From Suburban Legends:

The Owl

When our baby was just a few days old,
earth-grounded, screaming, his cranberry legs pitching,
stomach an oven of fire and stone

we took him for a drive. Wheels unwound the knot
of his new flesh. I stroked a feathery cheek
and watched as his fists loosened the world of sleep.

We parked at the bird sanctuary, eased him into a stroller
and walked under moonlight and branches,
stars like cooled tears. Then
an owl
ripped out of midnight, swooped down—
I grabbed my baby, clutched him to me.

You just laughed, said a bird couldn’t snatch
a human child, talked of proportionate weights and wingspan,
your hand hooking my shoulder.

So I didn’t tell you that owls are spirits of the unhappy dead.
Thirsty for rivers of life, another shot of mortality,
desperate refugees they strike, reaching

for that invisible cord that connects
the great blue egg of the universe
to him, to you
to me


How the snow fell that winter
we turned twelve, pressing us
in a glittering cage wrapped in hush now,
cold as our pretty little permafrost hearts.
How numb we were.
Feathers etched in the window
fell over our shoulders.
I still have the scars, small white X’s and the neat O
of your mouth when I wiped the sad away.

We shared every secret.

Spring break-up came out of the blue
and washed us from forecasts of lemon-pie suns.
The men loaded your things in a truck
and hand in hand we watched,
nothing but touch to say.

Everything melting, you had to leave fast
before the road turned to muck and held you.
Already the run-off was washing us
from the dreams we once had of our selves,
the MacKenzie choked and slobbering down our cheeks.

Once-upon-a-time cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die
best friend, have you kept your good strong teeth,
shoplifted lipsticks, and used coupon
for one happily ever after with its best before date?

Over thirty years gone, little dreamer,
and I still miss you.
I need us back, pencil-thin and brimming.
Nowadays I reach out and hold onto anything warm.
(Sometimes when I close my eyes, it’s beautiful.)

We can’t sleep.

Another female fantasy
has moved in and taken our place.

At the checkout
Snow White and I read the headlines:
Wicked Witch Curses Princess with Century of Sleep.
Another Prince Found Dead at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

We are outraged.
Not because this upstart gets all the charming young men
and media attention, but because she’s squeezed us
out of the world of dreams.

Eyes wide open, blind, Snow White and I are left nothing
of nether land. All night long we pace, unable to recover
the little men with their Freudian hats,
their picks and jewels, allegory and archetype.
Our Theta waves crumple,
our psyches scream their names,
and I’m coming down with a migraine.

Snow White flips
through the phone book
trying to find a listing for her wicked stepmother,
and I plead on my cell: Doc, don’t cut me off.
Just a few more magical words on that notepad,
your illegible signature.

We get nowhere.

Eyes throbbing, we can’t cope
with the chalky sun scratching across January’s blackboard,
the dust of minutes on our skin.
We go to the supermarket.

Don’t tell me about poor Sleeping Beauty,
we tell the pharmacist, produce clerks, cashiers—
anyone who will listen.
No harsh winters for her,
no disappointments, addiction, insomnia, or age.
That bitch in a box ransacks our childhood dreams.
Love Song for Buddy

I once imagined running beside a sleek beast
with coyote blood, a husky or retriever
at the very least, but was given Buddy.

He doesn’t shed, is bred for bubble baths,
pedicures, and fancy do’s. But I let his fur grow,
allow him mud puddles and meadows of burrs.
He refuses orders, dog food, smoked or processed meats,
prefers Pasta Alfredo, mandarins, gouda, and pears,
loves to have his tummy rubbed.

At night Buddy curls on my bed
until he hears a noise and retreats to the basement.

Poor baby
I thought the first time he turned tail,
until the morning when I found two plump mice,
their throats ripped to the spine.
Skin Deep

I don’t want to hear it, Snow White,
how beauty is only skin deep.
So easy for you to say with your anthracite eyes,
the startling enigma of your name.

I want to peel you like an apple,
examine your core.
I’ll excavate your heart—rusty anchor
stuck in defeat. Nothing can move it

Men have offered you karats and gold,
soldered you to a promise
then walked out the door.

And you walk too,
in your own vague dance,
slowly turning as if unwinding
chains across a ballroom floor.

At night
you read articles about cruises and metal fatigue.
Sometimes you feel almost free.

Copyright © Joan Crate