Maryfrances Wagner

Silent Partner

          . . . I bent over,/wanting to cry out
          It’s my best friend,/ . . .the holy dwelling
                    Sharon Olds

Beneath the layers, mine were quiet eggs,
solitary bulbs keeping to themselves. Calls

echoed. Quests always missed. Desire,
a steamy, loamy hotbed, voyage after voyage,

found only slick and empty water. When the nest
had to go, I wished I wanted to keep it like a best

friend or think of it as a good leather purse
with a hanky inside, my nesting bowl, my hamper

where someone quickens. But it proved more
a betrayer, a drying pond, a miser in a tower room

counting. Only the hatchet man arrived
each month picking for cave crystals

and dodging fugitive fibroids that bloomed
false hopes, my only pang of something

extra. Every exam, the doctor re-adjusted
for tilt. Tampons came forth

crooked riders. In the final months,
clots flowered in the bowl like little hands

blurring. Risk is a black robe
and sickle. The lone boat loads.

My Mother’s White Lies

If you don’t fall asleep during your nap
          by four o’clock, you’ll get polio.
          Then you’ll have to live
          in a big iron tank for the rest
          of your short life.

If you giggle like that much longer,
          you’ll get worms. They’ll crawl
          all through your body and come out
          at night to look at you while you sleep.

If you aren’t asleep when Santa comes,
          he puts all of your presents back
          in his bag and marks an X on the roof.
          Then he never brings any more presents.

If you do that, it will upset your father,
          and you know how weak his heart is.
          I know you don’t want to break his heart.

If you keep digging deeper in that sandbox,
          you could fall into China,
          and we’ll never see you again.

Don’t you ever get up at night and wander
          outside. The Boogey Man waits out there
          for small children and eats their souls.
          You can’t get into heaven without a soul.

See, every time you fall down like that,
          it’s for something you did wrong—
          like not telling me the truth. God punishes,
          and he sees all those things
          you aren’t telling me about.

If you go in the water sooner than an hour after you eat,
          you’ll sink to the bottom and drown, and if you have on
          one of those bikini tops, it will come loose,
          and the lifeguard will find you half naked
          when he brings you out, and everyone will see.

If you run through the house or climb
          into that attic, the Big Bad Wolf
          who ate Red Riding Hood’s Nonna
          will come out from hiding in the rafters,
          and you can figure out the rest.

Don’t ever let anybody touch you down there
          until you’re married. No boy will want you
          after that because you won’t be a virgin.
          Boys only marry virgins. You’d have to wait
          for a widower. They don’t care so much.

Don’t sit out there in the driveway after you
          get home from a date. Remember, I’m watching
          from the window, but the neighbors will see too.
          It will ruin your reputation forever. They’ll tell everyone.

Delphia in 4th Grade

She skidded us off our feet in dodgeball,
sent Bobby Shad sliding across the circle,
sailed all kicked balls past reaching arms.

Six girls followed her around like good
Davidians armed with long nails.
First year of integration at Linwood.

Before, I had reigned as the outcast Italian
kicker. The day I called her Philadelphia,
she gored me with her eyes. As we sanded

blocks for the Fort Osage replica, Bobby said,
Philadelphia has good sanding rhythm. She
spun around, smacked his fingers with her block,

and snapped, Don’t call me Philadelphia. Bobby
crept to another table. He’s only being friendly,
I said. She was waiting after school.

Could’ve laid me out with one swing. Where
you going? Why’d you defend that little twerp?

She clicked her long red nails, hissed, At kickball,

you smacked a home run. Lucky, I shrugged. She
pinched my arm. Well, it’s my game. Six girls
moved in and narrowed their eyes. I raised

a hand. Delphia dug a pencil into my wrist
and scraped under my arm with her nails. Don’t
call me Philadelphia, and don’t kick like that

unless you’re on my team. They chuckled off, clicking
their weapons. My mother blotted me with iodine,
but the infection lasted through six weeks of penicillin.

After that, if we played kickball and I didn’t end up
on her team, I faked a twisted ankle, allergies,
some reason to go back to the classroom and read.

MaryFrancesWagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter, Light Subtracts Itself, Red Silk (Thorpe Menn Book Award for Literary Excellence), Dioramas (Mammoth) and Pouf (FLP). Poems have appeared in New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Voices in Italian Americana, Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books), Literature Across Cultures (Pearson/Longman), Bearing Witness, The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation), She co-edits I-70 Review.