Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON; ELEGY WITH BLACK SUIT; WADING
THE SHOW MUST GO ON

 

I found this line 

blurred on a faded post-it, thin as Julep 

mint, between folds 

of your wallet so broken 

at the leather seams. A simple inheritance, 

your lingering refrain.

 

The Show Must Go On,

a forgotten fragment

of weighted legacy.

This spring twilight, I have smelled the bourbon,

crafted by our Virginia gentleman, in cut glass 

over ice crushed and enveloped by young mint.

 

Heard the echo of Mother’s fraught 

urging, the generations’ monogram,

to “grasp the frosted pewter,” 

you and I, both fallen branches

of the family tree, so bitter-

sweet the never quite fitting, 

 

never quite able to play the part.

We found ourselves stateless and 

preferring Pinot, and your murmur…

The Show Must Go On,

this remembering, a selection,

omission, loss of longed for details.

 

Drunken laughter at inherited dysfunctions, 

those late Sunday afternoons at our East Village café.

Sweetest sibling language,

like two debutantes drinking wistfully,

cigarette smoke curling around resonant words,

now, a bourbon-less, 

 

brother-less world, 

fatal consequence of a narrow closet. 

What foretold your final curtain call?

How the streetlight framed your face,

your dimming stage lights,

one lasting reminder.

 

The Show Must Go On, 

however slurred

and bitter as mint.

ELEGY WITH BLACK SUIT

Time heals all wounds, 

pronounced my great-aunt, 

upon hearing the news.

A centenarian, she had lived

through all the Wars, even ones 

of her own nursing home 

imaginings. Each night,

she drank Sherry and ate two 

chocolates, never married or

had children, slight explanation

for her fortitude. She told dirty jokes, 

on repeat, rendering visitors more and 

more crimson, and desperately seeking 

an exit. Because of her, I thought

everyone aged. 

He’s in a better place. 

Distant cousins and near 

strangers shared similar thoughts 

while eating egg salad on Melba toast 

and musing about the gathered crowd: 

which one was the lover, despotic boss, 

flirty colleague. I was the shattered 

sister. Recollections of his blue eyes, 

kind lilt of his voice. Kiss kiss 

hug hug thank you for the swollen tears 

now imprinted on this size 6 black suit, 

bought by my mother ten years ago

(just in case), too-tight in the waist and 

hung in plastic at the back of the closet. 

 

At least, he wasn’t alone. 

I never imagined an occasion 

such as this. He collapsed in my arms.

I held him as long as I could. 

Just after, the sky in blue, I walked 

stunning sunlit streets. The next day, 

I took a train to comfort my parents. 

On the ride, a man asked if he could sit

next to me. I cleared my seat 

and nearly said aloud, “you are sitting

next to the girl whose brother just died.” 

I wondered how many others among us,

passengers, like me. 

 

Get over it. Move on. 

There was a yesterday, and 

there is a today, and 

where is he? And where am I? 

I kiss the box that holds

his ashes. His fading

laughter. The black suit,

ill-fitting and newly stained,

waits for me, 

witness,

WADING

 

Wading in each other’s shadows, this night,

we endure. Murky air and bedroom fog,

the demon arguments have returned. Bills

past due, the day’s logistics, the loss of lust.

Not so subtle shifts in darkened, darkening          

corners. Echo somber sheets, cold rustlings,

your muted breath. Despite feigned attempts

at sleep, there is no room for dreaming. Thread-

bare fantasies no longer guide. Will

you remember our first date? That cloudless    

sky and urban meadow, a festival 

of chanting monks in saffron bliss. Later, 

the gentle wind sang carnal haiku. Five-       

seven-five. We came so easily. The

slightest touch, a slow undoing. 

 

Exhale the slow undoing, slightest touch.           

Your lips on my breast, nipple in mouth. 

We merge, again and again,

this twined mingling. Tracing   

the cracks in our white mortar. Foundation 

still holding, still holds. Our most gradual 

gathering of grayed black and whites, book-lined

shelves, and torn calendars marking blue/pink birth, 

unsettled death. Moonlit patterns etched 

deeply across these bodies and walls. Breath, buoyed 

by memory and callused fingertips,

ready the move from darkness.

Feel me, you, 

wading in this night, 

in our shadows.

We know our meaning.

00:00 / 01:46
00:00 / 02:27
00:00 / 01:51

Currently a student in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Mary Warren Foulk lives in western Massachusetts with her wife and two children. She is an educator, writer, artist, and activist. Her work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Four and Twenty, Hip Mama, Curve Magazine, and Who’s Your Mama? The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers and is forthcoming in Yes Poetry, the Arlington Literary Journal (ArLiJo), (M)othering Anthology, and My Loves: A Digital Anthology of Queer Love Poems. She is thrilled and honored to be part of the November issue of Cathexis Northwest Press.

"Much like in the work of Marie Howe and Anne Carson (on whom I am writing my graduate critical thesis, specifically on their exploration of sibling loss), 'The Show Must Go On' began with a line or phrase associated with a loved one, my brother. Cleaning Stephen’s apartment after he died, I came upon a post-it, on which he had written these words. I keep it in my wallet, as tribute, as mantra. I then let varied associations emerge and connect. In writing this, I also thought of Diane Wakowski, her 'Oysters with Lemon in Montmartre;' specifically, Wakowksi’s ability to set and stay in a scene, and her exquisite imagery.

In Elegy With Black Suit, I play not only with the elegiac form, but also with the empty 'tropes' of grief and grieving, what T.J. Wray, in her book Surviving the Death of a Sibling (Three Rivers Press, 2003), refers to as 'dismissive condolences' (Wray xiv). These are those words or actions from family, friends, and acquaintances which, although well meaning, can diminish the loss, and often do more harm than good. 

'Wading' began with a dare. I was taking writing classes at the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters in Portland, Oregon. David Biespiel, the director and my instructor at the time, challenged me to write a double sonnet, repeating the last line of the first sonnet, as the first line of the second. The poem reflects a difficult time in my relationship. My wife and I had just moved to Portland, having left NYC, and  after 9/11. We had suffered through that devastation as well as other losses, including that of my brother. I believe I wrote this poem soon after our first marriage had been overturned by a ballot measure, which was heartbreaking (we had to get married three times and move to Massachusetts to be legal at last!). Truly, we felt like we were 'wading.'"