see the splattered velvets, matador, and hide,
To smell the pinkish foam, the bull’s droplets mixed with sweat
When he shook his enormous neck,
The banderillas sinking deep, lodging in muscle,
fluttering vibrantly—I didn’t expect.
One of the boys put an arm around me: No mires, no mires
He whispered into the air. My father stood
Scattering the boys like pigeons.
He smoothed the creases in his pants, appeared to stretch his legs,
Sat again, closer in the swelter,
Draped his arm across my shoulders.
The bull, front legs collapsed, shimmered,
Silenced, as my father and I were,
By the merciful, now, puntilla.
My father refused to let me accept an amputated ear,
Still warm, held up first to me, then to him,
The gesture for bravery, for not looking away.
A bottle of nail polish falls to the floor—
all the crimson of my life reflected in that glistening pool:
copper braids of my third-grade best friend
cut off, delivered in a long box, like roses, after she died;
my mother’s lip print on a folded Kleenex in an evening bag,
a smile from her grave;
lacquered Corvettes drag raced to death one summer;
my prom dress unworn, the color of what was left
of my date’s foot—who mows the lawn before a dance?
the uterine stain: you’re a woman now,
the secret stain when, at last, I was;
cramps that didn’t come, the clinic, the slow drain out;
cupid’s bow of my baby’s mouth
bird-opened for my purple nipple;
dawns I rocked into being, my infant’s fontanel my sun,
God; embers under an ash blanket whipped
alive from the barest breath;
in an attic corner, my father’s gnarled cherry cane;
my own knuckles gnarling every year I gain on my mother;
relic cars, the two-door coupe in my garage
ordered by my father direct to his door,
keys delivered to his vibrating ninety-year-old palm;
New Orleans velvet cake
just one slice, I’d settle for a sliver;
the failures of the heart; heart failure,
killing my friends, more every year;
my pen bleeding out;
eye whites threaded through with veins;
you, when I tell you we’re getting old
and you show me we are not.
BIO: Elizabeth Haukaas, whose day job is in corporate communications for a financial services firm, lives in New York City. She earned the Master of Fine Arts from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Her poems have appeared in the New England Review, North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, New Millennium Writings, Agenda, Tigertail, Tulane Review, and the William and Mary Review.