Martha Rhodes is the author of At the Gate and Perfect Disappearance, winner of the 2000 Green Rose Prize. She is the Director and one of the founding editors of Four Way Books, an independent literary press. Agni, American Poetry Review, Columbia, Harvard Review, The Marlboro Review, and Ploughshares have published her work. Rhodes teaches writing at New School University and Emerson College, and is a Visiting Professor (Winter 2001) at the University of California at Irvine's MFA Program. She lives in New York City.
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At the Gate
The poems on this page appear in Perfect Disappearance. They are reprinted here with the permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.
Four Poems by Martha Rhodes
Our father at 80 has moved to the country where
he's no longer poisoned
every Sabbath dinner by his imagined sons
owing him money (his one real son
birthed into a receptacle somewhere &
all this revealed one night
when our father was far past drunk
transported elsewhere, shameful
untraceable, not-of-our-mother boychik,
Our father, splitting up wood,
dips his cut finger
into a canteen of bourbon
recalling to us his pal Sharkey's cure
for their frequent bouts of clap
(soak the damn thing in scotch)
and recalls Sharkey hobbling down grandpa's
pawn shop aisles, futzing with watches,
pocketing rings, father in too much pain
to chase him. And always,
by the seventh day of treatment
they were running with the girls again.
My sisters and I won't stay for dinner,
(squirrels steeping in wine).
Yesterday, another dog collapsed, this one
endlessly carrying slippers and bones.
If I don't leave here now, I'll die here,
the ascent to town less than one hour
and my car headed Away, but stalled,
surrounding temperature so extreme
my skin can't distinguish
In just one hour:
carrots for sight, beets for blood, oh town
where all things good. This house,
where all things bad, barren
skeleton, shelter of leaking rooms,
whose property is this property?
The owner is lost. The house has lost
the owner, the owner has lost the house.
Where there are no chairs
there are plates and silver
scattered across the lawnsunless,
seedless, wormless lawn
even the dead and the ones
underneath the dead
crawl away, away, deeper down,
do I still have time?
Oh luminous town.
It being forbidden
to excuse oneself from table
before each morsel is chewed and swallowed;
it being forbidden to laugh
unless he conducts, pitch and duration,
his arms raised, our sisterly heads shamed
downward; it being forbidden
to invite another to that table who dares
to be more handsome and charming than he.
It being commanded to worship
that occupier of the armed-chair,
carver of pheasants, rabbinic imposter,
tweed-suited weekend gardener,
peddler of diamonds to the ghetto
and we do worship him
for plentiful is his table,
joyous the summer camps,
vast the Canadian forests,
the Caribbean Sea.
He who orchestrates with knife and fork
pulls us to our knees
and we pray with him who whispers
do you love me
and we cry with him who whimpers
no one loves me
and we kiss him on his temple
no one touches me
and we remain in his house
longer than we ought, for he prophesies
even you shall leave me
and when we do leave him, as we must,
we transplant lilacs and peonies from his garden
to ours so that he shall bloom
beneath our windows.
My body given away, parts
flown to other partsa child
receives my eyes, another
my heart, the diseased organs
remain, benign now.
In death I am waiting
for my soul to arrive
that I may divide it equally
among frightened neighbors.
In death I pursue a man
younger than my father
ever was in my life.
In death I am a mother
who disowns her children
in a market parking lot.
In death a ghost lies
under me, pregnant. In death
I unbury myself and try
to extract my soul surgically;
it will not release, will not;
I discover there is no one else
this soul wishes to be.