Margaret Muirhead

Crane's Beach, Labor Day 2003

Litters of little families with their messes
of reds and blues scatter along the shoreline,
cities of mothers and fathers and kids
drowsy in the white noise. Your family has
enough shoes to hold down the corners
of a blanket. We are only two, so we watch
and offer our damp sandwiches, banged-up apples,
plastic liters of tap water. We are all in love
with this bigness, except maybe one child
who carries water from the ocean
to a hole in the sand, a shovelfull at a time.

We take turns napping, the noise like gauze,
salt licking at the corners of our mouths. When
the sound comes, we hear it first like a purring,
barely different from the motor in our ears.
Then a black smoke takes the beach: wave
after wave of dragonflies, flecked like mica,
thumb-sized—enormous, really—like replica
helicopters in a low-budget doomsday movie.
The small world moving in a ridiculous show
against its enemy or is it the first cloud
of pestilence? The lifeguards sit like children
in the big chair, orange suits and toys
strewn like flags of cheerful helplessness.

We pack up, wash sand from our feet
under outdoor spigots and stop
for goat-petting and the last ice cream cones
of summer. In the parking lot, an ankle-high
traffic of guinea hens, their wet feathers
an alien lavender or pearled and speckled,
come too close and surround us.

Cinema Dream

What is best about you
may go unnoticed
if your publicist is out
having her hair highlighted.
Who will admire the alignment
of your spine-perfect-and tell you
you are beautiful?
The producer's picking up the kids,
the photographer's skinny-dipping
in his puddle of silver.

And where is your staff now
at night when this city
is dotted by a million single light bulbs
and your insomniac, unspayed
heart goes stalking? When you
wake from tasting a finger's pinch
of what is lit inside of you
and wonder what's it worth
if you are not in love, nor loved,
or if there is no record?

The cinematographer's asleep,
napping off a turkey sandwich.
Your assistant's buying water.
You're alone
with the cinema dream
of seeing yourself
only from afar, wanting
to pluck your darkened nipples
with another's hand or kiss
the space between your shoulder blades
with another's breath, just to disprove
what you suspect: that you don't exist,
or worse, that in this awful
experiment, we are all the same.

Fear and Envy

I can't help but want to be her: the stewardess
who holds her place in a fashion magazine
with a tassled bookmark. Next to what?
A piece on plucking? She has something
I don't, tanned knees, loopy penmanship,
a vacancy that's beginning to look a lot like
courage as the veteran next to me waves
his arms to mimic our descent and I fight
the rising panic, Put your fucking trays
in the upright position, and count down
my dead: Munson, Morristown, Coal Glen,
grandfathers up to the knee in ragwort
and hawkweed, following the old-man dog
first into the gloaming, then into the wood.

Continuing Education

The first files in: a woman who loves
her cats and takes a lot of notes. Also
someone on the make, like the man
who told me I was the most beautiful
woman in the class. I'll say. It was a very
small class. And you: sipping juice out
of boxes, shuffling smudged mimeographs
with a crooked arm, insistent that we
all could be poets. The last case of polio
in Watertown, Mass., made you one, not
that anyone in particular noticed. Every week
I fished quarters off the floorboard and
trespassed through back yards and gardens
and chased the river so I wouldn't be late.

For Another

If I could trade my body for another,
I'd have yours that night you hitchhiked
from Boston to Bennington just to sit
outside the door of a girl's dormitory room.
What you felt you considered a kind of agony,
I'm sure: your shoulders still furred with snow,
your long arms and legs tossed loose,
but still the conspicuous alarm
of want ranting in the quiet hall, ruining
what you hoped would look like repose.

The girl no longer matters, does she?
She was at classes, had no idea what you
wanted, didn't even know you were there.
The swamp bloomed inside of you:
your groin, your muddy heart.
Years later you recalled a song I don't want
to be a dog
coming from somewhere in the dorm.

Yes, I think I'd choose you: thin, brown
back, pale shirt, rose pucker of your nipples.
I'd have the toe that digs holes in your socks,
the beginnings of a bum knee, your desire
before you worried and tended it.
Still, I can't help but feel that I might
have been the girl, why should I be the girl?
reading late that night in the library
under the green shade of a lamp.


Does it have anything to do
with pouring foundations
or your father's swimming-pool place
out on Route 2, its display slides
and diving boards suspended
above nothing? Are you named
for the thing you are, the village
shoemaker named Shoemaker or
the son of John, Johnson?

Mostly we talked on the phone,
naming the things we'd never do:
Never the bed of my tongue.
Never the smoke of my kindled hair.
Never the wood that dropped off
and pitched you, hugging and breaking
saplings on your way down.

Only once did I see where you lived,
in a river pocket hidden
from the zippered suburbs,
your garden improvised
of rubber tires and wire and one
or two polished slabs of granite.
In the dark I dressed
in your sister's bathing suit and
swam in the turquoise pool, fashioned,
I guess, after the stirred gases
of geyser basins, strung with little torches
and postings of sayings somebody
thought were funny.

You were beautiful and I
was easily disguised: body
in the borrowed suit, inhaling
smoke it will never breathe
again. My stupid name.
But if I tried now to find that river bank
and the three small houses,
I would not be able to—not that I'd try.

Margaret Muirhead lives in Arlington, MA with her husband Pete and her son Abe. She is a freelance writer and editor and has a M.F.A. in Creative Writing (fiction) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her poetry has recently been published by South Carolina Review, Passager (University of Baltimore), Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and other journals. She was a runner-up for the Grolier Poetry Prize and her satire was selected for the Zine Yearbook (Vol. 6).



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