poemoftheweek poemoftheweek.com poemoftheweek.org poem of the week

09-06-2011

 

Elizabeth Haukaas

Corrida

 

…all stories if continued far enough end in death…

                                                             -Ernest Hemingway

 

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.

 

Red

 

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. 

 

-from Leap

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.