by Joy Hewitt Mann

In the Hotel Carpathia

She lays her life on tissue paper,
fears to touch the drawers
where matches, wisps of hair,
discolored ticket stubs
from shows that died before
their birth,
speak of lesser lives.

Brush (real boar’s hair), pins,
a set of combs she found in 
Venice . . . oh, how many
years ago? a bargain
had said— so fully clothed,
her Hermes scarf
across the pillow case, she
lights a cigarette, and
strangles from the fly-blown bulb
that swings so slowly
in the smoke.

After the Stroke

I am now my mother’s dreams:
I am the voice she hoped for
when she was swapped for the neighbours wife;
when her son died at nine days
a hole in his back the size of her heart;
when she miscarried with the syphilis
contracted from her husband’s whore;

I am the dream she had
lying on her back, strangers
bringing her no comfort; I am
the comfort she gave herself—
surprised discovery at fifty-two;

I am the relatives she never knew, all
ash and dried-out bone—the Dutch
and German relatives who disappeared
in 1943. I am

the Jewish hair without the faith;
the Jewish voice without
the history.

I am the voice
she never learned 
to use.


Each word written on the page means nothing in this afterworld.
We are all the dead years stuck beneath our skin like an onion,
the now-surface smooth and blemishless—and hard.

I’ve struck out three times as a human being,
deceased at three and ten and thirteen. Memories come back
like stories told by relatives I only see on special occasions.
Funerals bring us all together, my mother used to say. Happy events,
she called them, with that twinkle in her eye I often mistook for tears.

At her own funeral, she lay like Queen Victoria,
decidedly not amused—the undertaker’s mistake, of course.

Although I have died many times, she is still alive,
dressed in unbecoming colors as she always was. Fall is my mother’s 
time a surrealistic autumn of layered leaves: chartreuse, burnt umber
and that 70’s orange that makes you blink,
makes your eyes water
like slicing onions.

Still Life With Raccoon

There is never enough wind when you need it
and you sit whimpering, praying for a dry spell;
there is too much light when you pray for shadow to hide
the shame of raccoon eyes.

Which makes me wonder if raccoons cry, sitting in moss,
rubbing their fur with crayfished paws?
Do they hunker,
ringed-tail wrapped tight for comfort,
tiny fingers flicking nervously, wishing
for a place to rinse the salt away? For

there is never enough moss to soak up pain;
there is never enough salt to make it
and there is always too much shadow when you are praying
for light.


©2000 Joy Hewitt Mann

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