Scene from a Family Celebration
The N word was tossed about freely,
Over cheese, crackers, and wine at a birthday party.
It floated over the gleaming black granite kitchen island,
Settled over the crowd, a noxious cloud.
The laughter of hate echoed off the ceramic floors,
Amidst the toxic clatter and clinking of pale crystal glasses.
I try to understand
The differences that divided me from my family,
Because of politics and race.
We horde of Irish, Hungarian, Italian immigrant stock,
Elevated and smug, after just a couple of generations.
Fearing the other, just as our lot was once vilified.
Now, you loathe Syrians, Mexicans, and Somalis in retribution.
I kept quiet for years to keep the brittle peace.
Secretly, I raged against things I heard.
Lost those I loved once I grew a spine—
And watched the eruption with awful grief and guilty glee.
After René Magritte Was Caught Between Flames in the Fireplace
This is not a pipe.
It is an image to gaze upon, but not use.
A jockey and horse frozen on the roof of a car,
This is not a kiss,
Sheet shrouds our faces, lips never touch.
The cross around my wife’s alabaster neck does not make her Catholic.
I only show marble pieces of her to you voyeurs.
Shoes grow grey feet,
Leaves become trees.
The hen contemplates the cuckoo’s egg,
Placed by unknowing hands in the nest.
We only recognize objects by shadows cast on the cave wall,
Confined by the candle’s treachery of images.
Have I grown oversized,
Or is the universe collapsing into itself, particle by particle?
A variation of sadness between breath.
And what about death?
Let’s not talk about it.
The saints’ memoirs are a false blue sky
Behind the stage apron,
Waiting for the dusty red curtains to close.
I mistrust images.
You can’t see where the ocean ends,
Only where it fades, then flattens to the purple horizon.
Your toes can touch the bottom, but eventually they will not.
Its depths are reluctant to reveal its secrets.
What songs do the bioluminescent creatures sing?
What pictures do the clouds of plankton paint?
You have lulled me to sleep, ripples on the rocks.
Your surge furies reduced my home to kindling, balm and burn.
When I remember the sea,
I cry blue tears.
Your salt smell a leftover lover on my rumpled hummingbird sheets.
Our first spring,
We floated face up in a warm hotel pool,
The vibrations of street performers and drunks drifting in
Through steamed windows, left half cracked,
Pulsating off the grimy Bourbon Street tar.
I swirled in the streets of New Orleans with Darth Vader,
Singing Bye Bye Miss American Pie,
Dazzled by his makeshift lightshow,
Bathed in jitterbug perfume.
I danced with a grown man dressed in a diaper,
Delirious with utter abandon and too many glowing blue drinks
Served in plastic strobe-light crystal skull mugs.
The middle-aged barker at Big Daddy’s World Class Love Acts lured us in from the rain–
Come see the finest ladies in all the Big Easy.
Worn-out women twirling on a pole,
Some past their prime, some too young,
Collect dollars bills from the small dusty stage
Tossed by snickering underage college boys and shamefaceed middle-aged husbands–
All equally weary.
We gave them imaginary stage names—
Downed the two-drink minimum.
Cheap beer in clammy long-necked bottles.
We ran home in the warm rain.
My black coat over our heads, a cascading shelter,
A band of tubas, trumpets, and trombones
Serenading a 2 am wedding procession leading the way home.
© Susan Cossette
Susan Cossette lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Author of Peggy Sue Messed Up (2017), she is a two-time recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust and Moth, Adelaide, Clockwise Cat, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Amethyst Review, Ariel Chart, Poetica Review, Crow & Cross Keys, and in the anthologies Tuesdays at Curley’s and After the Equinox.