Four poems by Suzanne Parker


What I remember of Mexico
is being lost in something arid
not just the bleached stone we drove
but something I couldn’t remove
from myself like the dust clouding
the car’s inside, how it choked, left us
half-blind, eyes grit-filled as the
Then, we arrived and there was a market:
goats, parakeets like the last caged
Cokes, bobble heads, fruit shocking
in its color like we could start
again if I only knew its secrets,
how to turn sand into scarlet,
how to say ‘yes’ when all I’d practiced
was a mumbled ‘no’— to the children
with their sharpened pencils,
the women swamped in black
on the curbs, the men who hissed,
touched themselves, the virgin
with a hundred hopes flickering
at her feet, the chapel walls blossoming
with mold and you stood at the altar
saying ‘come’.  Even the cold juice
of the jicama couldn’t wash the road
from my throat, miles where the dogs
looked at me and cringed, retreated
into the thin, insufficient shadows.

In the Hall of Greek Antiquities

“Why do all the statues have to be naked?”
—overheard by a boy to his father

It’s the men who shift hands
in their pockets, find a Venus
and linger before the open bay
of the arms, the body smooth
as milk, still as stone.

Meanwhile, behind their backs,
slave boys lift their shirts,
athletes lunge, lift a world,
a head, breath heaving in their stomachs
as, I imagine, the boy has felt

in the huddle after peeling himself
off his first tackle and now this hunter
steps off the dragon’s neck,
fire wrapped around his back,
and thrusts out a hand, finger
pointed at him and why
does the mother above him—

for they are all really mothers
and virgins in their blank
skin— why doesn’t she feel
the hand raised at him
and why does his own mother,
lost among the statues, not come
and lead him outside, into the sun,
for an ice cream at that stand
they’d passed hours ago
before entering the Louvre.

Drinking the Morning Glass of Red

Five heavy shouldered men stand
at the bar, equally spaced, solitary
as men at a public urinal, so intimate
and forbidden is the experience.

This is not a nice brasserie.
Tables do not get wiped, those who sit
sink against the metal-backed chairs
and the smell is a brown, stuck layer
of sour wine, butts, and burnt egg.
Lottery and phone cards sell quickly
and often from the booth by the door.

Each morning finds me here.
I do not belong:  a woman,
American, idle, taking notes
and this is private

as at some point, each man slides
a lottery card across the bar, smooths it
like a creased but much read letter
and picks up the change he has been given.

They never win but simply drop
the cards to the floor as if disposing
of ash.  A quick, unseen flick.  Then,
they put on hats and head out

into their days.  Always, the drink.
The baguette with jam.
The work-cracked hands and sigh
as one man lifts his head, eyes the card,
reaches forward
to yet another kind of work.

The Museum-Goer’s Strategy

Don’t start with the Madonna
dead on the table.
Start with the hours walking
the cool-draped halls
looking for the open window
to show the rain has stopped
and it is time to go out,
away from the grand relay of art,
triptych to French fowl, head limp
on a platter with a lemon,
a glass of white wine.

Start earlier, the flight
from Newark, plane’s ascension,
nails half moons in Lori’s hand
and before us, always
before us, the idea
stashed deep in a suitcase
like a flesh-colored dildo
or drugs— Hemingway,
Orwell— snuck in as contraband,

and before this, the Hoshi
on my father’s living room wall,
a single tree like a man walking
into a blue, horizontal distance
split into bursts like static
or his bonsais, those
palm-treed islands each
with its own castaway
sunk in the still study
and no one could keep them alive
after his death.

Start sooner with the shock
he spent a summer bullfighting,
learned to plant his feet
and perform the sweeping veronicas
like the opera always playing

in the background, the fierce control,
the huge courage to reach,
stay in place, paint a solitary tree
and I am finally stopped
before Caravaggio’s rejected Mary,
the one too gray, too swollen,
too naked.  The museum asks
in five languages for its patrons
to leave.  Now, it is time to start.

About the author

Suzanne Parker has recently returned from a month in Paris where ate a lot of croissants and wrote poems about Framingham, Massachusetts. Suzanne was…

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