Cynthia Atkins: Three Poems from Still-Life With God

A Goddess in Purple Rain

Behind glass, a lady is lit-up inside the laundromat.
She’s folding sheets, pink curlers of baroque
in her hair, singing and creasing
a t-shirt with sequins. Her arms and hips stretch out
to a body of air—the room filling with sound.
And I am humming inside her—inside her body,
burning for shelter from the abyss
                    of my alone. Rounding a corner
in a car, I am passing by, hearing “Purple Rain”
on the radio—I almost can taste
the sweat on the brow of the boy I danced with
so many years ago—It tasted like dry toast
                    or the brunt of hurting. Listen to the sky imploring,
Come as you are—Alone to the last concert, to light matches 
in a spell-bound crowd—Remorse of loving
a rock star we can never own. And now the lady
in the laundromat is swaying, and I am swaying
with her from my car—Maybe she is dancing with her son,
going off to boot camp, or the ends of the earth.
                    I’m thinking of my son at three,
standing on the kitchen table in a wet diaper,
banging music from a wooden spoon.
This is that concert, where you lit a match
to your own bag of wounds. You felt like
                    you belonged, a citizen.
Alive as a hackle of girls at the May prom.
Look at the moon, hanging like a shoe
to throw its heel of light
                    on the page or an empty field.
We are all in the body of this night, cogent as a judge
who loves the law. The lady in the laundromat
carries the load to her car, unpins her hair.
I don’t want to be alone tonight. The stars allow
                    me to follow her—we are passing the town,
rooftops are hunkering down to sing
lullabies to the young, and the night
is a stranger touching my sleeve.


*First appeared in Hermeneutic Chaos


God Is A Wishing Well

Lit up in the parking lot of my heart
your shiny pennies in place of bullets—
spoiled plans fell off the wagon, false starts
back to where the bones dwell with the petals.
I swept salt, blood, ether, ink, a prayer.
The sky shot fireworks and fireflies, pell-mell.
Each stair was a blink, each flight brought closure.
Too much time spent with the Wolf and the Owl—
I looked for answers in limp brochures.
Trauma was my life in a gun-shell, foul
I was I was I was I was I won’t
be a pogrom comet to burl the night.
A time-bomb by a bed of frill roses—
The shadow of my echo was a kite.



Flash point: I was put to bed last night
with your railroad kiss.  I awoke with a ladder
in my mouth, tropes of people climbing out
in a death choke. Your tawdry laundry-line
of images blowing manic through needling wind.
I was always in earshot, but you were first to leave
the party. A hard lullaby, I feared you were
a household word in a ghost town.
My silence was torrential, a bombshell.
A swamp of worms rilling into words—
into cordial song. In debt and spent,
yours truly, truly yours.

—Cynthia Atkins

*First appeared in The Eloquent Poem (Persea Books, 2019)


Photo credit: Anne Valerie Portrait

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