Alicia Hoffman lives, writes and teaches in Rochester, New York.
She obtained her MA in Writing from SUNY Brockport, and over the
years has been published in a variety of print and web journals,
including Redactions, Red Wheelbarrow, Poets/Artists, Boston Literary
Magazine, elimae, Red River Review, Umbrella etc. She also has two
broadsides, Losing Duende and Good Fortune, available through Ink
The Quiet Man
Weathered western saddle,
kerosene lamp, prairie dust
ingrained into hide. This is
the house smell as John Wayne
silent acts on the convex screen
of the living room rabbit-ear
set, perched precarious on a metal
fold out table, legs long gone
to rust. My grandfather watched
from his chair in the kitchen,
no sound, drinking chicory
coffee from the same tar-pit mug
he drank from for twenty years,
the insides of the porcelain
mired in backwash and muck,
the curve of handle rubbed
yellow from nicotine fingers.
No sound. When I lived there
as a child I was a bare-foot ghost
ambling past Riders of Destiny,
King of the Pecos, The Lonely Trail,
past his bentwood throne
to the cool basement to open
drawer after drawer of catalogue
cabinet and hold the archeological
stones nesting there in cotton
batting. In the silence, I would
palm one after another, read
the news of the fossils, finger
the thumbprints of trilobites, all
groove and roughness. I would
cup them to my ear like seashells
housing the soft waves of stories
and listen to what they had to say.
She guards the station exit,
scouts turistas stepping
from claustrophobic platforms
of the metro, listens like hawks
hear, trained on the fatigued
groans of the train's break
and wheezing stop. Long ago
she traded luminescence
of scarf for short sleeved
Minnie Mouse blouse, decoupaged
Levi jeans. In her gums,
some teeth remain reluctant
to give up the memory of pink
pasture. Warm and damp
in the station, the sun bakes
the concrete underground.
Bending forward to scratch
an arthritic knee signals
her three small daughters
clowning near the advertisement
billboard to watch her. A tug
of the ear translates come closer.
A swat of the palm to an invisible
fly distract that one alone.
She always takes from behind.
The smell of roasting chestnuts
wafts from Las Ramblas
on a rare breeze. Because
she needs no speech, she writes
a grocery list in her head.
Valencia rice, milk, mussels
maybe for stew. Tomorrow
they will go to Placa Catalunya.
Long past the romance of caravans
and fortunes, she wipes carelessly
at indiscernible stains on the neck
of her collar. Her onyx eyes full of
stories focus. This means your next.
of her head
door of the
in the peat
from the sharp
swords of light.
on ink. Flashes
A siren's song
he says. Flint.
A synonym of skedaddle, eight letters meaning to wander aimlessly,
Bathsheba's baby — I never knew his name, but as I stare into black
and white squares, I'm sitting with folded legs under gauzy trails of indigo
skirts and veil. Desert grains itch my eyes, leave them red when, like a thousand
galloping horses striding across plains thundering news, the wind blows in
from the east. Someone has been born. I'm convinced it is a boy. Not a difficult birth
like some, but easy. There is rejoicing, of course, but also secret plots of revenge.
Even war. There always is. You don't care, though. Infants never do. You're too wet
and ripe. Frail dark lashes seal your lids like stitches, healing your tiny sponge
of a face from its shock. You're now ready to absorb the feel of fingers, lips and hands,
indulge in the sweetness of a sugared grape, fresh milk, the honey of a just picked fig.
You don't yet know the bitter tastes lurking in the back of your tongue. You can't even
speak, let alone know of how sometimes hunger means more than this; how sometimes
food is scarce. So I leave you now, child, as you are, before the great rains come and
you are witness to your first famine of a different kind. I leave you in the arms
of Bathsheba, cradling your smallness in wonder, whispering your name, seven letters
that must have come to her as a gift, seven letters down that, if I knew Enrico Morricone
or that Strauss composed The Blue Danube, or stuck around long enough to watch you,
I would have whispered into the air and written onto the page with a knowing that comes
only from an intimacy we did not share. But how was I to know your fate.
I've yet to know my own. You, too, must understand some games can never be won.
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