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Sample Poems by Maryann Corbett


It's got to be here. Where I had it last.
The sense that things would work. That, settled down
into the nursing chair, the dumb-beast body
would bend to the task, the milk let down to soak
the nightgown front, the baby's wet gums O-ringed
fast to the nipple in that ecstatic hold
that bit by bit lets up, the fist uncurling
to sleep, slack as a sandbag, warm on the shoulder--
held a minute, before the handing down
into the crib. That under the sleeping breath
the round of prayer would run wordlessly on
making God happy. That storms, colic, and winter
would end. That no one really wished us ill.

Tattoo and Piercing Parlor

Trance and techno thudding against my eardrums,
out of breath from climbing, I get my bearings
slowly here: a second-floor retail walk-up,
not in my safe zone.

Look: the reddened arm of a skinhead sales clerk,
wreathed with bloody thorns of a fresh tattooing.
Shrine-like dimness. There in the jewelry cases,
what am I seeing?

Body parts in effigy. They confound me,
suede-skinned, grey-black models of navels, eyebrows,
nipples. Vulvas. Penises. Now I see it:
These are the places

piercings go, those wounds that demand attention.
Glass-encased, Sebastian-like, multi-studded,
jewel-encrusted: icons of modern martyrs'
vulnings in secret.

Dancing on the point of a thorny question,
(daughter smiling, skinheaded sales clerk smiling,
all things consummated) I grope for answers,
stumbling toward daylight:

All this piercing. Who is the god who asks it?
Whose young purgatorio might be shortened,
lightened by these penances? Can one buy here
something redeeming?


This is how you are to eat it: with sandals on your feet
and your staff in your hand; you shall eat like those who
are in flight...

He lies there till the last split nanosecond--
my son, who needs to catch an early plane--
until I feel like screaming. Curled like a grub,
he pulls the pillow over his head again,
mock victim of my vigilant oppression.

Just chill, he says, I've got this down to a science,
this slapdash dressing for security checks.
The pull-on pants; no belt. The slip-on footwear:
sandals, at twenty degrees outside. I cringe.

He'll need to eat; I offer a couple of donuts.
Waving them off, he grabs a box of crackers
and looks for something to read. With hesitation,
I hand him this morning's paper, its science section
hideous with plagues, and its front page
filled with the sounds of firstborns dying somewhere.
He takes it casually, with a groggy smile.

A ride through blue-black darkness. At the airport,
a crush of cars, of rushed goodbyes, of couples
embracing, of impatient blasts of horn.
Lucky to get a hug, I let him go.

Curbside, he shakes the local snow from his feet,
prophet of his own risk-taking way.
On the seat beside me, the paper he's forgotten.

I think about the way he'll stand in line:
loins girt with sagging elastic, the tall staff
of ski-bag in his hand, his feet in sandals.
Scarfing crackers, in haste, like one who flees.

He shoulders his bags. The glass doors part like seas.

A Song for Departures

Once, it was kinder. Once, there were some compensations.
Once, you'd arrive at the gate,
loved ones in tow--which created its own irritations,
but company helped with the wait--
and you'd read them the monitors, chant them the magical list.
Grandparents, camera shots, mugging.
Grinning to look at the couples still groggily blissed.
Boarding call: chaos of hugging--
Nothing like that any more. Love is not listed
online with the carry-on tips.
A churn of the stomach, a gripping of panic resisted.
Only a brush of the lips
and they pull from the curb. You thump and fumble your stuff
through a gauntlet of frowning mistrust,
airport security hovering, narrow-eyed, gruff.
(Contempt in the look, or disgust?)
Strip like a convict. Off with the belt and the shoes.
Empty the change and the keys.
(Missing here, something you couldn't imagine you'd lose.)
Walk to the scanner. Freeze:
Go, lugging doubt in your baggage. Step clear of the zone,
pulling yourself together. Leaving, alone.