From Heterotopia

Inland Song

In some kind houses the doors

never quite shut. Every table

hosts a bowl of eggs—wooden ones

or striped stone, cool to touch.

What could grow in an egg like that?

A day becomes a story becomes a bird,

a lost seagull who shrinks each time

I describe him. Watch him fold

his filigree wings, crawl into

the shell. His song wasn't much,

but he tries to swallow it,

as if he can retreat

to an ornamental state

of potential. This is not possible,

even in an inland village named

Barnacle. Just brush your fingers

over the eggs as you leave,

memorize the feel of the grain.

The paths are thick with nettles,

but if they sting, rub the blisters

with a fistful of dock. Pain

and consolation grow next

to each other, in some kind

countries. House and wing.

Copyright © 2009 Lesley Wheeler

Scholarship Girl

Liverpool, 1953

The scholarship girl paces to school

along broken sidewalks.

No one has cleaned the war up yet.

She swings her Shakespeare

against the wool on her hip,

her homemade blues.

Because she is tall,

she will play Caesar.

She will be smaller when she grows up.

Cockroaches will do their part.

She will study nursing

and go down to the laundry at night.

First she will tip the door open,

then stretch to reach the chain.

The light will reflect from a thousand

shiny carapaces scuttling away,

shrinking like a skirt in hot water,

like lines forgotten suddenly.

But first there are rationed eggs,

and her sister calling Elephant eyes,

and scholarship girls quarantined

in one crowded classroom.

Caesar’s speeches will deflate

her one hot puff at a time

till she fits in anybody’s pocket:

the starchy white one of the Sister

who docks her bus fare

in fine for laddered stockings,

or mine, or even yours. Listen

for her nails scratching

against the fabric.

Copyright © 2009 Lesley Wheeler

From Heathen

The Unbeliever Takes a Hike

Winter is a cracked path, all the plush of moss

and needles, mulch and soil swept away

by the god of water. I have no choice

but to sit down or follow it, so I follow, day

after heathen day, sometimes watching my feet

lest I trip on an exposed blade of shale,

usually muttering, indiscreet,

since no one is listening. Once in a while

the sheen on the creek will interrupt

my monologue, its coppery greens will spill

into the air and I remember about

the world. Its shadows crowd, its leaves fall

with no display of self-regard, no doubt

that spring will come again with crocus,

clouds, and frilly tender feelings. Devout

branches pray their red beads with breezy hocus-

pocus: they believe in the slanting sun, its power

to bring them to life when it wishes. So, I focus:

I can at least believe in looking. I stare

over the bank's edge, where the burble has skin

like a cold pudding, and see filigreed feathers,

ice shaped like a dove, like some spirit-sign,

where two bare branches dangle in a cross.

Chills. All this nature a prank to take me in.

Copyright © 2009 Lesley Wheeler