Tuesday Apr 23

FrelighSarah Sarah Freligh is the author of Sort of Gone and A Brief Natural History of an American Girl, winner of the Editor’s Choice Award from Accents Publishing. Recent work has appeared in Brevity, Rattle, The Sun, burntdistrict and Barn Owl Review. She has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation.


Starting With an Old Photo of My Mother and Ending on a Hill
—after Larry Levis’ “Winter Stars”

She is red-lipped and slender in a shirt-
waist dress, bun of hair hidden
under a white hat, existing only for us
on ice chips and cigarettes. Chopin
is in the fingers that twine through mine, a warning
and an endearment. My brother’s a shifting load
on her hip. I will grow up and smoke
cigarettes the way she did, in lieu
of food, hungrily tap my ashes into
a ceramic whale, belly hollowed out where
its womb would have been.

I will never wear her clothes.

Sometimes I drive south on two-lane highways
through one-light towns until I’m cradled
in hills. In August, the maple trees are dying
inside. The chlorophyll’s stopped rising and soon
enough the leaves will yellow. I think of her
body as one of those small towns where the lone     
factory’s down to a single shift, a building where birds
fly in and out of deciduous windows and high school
boys break and enter nightly to light fires and talk
big. Listen to them and you can almost believe
their hearts will never turn bitter and quit.

I’d write a love poem to those boys, but I wouldn’t             
know where to send it so I’m saying this to you,
Mom, shouting from a hilltop at a couple
of cows who look up at me and go on chewing.
They’re as blank as grief can be, the emptiness
of a parking lot ten minutes after the shift’s
let out, a dandelion in the cracked
asphalt waving at the trail of exhaust
from the last car to leave.

A Letter to You about Myself

I still do bad things. Sometimes I bite my fingernails, not down
to the quick, but only to even out the rough spots. Last week my
thumb snagged a new pair of tights. All day the run laddered up
my thigh, displaying beige leg flesh in each little window. I’m always
in a hurry, an hour ahead of the here and now, a refugee from my own
life. I hope I didn’t give that to you. My teeth are bad, maybe yours
are too? My dentist says I’ll be lucky to keep the teeth I have as if he
knows what my future will be: me in a hospital bed cranked up high
enough to see outdoors: the birds fighting for the last bit of seed
in the feeder. The drone of a TV across the hall, a soap opera whose
characters I no longer recognize. The names are the same, the actors
different. Every day is like this. The girl who brings my tray is not
the one from yesterday though she says she is. Her hands are hard
and strong. Here’s your boiled egg, honey, she says. I don’t answer
to that name anymore.


Two men from the halfway house
are hanging out on the corner,
shin deep in ragged snow
tagged by a graffiti of dog pee
and car dirt. Their words turn
to steam but they don’t talk
much, don’t do much of anything
but stand on the corner in their thin
shoes, hands jammed into jacket
pockets as afternoon trudges on toward
evening, the blue hour when bars
blaze awake in a hum of neon. Somewhere
in the wrecked cities this pair
of pilgrims has left behind, a communion
of drinkers is gathering on stools, thirsty
for whiskey’s swift benediction,
sung there by a silver choir
of bottles, but look how
the tall man bends his face
to the cupped hands of the short man
offering a match. See him
tip his head back to exhale,
let the dime-sized flakes
bless his face.