Judith Skillman

Three Poems read by the author [mp3]


A woman with colorless hair
stands in a yard singed by summer.
Behind her the screen door, its broken hinge.
Her child’s dressed in a balloon suit.
In the kitchen a basket full of damp linens.
The flatiron blackens, takes on heat.
How far away the child, who knows nothing
of his mother but voice, crochet hook, wash basin…
It’s the iron has worn her down, hefting its weight to pillowcases,
wielding her triangle into corners of shirts vexed by stain. 
Who can arson the past when its articles remain—
salt and pepper shakers, thimbles, kittens, scones.
The woman regards us from a yard age has yellowed.
Her man, underground with his canary,
will return punctually as dirt for supper.
On the porch that caricature of child billowing like a parachute.
In her starched smile the story
of how he was wrenched from her by tongs. 

A Foreign Beer Garden

Wherever there were poor,
there were pelicans.
Laundry strung on lines in the rain.
I remember the scoop and swallow,
the smile of a widow and her daughter
setting tables in an outdoor restaurant.
Later the chairs stood on their front legs in a warm rain,
the tablecloths were folded, their flowerings
bizarre as the hot pepper envelope
in which sheets of cheese melted.
I remembered being poor and hot,
hearing my Mother mention stone soup.
At  night vivid imaginings.
Grasshoppers crossed my pillow, crickets sang
from embankments. Don’t think the sea forgets
what it carries—a resemblance, a blank stare
and then, once more, the waiter with one eye
standing before our table, asking about drinks.

Picasso’s Toad

Two days into autumn
and the saws begin to saw,
the beds to moan with lovers
parked beneath quilts
as if under tea cozies.
Two days into fall and wood smoke
drifts through a window
stripped of its screen, tar
from a neighbor’s burn barrel 
coughs and settles.
How long has it been?
I wanted you.  Once
upon a time we foraged
hands and mouth beneath 
the brocade spread. 
Better not to state the obvious—
the seven-year itch come and gone
so many times my arms
sprout hives, my scalp’s on fire.
Seborrhea, the doctor said,
and wrote out a prescription
with an inkless pen
on his Blackberry.  Let it
begin with me, I think, a slogan,
but still…
All the way to the pharmacy
I carried the image—
a newsprint study
hung in a gallery
housed in a mall.
There was nothing loathsome 
about the creature
who hunched over hollow reeds
as if it had come
to taunt us with quicksand.
Who will dare to tell the truth
about the end of passion?
Which one of us state the obvious
about the ornate life—
its gaudy curlicues and frenzied paisleys.